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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the Beach Report Card?

Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is the only comprehensive analysis of coastline water quality in California. We monitor more than 350 beaches weekly from Oregon to the Mexico border, assigning an A to F grade based on the health risks of swimming or surfing at that location. On our website, you can find out which beaches are safe and unsafe, check recent water quality history and look up details of current and past beach closures.

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Why should I care about water quality?

Numerous studies have shown that swimming in water with high levels of bacteria can make you seriously ill. The water may look fine, but it could be teeming with microorganisms that can cause severe stomach flu, respiratory illness and debilitating ear, nose and throat infections.

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Will I definitely get sick if I swim at an D or F beach?

No one can say for sure, but you definitely raise your risk. One in 25 beachgoers will get sick swimming or surfing in polluted water near a flowing storm drain. Many D and F beaches are near these outfalls. Other poorly performing beaches are frequently near piers or in enclosed marinas and harbors with poor circulation. Simply put, the lower the grade, the greater the risk of getting sick.

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How are the grades determined?

All county health departments are required to test beach water quality samples for three types of indicator bacteria at least once a week. Heal the Bay compiles the complex shoreline data, analyzes it and assigns an easy-to-understand letter grade. Learn more about the Grading Methodology.

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How often are the grades updated?

We publish new grades based on the latest data each week. These are available on this website. We also publish annual reports that provide detailed summary analysis for each coastal county, as well as a summer report card that analyzes sites during the traditional beachgoing season between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You can find PDFs of these reports here.

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What do the indicator bacteria mean?

Indicator bacteria are not necessarily pathogenic, i.e. their presence will not definitely make you sick. However, numerous epidemiological studies have shown that these bacteria are usually found near microorganisms that do cause human illness. Unfortunately, there are no reliable water quality tests that can identify with certainty the pathogens themselves.

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How is the bacteria getting into the water?

Determining the exact cause of bacterial pollution at a particular site can be a challenge. Sometimes the bacteria is the result of a leaky septic system nearby or a cracked sewer pipe. Othertimes, urban runoff carries animal droppings directly into the ocean via the storm drain system. Some unscrupulous boat owners discharge raw waste into the open ocean as well.

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Why are their dry grades and wet grades?

The Beach Report Card provides grades for both dry and wet weather to allow a clear analysis of the water quality at any given monitoring location. Water quality significantly drops during and immediately after a rainstorm, but often rebounds to previous levels within few days. Grades for dry weather are calculated for days of no rain and at least 3 days after it stops raining. Grades for wet weather pertain to data from samples collected on days that experience rain, including the following three days.

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What’s being done to clean up polluted beaches?

Due in large part to Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card program and advocacy efforts, the state of California has committed over $100 million to clean up its most polluted beaches. The Clean Beach Initiative, a series of funding measures passed earlier this decade, has already paid for numerous runoff diversions and other infrastructure enhancements throughout the state. More than 70 sites are targeted.

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How can I and my family stay healthy at the beach?

  • Water quality is generally very good during the dry summer months (April to October)
  • Wait 72 hours after rainfall before you go swimming
  • Swim 100 yards away from flowing storm drain outlets. (Imagine a football field.)
  • Do not let children play in storm drains or puddles nearby
  • Access the Beach Report Card to find out if your beach is safe

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