With April right around the corner, the official beach monitoring season is upon us. Under AB 411, all heavily visited beaches near a potential pollution source statewide must be monitored once a week from April to the end of October. The monitoring program provides critical information to better inform the public of the potential health risks of swimming at potentially polluted beaches.
This April, families can finally return to Baby Beach in Dana Point. Due to the state budget crisis, the Orange County Health Department cut water quality monitoring at the popular enclosed beach near the Ocean Institute aquarium. Baby Beach has long been a destination for families to take their young children to swim in the ocean without the fear of rip currents and breaking waves. Unfortunately, since November, kids swimming at Baby Beach did so at their own risk because their parents didn’t have any water quality information.
Considering that Baby Beach has been on the Beach Report Card’s annual beach bummer list multiple times, the cessation of the fecal bacteria monitoring program definitely put public health at risk.
On April 1, the O.C. Health Department will restart the monitoring program at Baby Beach, but the days of daily or five-day-a-week monitoring at the beach are long gone. The current plan is to monitor the beach weekly or twice a week at the most.
Some information is better than none. But that infrequent schedule means families heading to Baby Beach and numerous other beaches in California will still be swimming at their own risk. It will stay that way until the state permanently restores beach monitoring funding, Orange County pays for full beach monitoring, and EPA increases the allocation of funding under the Federal BEACH Act from $10 million a year up to the full $30 million annual appropriation.
Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds now provide the dollars for beach monitoring in California, but these monies dry up by the end of the year. The future of beach monitoring in California for 2011 without new funds looks pretty bleak, and situations like Baby Beach will become more and more commonplace.