Board vote revives beach water tests

State officials Tuesday restored funding for water testing at beaches along San Diego County, including those in La Jolla, Torrey Pines, Del Mar and Solana Beach.

The 4-0 vote by the state Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento will allow the state’s coastal counties to resume water monitoring under a program that was eliminated in September by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“This program was extremely important because so much of our tourism in San Diego County stems from the attraction of our beaches and bays,” said Greg Cox, chairman of the San Diego Board of Supervisors. Cox traveled to the state capital to urge the board to save the program.

“People ought to be assured when they go to our beaches that the water is safe for recreational use,” he said.

A coalition of clean-water groups and public health officials successfully lobbied the water control board to replace the funding vetoed by the governor with money from Clean Beaches Initiative, Proposition 13, which was approved by voters in 2000. The board agreed to allocate $1.98 million over the next two years for statewide coastal water testing.

Two-year reprieve

“This is still a short-term fix,” Cox said. “We now have two years to figure out how this program should be funded for the long-haul.”

San Diego County would have been especially hard-hit by the governor’s action because it has been receiving $302,000 annually, nearly one-third of the state’s $984,000 budget for coastal water monitoring.

The San Diego County Department of Environmental Health uses the state funds to sample water between April 1 and Oct. 31 at 55 beach locations countywide and assess the data collected by wastewater agencies at 41 more spots.

The beaches are tested for the presence of “indicator” bacteria, such as fecal coliform, which are tracers for viruses and other pathogens that can cause human illness.

Weekly testing

Shortly after the governor deleted the funding, San Diego County officials stopped weekly beach water testing and reassigned two county workers who collected the samples and issued contamination warnings.

Cox said the county’s beach contamination notification program will soon be up and running again, offering protection this winter for surfers and other recreational water users.

During spring and summer, five La Jolla beaches are tested weekly for bacteria. They are La Jolla Cove, Ravina/south Nicholson, South Casa Beach, Ellen Browning Scripps Park at Coast Boulevard and at Windansea Beach.

Between La Jolla and Solana Beach, four beaches are routinely tested. They are Los Penasquitos Lagoon outlet, San Dieguito River outlet, Del Mar 15th Street at Powerhouse Park and Solana Beach at Seascape Beach Park.