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Santa Monica Pier One of California's Most Polluted Beaches

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By Jorge Casuso

June 22, 2022 -- The Santa Monica Pier has landed back on Heal the Bay's infamous Beach Bummer list, ranking fourth among the most polluted beaches in California.

After avoiding the list for the past three years, the Pier earned straight Fs on the organization's 2021-22 Beach Report Card, indicating the water has high levels of bacteria all year.

The Pier flunked during summer dry weather (from April to October), winter dry weather (from November to March) and during wet weather year round.

Santa Monica Beach Summer Dry Winter Dry Wet Weather
At Strand Street
At Montana Avenue
At Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica Pier
At Pico Kenter storm drain
At Ashland Avenue storm drain

Only Playas Blanca south of Tijuana, Mexico in Baja California -- which is plagued by insufficient, and sometimes non-existent, sewage infrastructure -- and Erckenbrack Park and Marlin Park beaches in San Francisco Bay had a poorer ranking on the list.

Heal the Bay's grades are based on "concentrations of fecal indicator bacteria measured at ocean beaches" that "indicate the presence of pathogen-containing fecal matter."

Organizations such as Heal the Bay and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "are most concerned about fecal pollution" because it "poses an acute health risk, meaning one exposure can make someone sick," the report said.

After being a mainstay on the Beach Bummer list, the Pier had skirted the notorious designation since 2018.

Santa Monica's other beaches earned mixed grades in this year's 32nd annual report card, with only two beaches -- at Montana Avenue and at Wilshire Boulevard -- avoiding a failing grade.

Santa Monica Beach at Montana Avenue earned the highest grades, with an A+ during both winter and summer dry weather and a B during wet weather year round.

Wilshire Boulevard earned an A during summer dry weather, a B during winter dry weather and a C during wet weather year round.

In addition to the Pier, three other Santa Monica beaches -- at Strand Street and at the Pico Kenter and Ashland Avenue storm drains -- earned failing grades during wet weather.

Wet Weather Grades are given when rain flushes contaminants and pollution, including bacteria, from streets directly into the ocean, according to Heal the Bay's report.

The Santa Monica-based organization advises beachgoers to "avoid all ocean contact for at least three days following a significant rain event."

This year marks the seventh time since 2010-11 that the Pier has landed on the Beach Bummer list composed of the beaches that received the ten poorest Summer Dry Grades.

The water quality near the pier suffers from its proximity to the Pico Kentor storm drain, which receives runoff that carries bacteria, and from natural factors including bird debris.

The City is "working to replace the existing bird deterrent netting since bird fecal matter is the primary source of pollution in the waters surrounding the Pier," said Miranda Iglesias, the City's spokesperson.

The City hopes to have new netting installed next summer, Iglesias said.

Conditions are also expected to improve with the construction of the $96 million Sustainable Water Infrastructure Project (SWIP), a stormwater harvesting tank that will divert stormwater away "for treatment and beneficial reuse," City officials have said.

Over the years, the City has "continued to implement numerous efforts to mitigate pollutants from urban runoff entering the Santa Monica Bay," Iglesias said.

They include the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF), diverting the Pier storm drain to the Clean Beaches Initiative cistern and separating trash at five storm drain outfalls.

"These efforts improve local coastal water quality, as well as store runoff for beneficial uses, and increase the City’s local water resource supply and reduce the use of imported water," Iglesias said.

Besides the Pier, the only other Los Angeles County beach that landed on this year's Bummer list was Mothers' Beach in Marina del Rey, which is enclosed by a marina that allows "little wave action or water circulation."

The beach earned F's for the area around the lifeguard tower, which ranked fifth on the list, and for the area between the lifeguard tower and boat dock, which ranked ninth.

Editor's note: This report was updated at 12:20 p.m. Thursday to include comments from the City.

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