Historic rainfall took toll on ocean quality throughout the state, including Malibu 

(From left) Heal the Bay Angler Outreach Program Manager Frankie Orrala, Water Quality Data Specialist Alison Xunyl Wu, Chief Executive Officer Tracy Quinn, Water Quality Specialist Luke Ginger and The City of Santa Monica's Water Resources Manager Sunny Wang are shown after the Heal the Bay press conference in Santa Monica on Wednesday, June 14. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT

Malibu beaches receive good grades but not good enough to make the honor roll, per Heal the Bay

Despite receiving above-average grades, Malibu beaches did not place on the honor roll this year on Heal the Bay’s 33rd Annual 2022-2023 Beach Report Card

Last week, Heal the Bay released its annual scientific reports on bacterial-pollution rankings for hundreds of beaches in California and dozens of freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County. The beach and river report provides the public with the latest water quality information that’s easily accessible and comprehensible. 

The report says that although 95 percent of California beaches received an A or B grade during the summer of 2022, 23 California beaches (5 percent of those analyzed) earned a grade of C or lower for water quality during the warmer months. 

During the summer of 2022, Heal the Bay graded 35 freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County within the L.A. River, San Gabriel River, and Malibu Creek watersheds. Across all 35 sites and all dates graded throughout summer 2022, 65 percent of grades were Green (indicating no water quality health risks); 15 percent were Yellow (moderate health risk), and 19 percent were Red (high health risk). This was an improvement from the previous year.

Malibu’s own Las Virgenes Creek placed 10th on the 4th Annual River Report Card Bummer List. 

The scientific report measures fecal-indicator bacterial pollution for over 700 beaches along the West Coast from Washington to Baja, ranking them and grading their water quality from A to F.

Out of over 700 beaches tested, only two beaches — Point Loma, Lighthouse, San Diego; and Bean Hollow State Beach, San Mateo — had good or excellent grades during wet weather in Los Angeles County, compared to the previous year with 51 beaches in LA County. 

The beach rankings are based on routine water-quality testing, which then is analyzed for concentrations of fecal-indicator bacteria, including human and animal waste. 

Last year, LA County received 23 inches of rain, 143 percent above the historical average of 10 inches. Beaches and rivers usually have poor water quality after rain. More rain typically means increased amounts of pollutants, including bacteria, are flushed through storm drains and rivers into the ocean. 

LA County experienced 95 sewage spills that added up to 330,396 gallons. Sewage spills also pose increased health risks and trigger immediate beach closures. Last year nearly 45 million gallons of sewage were spilled and made their way to California beaches. 

“Only 56 percent of California beaches had good or excellent grades during wet weather, which was worse than average and very concerning,” the press release says.

The organization held a press conference on June 14 at Santa Monica Beach, and board members and city representatives announced the beach and river report cards and the courses of action they are taking. 

Those in attendance were Heal the Bay Angler Outreach Program Manager Frankie Orrala, Water Quality Data Specialist Alison Xunyl Wu, Chief Executive Officer Tracy Quinn, The City of Santa Monica’s Water Resources Manager Sunny Wang, and Water Quality Specialist Luke Ginger.

“Malibu beaches this past year had very good water quality which was refreshing to see; it’s been a few years since the Woolsey Fire in 2018, but right after that fire, we saw months of poor water quality in Malibu, which was unusual,” Ginger said. “In the last couple of years, we finally see water quality return to what it usually is.”

Ginger said most beaches received “worst grades” due to the recent rains. 

“Usually we have some Malibu beaches in our honor roll, but this year we only two (Southern California) beaches on that list, and none of them were in Malibu,” Ginger said. 

The 2022-2023 Beach Bummer List includes beaches in Los Angeles, San Mateo, San Diego, and Orange counties as well as the Tijuana, Mexico, area.

This year, Heal the Bay organized its press conference at Santa Monica Beach near the Pier — which Santa Monica Pier and Playa Blanca in Tijuana tied for the top spot as both faced significant water quality challenges.

“We really want to convey the message that something can be done about water quality and we want people to know that there is action being taken,” Ginger said. “So we wanted to come out here, and use the [Santa Monica] Pier as an example, we want people to have some hope that water quality can improve, and local officials are making that happen.”

Ginger encourages beachgoers to look up beach water quality prior to visiting to avoid areas with high bacteria.  

“The good news is that 95 percent of the time, the beaches have really good water quality, so we want people to go out and not worry too much but check the report card as a precaution,” Ginger said. 

To see the report, visit healthebay.org.