Grading Our Beaches

Heal the Bay Releases Annual Beach Report Card for Santa Barbara

Water quality watchdog Heal the Bay released its 19th annual beach report cards for the state of California this week and the news, for us here in sunny Santa Barbara, is mix of very good and very bad. Based on data compiled at test spots from Guadalupe Dunes to Rincon, it seems that, when the weather is nice, the vast majority of area beaches are among the cleanest in state. However, when the weather takes a turn toward wet and wild, the majority of our beaches are about as bad as it gets.

The 2008-09 year was a tough one for water quality testing, as state funding for county-level programs dried up late last fall. While some places, like San Diego and Ventura counties, were forced to abandon monitoring altogether Santa Barbarans were spared such potentially dangerous uninformed reality thanks to efforts by the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and the City of Santa Barbara. When the county suspended tests at 20 area beaches in October - a time when the rainy season begins and tests become a huge public safety service for beachgoers - Channelkeeper and the city stepped in to pick up the slack and tested 16 beaches, from Refugio State Beach to Rincon, during the rainy winter months. As a result, Heal the Bay’s report this year is based on findings from all three agencies.

According to the report, during dry weather, 19 of the county’s 20 monitored beaches regularly received A or B grades. The only poor performer was Arroyo Burro beach (a.k.a. Hendry’s Beach), due at least in part, to the bird-friendly estuary nearby. The squeaky clean success of the spring and summer months goes out the window once the rain starts, however. During wet months, only four of the 16 beaches monitored by the city and Channelkeeper continued to enjoy their A or B rankings. The worst offenders, including several F grades, were Haskell’s Beach in Goleta, Goleta Beach, the aforementioned Arroyo Burro, East Beach at Mission Creek and at Sycamore Creek, Butterfly Beach in Montecito and Hammonds. Even more damning, not only do these poor marks mean that Santa Barbara County beaches are “well below the state average” of quality during winter months, but also, based on prior Heal the Bay reports, the 2008-09 report card is the worst showing since 2004.

To see the entire report on more than 500 California beaches, visit

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