The intense rain over past several days deposited a great amount of bacteria at local beaches, even maxing out the scale at the shore of East Beach at Mission Creek, with bacteria levels more than 240 times the state health standard.
Water sampling conducted on Monday by the Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services Ocean Monitoring Program indicated that East Beach at Mission Creek had high levels of both fecal coliform and enterococcus. The former was recorded at 1553 MPN, almost four times the state health standard level of 400 MPN, and the latter hit the upper limit of more than 24,196 MPN, far beyond the state’s 104 MPN standard. This was more than enough to give East Beach a “warning” designation, advising the public not to enter ocean waters for 72 hours following rainfall.
In fact, of the 15 beaches the County sampled after the storm, the Sands at Coal Oil Point was the only beach to receive an “open” designation. The beaches that recorded the second and third highest levels of enterococcus and fecal coliform were Hope Ranch Beach and Refugio State Beach, respectively.
City of Santa Barbara Creeks Division manager Cameron Benson said the extraordinarily high bacteria level of East Beach at Mission Creek is largely due to pollutants from the city.
“You have rain scouring pollutants from urban areas into creeks, and out into the ocean,” Mr. Benson said.
East Beach at Sycamore Creek received far fewer pollutants than at Mission Creek, only exceeding state health standards for enterococcus at 428 MPN. At Sycamore Creek, East Beach received water from the Andree Clark Bird Refuge after its sand berm for the first time in a while was breached and overflowed.
Despite the high bacteria levels at East Beach at Mission Creek and many other beaches, Mr. Benson told the News-Press on Wednesday afternoon that the beaches monitored on Monday were again getting sampled and that their results, expected to be released today, will “change dramatically.”
Santa Barbara County Public Health Department environmental health director Larry Fay concurred and said that the increased bacteria levels would clear up quickly. Although East Beach’s levels of enterococcus appear exceedingly high, Mr. Fay said it is not enough to trigger a beach closure, which only occurs if raw sewage leaks into the coastline.
Exceptions to this turned out to be Goleta Beach and Carpinteria City Beach at Ash Avenue, which closed for several months last year after receiving debris from the Jan. 9 debris flow.
Mr. Fay told the News-Press that those closures were necessary due to the hurried cleanup and limited knowledge of exactly what was getting dumped at the beach.
“We didn’t know much about the characteristics of the materials and there was urgency in cleaning up,” he said.
The Ocean Monitoring Program does not normally take samples from Carpinteria City Beach, but it is currently being monitored as debris from the recent storms is deposited. City of Carpinteria Parks and Recreation director Matt Roberts welcomes these deposits because they are almost entirely mineral, whereas the materials deposited at Carpinteria City and Goleta beaches after the Jan. 9 debris flow contained some level of “organics.” Because the new sediment brought to the beach from the Toro Creek, San Ysidro upper creek, Arroyo Paradon, and Santa Monica basins lacks organics, Mr. Roberts said it won’t lead to another closure.
Though the east and west buffer of Carpinteria City Beach have enterococcus levels of 2755 and 2909 MPN, respectively, Mr. Roberts says these heightened levels are most likely due to high levels of runoff. He added that the recent additions of “coarser sediments” like gravel and cobble are in the long run beneficial to the shoreline, providing it protection from erosion and winter storms. Next time the basins get filled during a rainstorm, Mr. Roberts hopes the sediment will be brought to Carpinteria City Beach again.
“The priority for that material should be to put it on the beach,” he said.