For the third year in a row, McKinleyville’s Clam Beach appears high on a water quality watchdog’s list of worst beaches in California.
According to the annual Beach Report Card compiled by Heal the Bay, a Southern California-based environmental advocacy group that compiles information and grades beaches along the West Coast, Clam Beach is No. 2 on the list with an “F” grade. In 2014 Clam Beach had a “D” rating and was sixth on the list and in 2015 it received an “F” rating and moved to the No. 3 spot. The full report is available online at healthebay.org.
“The problem is something in the watershed of Strawberry Creek and that includes Patrick Creek,” Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services Supervising Environmental Health Specialist Amanda Ruddy said.
Other Humboldt County beaches included in the report are Trinidad State Beach, Luffenholtz Beach, Moonstone Beach and Mad River Beach. All four of these beaches received “A” grades last year but both Luffenholtz and Trinidad fell to a “C” this year while Moonstone got another “A” and Mad River an “A+.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever see those get lower than a ‘B,’ ” Heal the Bay Beach report card manager James Alamillo said.
He said both El Niño and the recent drought years maybe contributed to the rise in rankings and falling grades. Creeks and streams dry out during droughts and containments and bacteria don’t make it downstream, but the rainfall this year pushed all that built up stuff to the ocean.
“It gets flushed out,” Alamillo said. “That happens everywhere, we call it the first flush.”
The report compiles data collected by state agencies that measure levels of E. coli and enterococcus.
“It’s fecal indicator bacteria,” Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt said.
These aren’t necessarily harmful bacteria, but their presence sometimes indicates more harmful bacteria, Alamillo said. Exposure to these bacteria can sometimes cause rashes, diarrhea and infections. Small children who haven’t fully developed their immune system are most at risk, Kalt said.
Samples collected near the mouth of Strawberry Creek from April to October tested over the limit for bacteria about 50 percent of the time.
“When almost half of your samples are exceeding state standards that’s a substantial risk,” Alamillo said about swimming in the waters.
Right now signs are posted on both Clam Beach and Luffenholtz about the excessive bacteria levels, Kalt said.
Humboldt Baykeeper, in coordination with Coast Seafoods, the Humboldt County Public Health lab and the Regional Water Quality Control Board, has 35 sites along county rivers and streams, with a focus on Little River and Janes Creek, testing for high E. coli levels to find where it’s coming from.
“So we’re doing a study with the Humboldt County Public Health lab to identify the source,” Kalt said. “We got our first sample but the county hasn’t analyzed yet.”
The second phase of sampling will be done June 8. Kalt said she hopes the study will reveal if the source of bacteria is coming from humans, livestock, wild animals or agriculture.
Heal the Bay also does a weekly beach report for people looking for more up to date information for their summer beach trips, it’s available online at beachreportcard.com.
“We do this to kick off the upcoming beach season,” Alamillo said about the annual report.
But it’s not all bad for Humboldt beachgoers, Moonstone, Mad River and numerous other beaches along the county coast are clean enough to enjoy a swim.
“It’s important to note that we do have nice beaches,” Ruddy said.