Malibu Beaches Shine on 2016 Report Card

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El Matador State Beach

Visitors who came out to enjoy Malibu’s many beaches this Memorial Day may not have realized they were swimming in some of the cleanest surf in Southern California. 

Some Malibu beaches are stars of the 2015-16 Beach Report Card, an annual ranking of 456 beaches across the state that is conducted and released annually by environmental nonprofit Heal the Bay.

Two Malibu beaches — El Matador State Beach and Escondido State Beach — were included on the list of “Honor Roll” beaches in Southern California. The honor is especially notable considering Malibu was a regular on the infamous “Beach Bummers” list as recently as three years ago.

“Across the board, we’ve been seeing an improving trend over the last several years,” Heal the Bay Beach Water Quality Scientist Leslie Griffin told The Malibu Times. “One of the reason [for] that, we’ve suspected, is as people become more aware of the drought, they’ve been better about their water usage and over-usage in watering their cars and overwatering lawns.”

City of Malibu Environmental Director Craig George said another reason for a trend toward cleaner beaches in Malibu is a result of efforts by the city to maintain clean waterways that lead to the ocean.

“I think that there are a lot of things the city is aggressively trying to do,” George said. He listed advanced wastewater treatment systems, storm drains and stormwater disinfection as just some examples of this “aggressive” effort to keep Malibu’s beaches free from bacterial runoff. 

“Malibu’s overall objective [is] to assist in clean water, and respect the area of special biological significance,” George said.

Aside from El Matador and Escondido, each of which earned “A+” grades in the summer, winter and in wet weather, other beaches that received all “As” and “A+s” include Nicholas Beach at San Nicholas Canyon Creek, Broad Beach at Trancas Creek mouth, Zuma Beach at Zuma Creek mouth, Zumirez Drive (Little Dume), Paradise Cove Pier, Latigo Canyon Creek mouth, the beach near the stairway at 24822 Malibu Road, Puerco State Beach, Malibu Point, Carbon Beach at Sweetwater Canyon and Las Tunas County Beach.

A handful of beaches received lower cleanliness levels: the Walnut Creek outlet projection of Wildlife Road received an “F” grade during wet weather, as did Dan Blocker County Beach, the Marie Canyon drain at Puerco Beach and Surfrider Beach at the breach point near Malibu Lagoon.

Surfrider also received a failing grade for the winter season.

“Sometimes, the area in front of Surfrider is manually opened … the lagoon right there, that area — occasionally we’ll see, some winters, surfers actually [breach] that area to create basically a swell going in a certain direction,” Griffin described. “That’s not something we obviously recommend — not something people should be taking into their own hands.”

Griffin said that though tests revealed high bacterial levels in the water at Surfrider, it is not contaminated 365 days per year.

“Surfrider obviously can have spikes in pollution, but it’s not something that’s terrible every day,” Griffin said. One way for cautious surfers, paddleboarders and swimmers to stay safe, Griffin said, is to check the Heal the Bay reports, which are updated weekly at beachreportcard.com.

“We update the data online, so we recommend that you check,” Griffin said. “It’s not consistently terrible [at Surfrider]. We recommend that before you go out you check the water quality lately to make sure you’re making good choices for your health.”

George said that Malibu residents can help keep bacteria levels down at area beaches by making simple changes, like being mindful of attracting birds, whose feces can cause spikes in bacteria.

“People should be aware and not attract seagulls and things,” George said. “Using common sense and being proactive will help everything a lot.”

The beach at the Santa Monica Pier made the 2015-16 “Beach Bummer” list, receiving an “F” grade in summer, winter and wet weather. The beach also made the list last year, with the same failing grades across the board.

“Following past efforts to keep the beach water around Santa Monica Pier safe for swimming, the city was approved for a Clean Beaches Initiative grant to build a regional, multi-benefit project that will capture the wet weather runoff from the sub-watershed that drains to the Santa Monica Pier storm drain,” the Heal the Bay report read. “The runoff will be stored in a tank to supply water to the nearby Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility during dry weather periods when there is greater capacity. Any runoff overflow will be directed to the sanitary sewer system.”