This year’s annual “Beach Bummers” list by the nonprofit Heal the Bay shows that seven of the 10 dirtiest beaches in California are located in Los Angeles County. Topanga State, Cabrillo, Solstice Canyon, Escondido, Surfrider, Puerco and Avalon Harbor beaches all received failing grades. Many of these beaches are repeat offenders — most notably, Avalon Harbor Beach has ranked as the worst in the last four of five years.
Pollution on our beaches and in our water won’t clear itself up, and L.A. shorelines play a large part in an economy that benefits greatly from tourism, not to mention oceanfront real estate. More importantly, poor water quality threatens marine life and throws off the delicate balance of the California coastline ecosystem. Los Angeles’ recent ban on plastic bags should improve the cleanliness of beach shores and slow growth of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but improving water quality could be more difficult. As a major county with very progressive ideals, Los Angeles needs to hold itself to a higher standard when it comes to beaches and ocean water quality.
After all, high standards are possible for large, urban counties. San Francisco County maintains excellent quality beaches, with all locations receiving A or B grades. Additionally, Long Beach has made drastic improvements, with 93 percent of beaches receiving A or B grades this year after a $16-million investment from federal and state grants for water cleanup.
Hope is not lost for the failing Los Angeles County beaches. Malibu’s Paradise Cove beach is one success story: Last year it received an F grade from Heal the Bay, yet it has improved water quality to a B today, largely because of financial investment.
There are specific ways to target the causes of pollution. Take sewage runoff near beaches, for example, which stands as a significant source of beach and water pollution. Sewage pollution doesn’t just damage water quality; it also points out important problems in sewer infrastructure that need to be addressed regardless of beaches. And leaving aside the problem of water and beach pollution to deal with at a later time only exacerbates the problem and makes it costlier to fix in the future.
Because of the 2008 budget cuts to water testing, beaches have relied on state and federal grants as well as volunteer testing to continue upkeep. As some of these grants run out this year, we must wonder what the state of water quality will be in the future. Poor water quality can result in beach closures and further damage the ecosystem, perhaps irreparably if left too long.
Though it’s never an easy choice in a difficult economy, Los Angeles needs to reinvest in improving water quality in coming years despite budget concerns. Beaches and the ocean need to be preserved for the future, and it’s practically unethical to leave the ever-inflating repair bill for later generations.
To put it simply: The water can’t clean itself up. Action is needed, now.
Carnissa Lucas-Smith is a sophomore majoring in philosophy, politics and law.