Off the ‘Bummer Beach’ List: La Jolla Cove gets ‘A’ grade from Heal the Bay

Talk about academic achievement! La Jolla Cove — one year after being listed No. 5 with a “D” grade on Heal the Bay’s annual “Bummer Beach” list (those with the worst water quality in California) — this year got an “A.”

Experts say the cleaner water is likely due to decreased rainfall over the past year, as San Diego, overall, had improved summer dry grades (almost 100 percent A or B) and winter dry grades (95 percent A or B). For the last 28 years, Heal the Bay has analyzed water data to produce an easy-to-understand Beach Report Card.

“Rainfall tends to impact beaches by flushing pollutants from streets and roadways into the ocean,” states Heal the Bay press material. “Less rain meant wet weather beach grades saw overall improvements throughout the state. While summer dry weather grades were also excellent, winter dry weather grades were worse than the five-year average.”

Heal the Bay beach water quality modeler Ryan Searcy told the Light: “In general, we’re happy to see the results for San Diego; it was a clean year last year. Things to attribute the improved grades to include paying attention to our beach, having health agencies keep an eye on it to prevent sewage and pollution from reaching the water, projects that have water-quality implications, and nature. Our arid/drought years are a boon for water quality. Last year was one of those years.”

However, for swimmers who frequent The Cove, the decrease in the presence of sea lions may also be a key reason for the water cleanliness.

La Jolla Cove Swim Club president Dan Simonelli pointed out: “There are not as many sea lions around and it seems silly to not put two-and-two together. They are down in numbers, moving around, etc. It’s clear to those of us who swim there, when you take that out of the equation, the water quality is much better.”

He added: “The water is nicer and more pleasant, these days; the way it has always been. It is a complete 180-degree improvement.”

And the timing couldn’t be better for the Report Card release — the La Jolla Cove Swim Club’s 1.5-mile Pier to Cove swim is June 23 — a one-way swim from Scripps Pier to La Jolla Cove.

Reflecting on the year before, in which La Jolla Cove was listed as a Bummer Beach, Searcy said: “La Jolla Cove, for whatever reason, had a bad year, but the thing to remember is there is a stochastic nature to sampling. You could take five samples in five minutes and get different results. Sometimes a weird blob floats by and that gets included in the sample.”

But, with an excess of days in which there were high-bacteria samples in 2016-2017, The Cove got the D grade and its place on the Bummer list. It was the first time since the inception of the list in 2011 that La Jolla Cove was on it.

The water quality data comes from the County. Throughout 2016, San Diego County Department of Environmental Health monitored beach waters and posted “swim at your own risk” signage due to the high concentrations of bacteria found.

“The thing that we are struggling with now is getting consistent data from the County,” Searcy said. “Our program is only as good as the data we get. To keep an eye on water quality, we need to receive our data every week. There were two months of missing data for this year, yet we were still able to calculate an ‘A’ grade ... however, we would have liked to base that on more data. With any Bummer beach, we want to keep an eye over it for the next few years to make sure it doesn’t get back on the list.”

To be more proactive, Heal the Bay is launching a NowCast tool that predicts daily conditions. Learn more at beachreportcard.org or healthebay.org

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