California Clean Beaches Program

The statewide California beach program is the most extensive in nation. However, it is the California counties, not the state that conduct the public health beach monitoring and regulatory program within their jurisdictions. Seventeen California counties annually sample 656 monitoring stations at 291 beaches. There are 515 miles of beaches monitored and 28,000 samples collected annually. We analyze the samples for three indicators, enterococcus, total coliform (TC), and fecal coliform (FC) bacteria.

In California, we place advisory “postings” at beaches that exceed the water quality standards based on sampling. However, we immediately close beaches (prior to sample results) whenever there is an expected sewage release that reaches recreational water. We only reopen “closed” beaches when two consecutive daily sample results show all indicators below the water quality standards. Postings are warnings that water contact may cause illness as it is above bacteria health standards. Closings are prohibitions to “keep out” of contaminated water.

California’s ocean recreational water quality standards go back as far as 1958 when there were three standards put into place based on sampling for total coliforms. Current California regulations contain seven recreational water standards. We have four single sample criteria per 100 ml: 104 enterococcus, 10,000 TC, 400 FC, or 1000 TC, if the ratio TC/FC ratio <10. We also have three multisample or Geomean (at least five weekly samples during any 30-day sampling period), criteria: 35 enterococcus, 200 FC, or 1000 TC.

In 1997 California created as special beach program often referred to as AB411. AB411 requires specific sampling and reporting requirements for the local beach water quality county agencies. It also allocates over $1 million a year to counties based on program size and expense. In total, the counties spend more than $10 million a year running their beach programs so this allocation covers only a small portion of their monitoring program costs.

US EPA beach grant money, currently about $500,000 a year, has been used to supplement California AB411 money and to develop the statewide California Beachwatch database to collect all state beach water quality information.