Dubious Distinction: This is the first time East Beach has qualified for Heal the Bay’s “Summer Bummer” list. | Credit: Nick Welsh

Just as Santa Barbara’s tourist season hits its post-July 4 stride, the city’s East Beach received the dubious distinction of being among the 10 dirtiest public beaches in California in terms of fecal coliform counts for the year 2020-2021.

Based on the 31st annual survey conducted by Heal the Bay, East Beach — located just spitting distance from State and Cabrillo Boulevard, perhaps the city’s most heavily visited intersection — ranked 10th among the bottom 10. Worst on the list was the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Closer to home was Marina del Rey’s Mother’s Beach between the lifeguard tower and the boat dock.

Of the 500 public beach spots Heal the Bay surveyed throughout the state, 93 percent were given scores of A or B. In Santa Barbara County, two beaches made the organization’s Honor Roll list: Guadalupe Dunes and El Capitán State Beach.

Accounting for the relatively high number of positive scores was this year’s notable lack of rainfall to wash fecal runoff downstream and out to the ocean’s mouth. During wet weather, only 57 percent of the beaches tested posted good or excellent grades.

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This was the first time East Beach qualified for Heal the Bay’s “Summer Bummer” list.  Mission Creek — a highly urbanized creek that meanders through downtown Santa Barbara — washes right out into it.

The City of Santa Barbara’s Creeks Division has focused considerable effort and expense over the years plugging various sources of contamination spilling into Mission Creek, but with the COVID pandemic, the number of homeless encampments that have sprung up along the banks of the creek aroused the concern of Heal the Ocean, which began tracking encampments along the creek with drone technology. Even before COVID struck, it should be noted, Mission Creek offered refuge and privacy to those unable or disinclined to embrace the great indoors.

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