Clam Beach landed on Heal the Bay's list of California's most polluted beaches yet again this year, getting an 'F' for water quality on the 2021 Beach Report Card. This episode of EcoNews Report features Dr. Jeremy Corrigan, who has worked for years to answer the burning question: why does Clam Beach have such high levels of fecal indicator bacteria? Dr. J is the Lab Manager at the Humboldt County Dept. of Public Health, and recently published a paper based on genetic analysis of the most likely sources. His findings point to birds as the main influence at Clam Beach, while cattle appear to be the biggest source of bacteria pollution in the Strawberry Creek watershed. Tune in to find out what this means for surfers and other beachgoers. 

Once again, Humboldt County’s Clam Beach has been ranked as one of the state’s 10 worst beaches when it comes to water quality.
According to Heal The Bay’s 2020-21 beach report card, Clam Beach at Strawberry Creek is the seventh worst in the state. The environmental nonprofit’s Beach Bummer list ranks the state’s 10 most polluted beaches according to water sampling data.

Clam Beach has posted failing summer dry grades in seven out of the last 11 years Heal The Bay has published its report cards.

Humboldt Baykeeper director Jennifer Kalt said strong evidence indicates high levels of bacteria in the ocean waters can be linked to birds, as opposed to bacteria originating from cattle in the freshwater stream.

“Even though the levels of bacteria are high enough to get an F grade on the Beach Bummer list, the genetic analysis shows (the bacteria) is primarily from birds,” she said. “And so, in the ocean, you have the influence of birds because there’s so many birds at the beach.”

Kalt also pointed out the risk of bacteria from these sources is lower compared with bacteria coming from human sources, found in samples affected by septic runoff.

The number of bacteria coming from human feces is low in the streams.

“As far the freshwater goes in the creeks, there were very few human markers found, which means that (the contamination) is not coming from septic systems, which is what a lot of people think,” she elaborated.

Ginger recommends any beachgoers or concerned visitors stay safe from any potential danger by checking water quality updates at BeachReportCard.com, as water conditions can improve or worsen throughout the day, and sampling is done weekly. He also recommends staying 100 yards away from the mouth of Strawberry Creek when in the water.

“We just want folks to be aware of that and be cautious of the creek mouth whenever they’re out there, that’s going to be the best way to protect themselves,” he said.

Four other Humboldt County beaches which the county monitors posted passing grades. Mad River Beach’s northern mouth was awarded an A+ grade, while Little River State Beach at Moonstone County Park and Trinidad State Beach at Mill Creek were both given B grades. Luffenholtz Beach at Luffenholtz Creek received a C grade after appearing on the Beach Bummer list in 2017 and 2018.

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The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution opposing the threat posed by potential coal exports via Humboldt Bay.

The notion that such a resolution would even be considered may have seemed implausible as recently as early last month. But then news broke that a mysterious corporation is trying to take over the North Coast Railroad Authority’s right-of-way between Humboldt Bay and the San Francisco Bay Area in an apparent effort to facilitate large-scale exports of coal from the Powder River Basin to markets in Asia.

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson and Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass brought Tuesday’s resolution to the board, and in his introductory remarks Wilson said there’s fairly strong evidence that people behind the shadowy, newly formed North Coast Railroad Co., LLC, are fueled by the dirty-burning mineral.

“I think it’s reasonable for Humboldt County to take the potential for coal exports seriously,” Wilson said.

He mentioned a study commissioned by the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, back when he was on the board of commissioners, which found that coal was the only commodity valuable enough to potentially cover the hefty price of rehabilitating the dilapidated rail line between Humboldt Bay and Willits.

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The smoke is starting to clear from a bizarre scheme to ship coal up the North Coast on a long-defunct rail line for export.

A likely destination is China, which relies heavily on coal-fired power plants and has recently reported a severe depletion of its coal supply.

This is a crazy, costly, hazardous plan. In this age of climate change, when reducing greenhouse gas emissions is crucial, it isn’t a stretch to say that creating new supply lines for coal-fired power plants anywhere is bad for the entire planet.

Trains haven’t run between Willits and Eureka since 1998, when winter storms destroyed much of the rail bed. It wasn’t the first time. Over the previous 10 years, the 110-mile route through the Eel River Canyon was closed time and again by mudslides that washed out the tracks.

So, it wasn’t particularly surprising that those behind the venture tried to stay in the shadows. Or that a little exposure to sunlight sent a few participants scurrying for cover.

But the petition hasn’t been withdrawn. Rep. Jared Huffman, state Sen. Mike McGuire and other North Coast elected officials are organizing opposition. Meanwhile, reporters from Salt Lake City to Santa Rosa to Eureka are still digging for details about the North Coast Railroad Company and this antediluvian plan to ship dirty coal around the globe.

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Even before the Outpost broke the story that a secretive corporation is trying to take over the North Coast Railroad Authority’s right-of-way in an apparent scheme to export coal to Asian markets via Humboldt Bay, state and federal lawmakers have been pulling out all the stops in hopes of thwarting the plan. 

As the latest line of defense, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, our current representative in Congress, and U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, who formerly repped the North Coast but now represents California’s 5th District (which includes all of Napa County and parts of Contra Costa, Lake, Solano and Sonoma counties) have sent a letter to former South Bend mayor and presidential candidate/current U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg urging his department to withhold any and all financial assistance for this apparent coal export project.

Here’s the letter:

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