The Santa Cruz Sentinel Editorial for May 24, 2013:
The annual Heal the Bay beach report card was released Thursday and it was not especially good news for Santa Cruz County, a place that prides itself on 29 miles of coastline protected within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
The report targeted popular Cowell Beach in Santa Cruz, once again ranked one of the most polluted in California. According to the report, the number of A or B grades given to local beaches from Natural Bridges State Beach downcoast to Rio del Mar Beach during wet weather conditions was “dramatically lower this past year,” with only 3 of 12 locations receiving A or B grades compared to 10 last year. Dry — summer — weather grades were much better with 10 of 13 beaches in the county receiving A grades. Only Capitola Beach, west of the jetty and impacted by Soquel Creek, which scored a C grade during the period, and Cowell, which received an F, were outliers.
Cowell, west of the Municipal Wharf and Main Beach, and fronting the city’s top tourist hotel, made the Beach Bummer 10 worst list for the fourth consecutive year — ranking the past two years as the second most polluted spot on the entire coast.
Heal the Bay noted that researchers from Stanford University tracking sources leading to poor water quality at Cowell found a buried pipe in the sand that contained high levels of human-associated bacteria. The bacteria source was tracked to a toilet in an apartment building, flushing directly into the storm drain.
“Other likely sources of pollution include open defecation from a prevalent homeless population and a large bird population at the wharf,” said the report.
The city of Santa Cruz is obviously sensitive that a popular stretch of local beach has received bad water quality ratings in a nationally publicized report.Which explains why the city issued a press release this week before the Heal the Bay report came out. Better to get out in front of the message rather than fend off worried questions from the tourism industry.
Using money from 2008’s voter approved Measure E, the city has been spending money directed to clean up beach pollution by removing trash, educating the public about the issue, covering trash receptacles on the Wharf, diverting runoff during summer months to the wastewater treatment plant, sweeping the wharf daily with a new street sweeper and sifting and raking Cowell and Main Beach regularly.
Heal the Bay also notes the city is implementing an RV parking permit program to cut down on illegal waste disposal from campers, working to address the longstanding issue of illegal encampments and surveying and retrofitting sewer lateral pipes to protect against harmful sewage discharges.
While for years it was believed the pollution at Cowell stemmed mainly from decomposing kelp and bird waste, the issue seems more complicated. Last month, the City Council held a special study session to identify sources of pollution at Cowell. The council also approved a curfew that made Cowell off limits from midnight to an hour before sunrise — after a torrent of complaints about crime, drug use and sales, illegal camping, discarded needles and human waste at a tourist beach used by surf schools, the popular junior lifeguards program and hotel guests. The city also filled a cave where drug users were hanging out and installed bright lights outside restrooms and under the wharf, both reported to be centers of criminal activity.
And while this year’s report did not reflect much progress at Cowell, we think Santa Cruz is responding to the problem and cleaner days are on the horizon.