Three Orange County beaches are among the cleanest of 200 popular beaches around the country, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
However, the NRDC's "Testing the Waters" survey also identified three separate stretches of Doheny State Beach in Dana Point as being among the nation's most chronically polluted.
Twelve ocean, lake and river beaches in Alabama, California, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Texas are recognized by the NRDC as "5-Star Beaches" because of their cleanliness.
All of California's are in Orange County: from 38th Street to 52nd/53rd streets in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach's Bolsa Chica State Beach and Huntington State Beach at Brookhurst Street.
Brookhurst and the 52nd/53rd streets' end of Newport Beach--the south end of what was known as Echo Beach in the '80s--are surprises because both are relatively short paddles away from the mouth of the dirty channel known as the Santa Ana River.
Unlike clean-beach reports from, say, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the NRDC recognition combines low pollution violation rates with strong testing and safety practices, including promptly informing the public when to stay out of the water.
On the dirty end of the spectrum are three stretches of Doheny considered "repeat offenders" for continually exceeding the EPA's maximum bacteria standards during testing from 2007 to 2011. They are: the 1,000-foot outfall, the surf zone at the outfall and north of San Juan Creek, which also has a polluted reputation inland.
Three stretches of Avalon Beach on Catalina Island are also repeat offenders, as are beaches in Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin, according to the report.
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The NRDC's annual analysis found that, across the U.S., the number of beach closing and advisory days in 2011 reached the third-highest level in the report's 22-year history, totaling 23,481 days, or a 3 percent decrease from 2010.
More than two-thirds of closings and advisories were issued because bacteria levels in beachwater exceeded public health standards, indicating the presence of human or animal waste in the water, according to the NRDC, which zeroed in on stormwater runoff as the No. 1 pollution source.
The nonprofit, which notes testing of beaches increased slightly after dipping the year before, recommends more testing and "21st century solutions" to the nagging problem of polluted stormwater runoff.