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Heal the Bay’s 2014-2015 Beach Report

San Mateo County Sewage Spill Summary

There were 11 reported sewage spills in San Mateo County that led to beach closures this past year. Overall, there were approximately 203 total spills from April 2014 through March 2015, with 56 reaching a surface waterbody, and prompted 20 health warnings—11 of which were beach closures—in San Mateo County. Of these 56 spills, 13 were “major” sewage spills—more than 10,000 gallons, and 21 were “minor” spills—more than 1,000 gallons but less than 10,000 gallons. The approximate sewage volume spilled into a surface waterbody (dry or wet) was 1.78 million gallons.

Pillar Point Harbor scores an F on Heal the Bay’s 2013-2014 Beach Report Card

Pillar Point Harbor continues to rank in the top 10 "Beach Bummer" list of most polluted beaches in California. Please check for warning signs posted at harbor beaches.

TIP: Don't let your kids play on the beach near Barbara's Fish Trap.

Shara TonnKQED Science  | May 22, 2014 

Seven out of 10 of the state’s most polluted beaches are in Northern California, according to environmental group Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Report Card, released Thursday.

Each year, Heal the Bay ranks California beaches on water quality. They test for bacteria that signal the presence of microscopic critters that can make people sick. This year, 95 percent of beaches got clean A or B grades, a record. That’s thanks to the drought, explained Amanda Griesbach with Heal the Bay.

“There’s a lack of rainfall, urban runoff and pollutants and debris and everything that’s washed into the beach water and that elevates the level of bacteria,” she said. “So if there’s a drought we typically see better grades.”

But not everywhere. The polluted beaches that made the “Beach Bummers” list below suffer from problems like poor circulation — enclosed beaches like Marina Lagoon in San Mateo don’t have enough water flow to break up bacteria — and outdated sewage systems that leak contaminated water like the corroded pipes at Santa Cruz’s Cowell Beach, explained Griesbach.

Here they are, listed from worst to, well, maybe you’ll get a sinus infection.

  1. Cowell Beach, at the wharf (Santa Cruz County)
  2. Marina Lagoon (San Mateo County)
  3. Marina del Rey, Mother’s Beach (Los Angeles County)
  4. Cabrillo Beach, Harborside (Los Angeles County)
  5. Stillwater Cove (Monterey County)
  6. Clam Beach County Park (Humboldt County)
  7. Santa Monica Pier (Los Angeles County)
  8. Pillar Point Harbor (San Mateo County)
  9. Capitola Beach, West of jetty (Santa Cruz County)
  10. Windsurfer Circle, Candlestick Point (San Francisco County)

Griesbach and other officials stressed that water quality can change from day-to-day especially after big rainstorms.

“When we have a big storm, even if it’s in May, stay away from the water, just for a few days,” said Deb Self, the excecutive director of San Francisco Baykeeper, an environmental group that fights sewage contamination. “Let the bacteria break up and let the beach get clean again.”

Every Friday, beachgoers can check up-to-date water quality stats on Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card.

Water Quality Testing

Pillar Point Harbor water quality sampling is a joint project by the Resource Conservation District and the San Mateo County Harbor District.

Monitoring results from the Resource Conservation District:

  • Enterolert Results (Enterococcus): MPN/100 mls, 1:10 dilution. 
  • Enterococcus single sample standard: 104 MPN/100 ml. The RCD cited this as the standard for Contact Recreation detailed in the San Francisco Bay Area Basin Plan. *The US EPA recommends 33 or 35 MPN as a threshold for Enterococcus. 104 MPN is for a one time sample. The threshold value should be 33 or 35 and should be derived from at least 5 samples collected within 4 weeks as a geometric mean. The sampling method does not allow for the calculation of a geomean. 
  • Incidents of exceedance of this standard are identified in bold and italics and the cell is highlighted.
  • ND, "non-detect," indicates that counts were below detectable limits.