For the fifth consecutive year, Humboldt County beaches placed on a pretty gross Top 10 list.
Clam and Luffenholtz beaches placed fourth and sixth respectively on the environmental organization Heal the Bay’s Beach Bummers list because of poor water quality — specifically from fecal bacteria contamination.
Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services supervising environmental health specialist Mario Kalson said the Beach Bummers list used data collected by the county as part of its state-mandated beach monitoring program.
Both Clam and Luffenholtz beaches along with Trinidad State Beach and Moonstone Beach are considered impaired waters by the State Water Board, Kalson said.
Humboldt Baykeeper director Jennifer Kalt’s environmental organization has also sampled other watersheds throughout the county for fecal bacteria contamination, specifically in Janes Creek in Arcata and Little River. “What we found suggests the source in Little River is likely to be septic systems and that the sources in Arcata in Janes Creek are not really known at this point,” Kalt said.
Kalt said past studies suggest that the sources of fecal bacteria at Clam and Luffenholtz beaches are human-sourced rather than from wildlife. Previous studies by her organization and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control found no fecal bacteria contamination in areas with minimal or no human activity, such as state and national parks and timber company lands, Kalt said.
Heal the Bay’s report card shows the beaches at the north side of Mad River mouth had an A+ grade, which Kalt said further suggests that the contamination is human-caused. “People say it’s probably just birds, seagulls and harbor seals,” Kalt said. “There is a high concentration of wildlife there.”
Kalt said she is really hoping that the county’s genetic analysis of the fecal coliform in local streams will point to the primary problems and lead to solutions.
Earlier this year, the state approved a Humboldt County plan for overseeing wastewater and septic systems. Kalson said that the Local Area Management Plan will require the county to review impaired watersheds and identify septic systems that may be contributing to the contamination.
In the meantime, Kalt and Heal the Bay suggest that people avoid swimming in waters at these two beaches for three days after significant rainfall to avoid potential infection.