Something's stinky at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, and it ain't the garlic fries.
(* Or is it? See disclaimer at the bottom.)
Monarch Beach in front of the glitzy resort is the fourth most polluted beach in California, according to the annual Beach Report Card issued by Heal the Bay.
"A zero-star beach at a five-star resort!" says Matthew King, the Santa Monica-based ocean protection nonprofit's communications director.
Every year, just before Memorial Day, which is the unofficial start of the summer beach season, Heal the Bay gives more than 450 beaches up and down the Golden State coast A through F grades based on bacterial pollution the previous 12 months.
Due mostly to Poche, Doheny and assorted mom beaches, Dana Point is no stranger to the Beach Bummers list (or the worst of the worst). But it's surprising to see a failing grade for the northern end of Monarch, which is fed by a Salt Creek ozone treatment facility and can usually rely on wave action to churn and disperse residual pollution.
A filthy Monarch is not just a problem for the filthy rich. The beach draws plenty of penniless surfers due to one of the Orange Coast's best breaks.
Thirty-one-year-old Heal the Bay believes the reason for Monarch making the Beach Bummers list for the first time in 26 years of Beach Report Cards had to do with the water sampling location being moved closer to the Salt Creek mouth, at the urging of the San Clemente-based Surfrider Foundation. So-called "point zero" locations—where creek or storm drains meet the water—is where bacterial testing is done in Los Angeles County, which has always scored more poorly than Orange County on Beach Report Cards.
Santa Monica Pier, Marina Del Rey and Redondo Beach Pier are among the other nine Beach Bummers for 2015-16.
It's a shame Monarch scored so poorly because otherwise Dana Point enjoyed a banner year when it came to clean beaches. Poche and Doheny avoided the Beach Bummers list for the third year in a row. As the Weekly has reported, a falconry program has been used at Poche in recent years to scare off pigeons that would otherwise leave feces that contaminates the water.
Meanwhile, Dana Point had four beaches that made Heal the Bay's annual Honor Roll, which is reserved for sites that get A-plus grades year-round. "Not easy to do," King notes.
Those Dana Point beaches are at the Ocean Institute, Dana Point Harbor Youth Dock, South Capistrano Bay Community Beach and the projection of Camino Estrella.
They are among 12 Orange County beaches that made the Honor Roll, second only to San Diego County, which has 14 on the list. There are 34 statewide. The other OC Honor Roll recipients are: El Moro, Crescent Bay, Victoria, Camel Point, Laguna Lido Apartments, Three Arch Bay and two in San Clemente, at Avenidas Calafia and Las Palmeras.
The Monarch aberration aside, Orange County can boast that 94 percent of its 114 beaches received A or B grades during dry summer periods, well above the state average and a 3 percent gain from our five-year summer average.
Of course, that dropped to 45 percent during wet weather, which flushes inland pollution into our coastal waters.
Overall, most California beaches scored well this year thanks to the five-year drought, as less rain equals less runoff and therefore less pollution, according to Heal the Bay's Leslie Griffin, who co-authored the Beach Report Card with James Alamillo.
However, Heal the Bay, as it has for years, still recommends capturing and reusing the runoff we do get, rather than sending it on to pollute our beaches. Swimming at a beach with a water quality grade of C or lower greatly increases the risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, and rashes.
Heal the Bay cites a UCLA study that concluded the regional public health cost of gastrointestinal illnesses caused by recreating in polluted ocean waters totals at least $21 million annually in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
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Until the day comes (if it ever comes) that all our beaches gets As or Bs, those who frolic in our waters are encouraged to stay away from storm drains, creek mouths, piers and enclosed (a.k.a. mom) beaches.
“A day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick,” Griffin says. “The reassuring news is that if you swim at an open-ocean beach in the summer away from storm drains, creek mouths, and piers you stand very little risk of getting ill.”
Learn more at beachreportcard.org.
* Disclaimer: While Heal the Bay identifies the stinky section of Monarch Beach as being near the Ritz-Carlton, upon closer inspection Orange County testing nearest that resort shows a beach that got an A grade. Heal the Bay could be talking about the St. Regis that is both inland on the opposite end of Monarch Beach and closer to a chronic source of pollution.