Malibu Pier receives ‘F’ for summer water quality in Heal the Bay study

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Third year in a row for Surfrider Beach at bottom of Heal the Bay’s End of Summer Beach Report Card.

By Carly Erickson / Assistant Editor

The Malibu Pier received an F for the third year in a row, according to data from Heal the Bay’s 2012 End of Summer Beach Report Card. The water quality data analyzed for the report was collected from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Throughout the state, 96% of beaches posted A or B grades, making it one of the cleanest years on record. In Los Angeles County, grades improved 2% this summer, with 87% of beaches earning As or Bs.

But the improvement did not extend to Malibu. Data samples for the Malibu Pier are taken from the beach about 50 yards east of the pier. Scientists from Heal the Bay and the Los Angeles County Public Health Department visit the area every Monday, but have been unable to identify what is causing the poor water quality, according to Heal the Bay officials.

“We’ve both been trying to figure out what’s going on and racking our heads as to what the problem could be,” Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist Amanda Griesbach said of the cause of the pollution. “That’s still currently under investigation.”

While no single culprit has been identified, a possible pollution source could be beach wrack, or kelp that has washed ashore. The rotting or decaying seaweed left on the beach often harbors bacteria and could be contributing to the pollution, Griesbach explained.

However, the beach wrack has not been verified as a definite source, and the environmental organization and health department are still working to identify the source. Additionally, there are not any homes or discharge pipes in the area to contribute to the pollution.

A controversial project by California State Parks, which Heal the Bay supported, to recontour the Malibu Lagoon began in June after a breach of the Surfrider Beach berm. Treated water from the lagoon has been flowing into the ocean at Surfrider Beach since July in a process called dewatering.

But the combined number of total maximum daily load (TMDL) exceedances between the area 50 yards east of the pier and Surfrider Beach west of the pier actually declined from last summer.

In 2011, Heal the Bay recorded 24 TMDL exceedences for the summer in the area east of the pier and 79 exceedences daily on Surfrider Beach. In summer 2012, TMDL exceedences east of the pier rose to 29, but the daily exceedences at Surfrider Beach dropped to 37.

“There doesn’t seem to be a smoking gun,” Griesbach said. “There’s nothing obvious.”

Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is based on routine monitoring data provided by more than 20 different agencies throughout the state, from Humbolt County to San Diego County. The agencies collect and analyze water samples from the ocean and look for bacteria that indicate pollution from numerous sources, including fecal waste. Heal the Bay explains the higher the grade a location has, the lower the risk of illness to beach-goers. While the report analyzes certain kinds of pollution, it is not designed to measure the amount of trash or toxins found at the beach.

To view the full report, visit healthebay.org.

Total maximum daily load (TMDL) exceedences at Malibu beaches

*Between April 1 and Sept. 3

37 daily at Surfrider Beach

29 Malibu Pier and 50 yards east

11 Paradise Cove pier at Ramirez Canyon creek mouth

10 Escondido Creek, just east of Escondido State Beach

10 Solstice Canyon at Dan Blocker County Beach

4 Marie Canyon storm drain at Puerco beach, at 24572 Malibu Rd.

3 Puerco State Beach at creek mouth

2 Carbon Beach at Sweetwater Canyon

2 Las Flores State Beach at Las Flores Creek

1 Latigo Canyon creek mouth

1 Malibu Point

33 Topanga State Beach at creek mouth