Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Beach Monitoring in CA Survives Budget Cuts for 1 More Year

Nearly $1 million found for beach water tests in 2011

Funds still must be approved by state water officials.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2010 AT 1:48 P.M.

Beach  water quality testing in San Diego County and the rest of California is jeopardized by the lack of a long-term funding source.


Beach water quality testing in San Diego County and the rest of California is jeopardized by the lack of a long-term funding source.

California’s signature clean-beach initiative — testing for bacteria at hundreds of sites statewide — was left out of the recently passed budget, but a state agency appears to have found nearly $1 million to keep the program afloat for another year.

On Nov. 2, the State Water Resources Control Board is expected to approve spending $984,000 from voter-approved environmental funding initiatives to pay for the tests in 2011. The board approved a similar measure in 2008. The new move is likely to come with a directive that various parties involved in ocean monitoring better coordinate their efforts to reduce redundancy and the need for outside funding.

Beyond that, the future of beach testing in California remains murky, as it has been since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated spending for the program during budget cuts in 2008.

Ocean advocates welcomed the possible injection of grant money from Propositions 13 and 50 but said it’s not enough. The funds would come from projects that didn’t use their allotment.

“This does not represent a sustainable, long-term source of funding,” said Rick Wilson, coastal management coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation’s national office in San Clemente. “It is imperative that such a funding source be identified for the protection of beachgoers in the future.”

In 1997, Assembly Bill 411 mandated that all beaches with storm drains that discharge during dry weather and that are visited by more than 50,000 people a year be monitored at least weekly by local health officials from April 1 to Oct. 31. California later ordered the posting of warning signs at beaches that exceed state standards for bacterial indicators.

The program is among the most comprehensive in the nation and is widely credited with prompting improvements at polluted beaches. If it disappears, conservationists such as Wilson fear contamination levels will creep back up to pre-1997 levels.

For months, ecology groups, health officials, elected leaders and others have been trying to cobble together a steady stream of money to keep the tests running. Historically, San Diego County received about $300,000 for its peak-season testing at dozens of sites.

“San Diego County is in some ways the most perilous situation because it gets the biggest amount from the state,” Wilson said.

San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox has directed his staff to investigate financing sources, including a possible federal grant, but said this week that nothing is imminent.

“I view this as a public safety issue and something that we ought to be doing for the public, especially in San Diego” where the economy relies on beach tourism, Cox said.

So why not use county money to pay for the program?

“We are dealing with the same issues everybody else is” with regard to budget cuts, Cox said.

Mike Lee: (619)293-2034; Follow on Twitter @sdenvi

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