Ten most polluted beaches in San Mateo County


Posted by on Sun, August 1, 2010

San Mateo County 2009 Beachwater Contamination Results are the second worst in the state. Los Angeles County is the only County in California with more beach closing/advisory days than San Mateo County.

Closing or Advisory Days:

  • Aquatic Park (117 days)
  • Pillar Point (100 days)
  • Lakeshore Park (98 days)
  • Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (59 days)
  • Oyster Point Marina (53 days)
  • Pacifica State Beach (39 days)
  • Venice State Beach (28 days)
  • Dunes State Beach (23 days)
  • Kiteboard Beach (15 days)
  • Francis State Beach and Gazos Creek Access (both 13 days)


Testing the Waters 2010

Natural Resources Defense Council annual survey of water quality and public notification at U.S. beaches finds that the number of beach closings and advisories in 2009 hit their sixth-highest level in the 20-year history of the report.  Nearly three-quarters of the 2009 beach closings and advisories were issued because water quality monitoring revealed bacteria levels exceeding health and safety standards.

Promising developments could improve protection of public health at U.S. beaches. As a result of legal pressure from NRDC, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to update its 20-year-old beachwater quality standards by 2012. The legal settlement requires EPA to:

  • Conduct new health studies and swimmer surveys.
  • Approve a water-testing method that will produce same-day results.
  • Protect beachgoers from a broader range of waterborne illnesses.

The illnesses associated with polluted beachwater include conditions such as skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis and hepatitis. By contrast, current standards focus on gastrointestinal illnesses such as the stomach flu. Current water quality tests also take 24 hours or more to produce results, so beaches are not closed or placed under advisory until after beachgoers have spent a day swimming in water that did not meet water quality standards. The EPA’s changes represent much-needed progress toward promoting safer and healthier beaches along U.S. coastlines.

Despite these steps forward, the agreement doesn’t actually require local beach officials to use the rapid-testing methods developed by EPA. That’s one big reason that NRDC is urging Congress to pass the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act, which would push states to begin using rapid-water tests within one year of EPA validation. The measure would also authorize funding for studies that identify the sources of beachwater pollution, which is the first step towards preventing this pollution from reaching the beach. In 2009, the source of contaminated beachwater was reported as unknown more than half the time. Passing the bill would benefit the health of beaches and the people who enjoy them while bolstering coastal economies that depend on beaches for tourism revenue.

Keeping Water Safe by Cleaning Up Pollution

The best way to protect beachgoers from water contamination is to prevent pollution from reaching the beach. One of the major causes of beach closings and advisories is stormwater runoff. Traditionally, the focus of stormwater management has been to convey the stormwater to surface water or sewage treatment as quickly as possible. Combined sewage treatment plants that treat a mixture of stormwater and sewage can be overwhelmed during rain events, resulting in a discharge of raw or partially treated sewage. In coastal areas where stormwater is discharged directly to surface waters, the fecal contaminants it picks up as it makes its way to the ocean can result in contaminated beachwater. Stormwater runoff can be reduced by using low-impact development techniques (also known as "green infrastructure"). Low-impact development techniques retain and filter rainwater where it falls and let it soak back into the ground, rather than dumping it into waterways or to sewage treatment systems.

These techniques include strategically placed rain gardens in yards, tree boxes along city sidewalks, green roofs that use absorbent vegetation on top of buildings, and permeable pavement that allows water to penetrate the material, unlike asphalt or concrete. Another technique is to capture and store rainwater in rain barrels or cisterns so it can be reused for irrigation or other non-potable uses.

People can also help prevent beach pollution by taking simple steps, such as picking up pet waste, maintaining septic systems, putting swim diapers with plastic covers on babies, and keeping trash off the beach.

Information provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council: http://www.nrdc.org/

Link to post on The Pelican Eye: http://www.thepelicaneye.com/2010/07/top-10-most-poluted-beaches-in-san.html

Thanks for that article Sabrina.

I am a State Parks volunteer at Francis Beach with the Snowy Plover program and regularly walk the plover habibitat area of Francis Beach. All spring, Pilarcitos Creek exited across the sand into the ocean. I have no idea how polluted it might have been but it looked pretty clean to my eye.

However, once the creek exit closed up as the water level dropped, it became clear that the lagoon formed by the creek south of Venice Beach was badly polluted. Unfortunately, some children were still playing in the water. I suspect this happens with all the creeks in the area that form lagoons that do not exit across the sand, but Francis and Venice beaches get a large amount of visitor use by those who may not be aware of the health risks.

Soon, the creeks will dry up and the pollution will again decrease, but during the time that the creeks continue to flow but there is no exit to the ocean, we have a real public health risk. Signs to this effect would be very helpful. It is not clear who should install and pay for those signs, County Health, State Parks, the City of Half Moon Bay, or others. I hope the appropriate agency will step forward and provide the public warnings.