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Testing water safety at Orange County beaches

Last year, I wrote a blog entry entitled “Back to the beach!” that was an index to all of my blogs that had “beach” in the title, up until that date. The goal was to aid beachgoers, who are already hitting my entries for Manresa State Beach and Sunset State Beach THIS spring! Of course there are EVEN MORE of my blogs about beaches that DO NOT have “beach” in the title, such as this one about Rio del Mar. Until today, the only new entry since that time that had “beach” in the title was one called “Beach water quality report!” about beach water quality nationwide in the United States, including results for California.

THIS summer, there are going to be some CHANGES made! Southern California will be the first place in the U.S. to use new, rapid methods for the determination of water safety!

Traditional methods for testing the safety of water can take up to FOUR DAYS. A standard method takes 24 hours. A lot of these tests originated in sanitary engineering procedures that have been used for a long time. In 24 hours (or four days), water conditions can change. Also, people may have been swimming and surfing in polluted waters for one to four DAYS!

This summer, Southern California will use a RAPID, DNA-based testing procedure that will look for the DNA of bacteria that are found in human waste. Health agencies can run the tests in TWO HOURS and warn the public the SAME DAY!

A demonstration project planned by the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, a Costa Mesa-based research institute will use these same-day methods to monitor water quality in NINE heavily used beaches in Orange County. The testing will provide an early look at technology that is likely to be adopted nationwide. Environmental regulators at the federal level will likely endorse a rapid testing method by 2012.

Nine sites in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Dana Point will be tested five times a week in July and August, once final approval is given. The locations include the often-contaminated waters near the Santa Ana River mouth, Newport Beach Pier (Newport Pier or Balboa Pier?) and Doheny State Beach, which fail health standards at least 5% of the time.

According to the article in

“Researchers have been working on ways to offer same-day test results for about a decade, and the State Water Board has spent $7.8 million in grants to develop methods that will inform beachgoers about water quality “in a near-real-time manner,” according to spokesman William L. Rukeyser.”

The process used during the Orange County pilot program is a method developed by researchers at the University of North Carolina.

And enjoy this high-tech twist:

“In conjunction with the project, Miocean, an Irvine nonprofit, will install waterproof flat-screen monitors at three of the test beaches to display the same-day closure and advisory data transmitted wirelessly from the county’s health agency, with the hope of giving beachgoers an idea of how safe the water is before they dip their toes in the surf.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must announce its new water quality criteria and publish its rapid testing methods by October 2012, under a federal consent decree and a legal settlement with the Natural Resources Defense Council. EPA is in its fourth year of using rapid testing to test beaches in New Jersey, but authorities have not used the new method for health advisories in New Jersey.

(Are they keeping the results secret? 😉 )

In California, funds for state-mandated beach testing will run out at the end of the year. (That figures! :-) ) In Marin, Sonoma, and San Francisco Counties, researchers are studying the use of a handheld device called a PhyloChip (a pocket-sized DNA sampler) to quickly test ocean water for thousands of microorganisms.

-Bill at

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