The City of Santa Cruz and Save The Waves See Improvement at Cowell’s Beach

STW and CWG sees a 50% drop in the number of beach postings and the number of water quality samples exceeding State standards has dropped from 59% to 22%.

Since its formation in September 2014, the Cowell Beach Working Group, facilitated and led by Save the Waves, has regularly convened with City of Santa Cruz staff, County Environmental Health Department staff, Surfrider Foundation, and Sierra Club to review City efforts and make recommendations for further improvements. Working together, the group has learned a great deal about the problem at Cowell, the steps to fix it, and how to improve the public knowledge of this issue.

From 2009 to 2016, Cowell Beach topped Heal the Bay’s “Beach Bummer” list, a report that takes public data to “grade” water quality at California beaches from Arcata to Imperial Beach. Year after year, Cowell Beach was identified as “California’s Dirtiest Beach”, a designation due to high bacteria counts.

We found that the bacteria is largely concentrated near the wharf and counts dramatically drop as you move further away; the issue is seasonal and bacteria counts spike in the summer, rather than the winter run-off season; there is almost no evidence of human DNA (meaning related to sewage) in our samples. This all led us to conclude that a main driving source of bacteria originated with pigeons roosting under the wharf. With the efforts of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf Crew, roosting areas were removed.

Specifically, the Wharf Crew placed strong wire mesh over roosting areas along 250 ft. of the Wharf, and made other improvements to deter any further pigeon roosting.

Unfortunately, this work was only completed in mid August 2016, due to period of larger swells in June and July and these results may not be fully reflected in the Heal the Bay report.

These significant improvements prompted us to meet over the past month with a variety of community groups which represent youth, veterans, the disabled and surf community stakeholders. The purpose of these meetings was to better educate the public about the current health of Cowell Beach. Furthermore, we’ve convened a Technical Advisory Committee from the National Water Resources Institute to verify methods, data and conclusions as an independent third party.

We’ll anticipate the latest results from the official Heal The Bay report later this month, and we’ll be closely watching the data throughout the next year to see whether our improvements are reflected in the reporting. We may still be somewhere on the “Beach Bummer” list, but are confident that our efforts will continue show a positive trend in reducing the bacteria in the next year.

One thing we already know right now is that when local government, non-profit groups and the community actually work together, we can effectively address our most pressing problems.

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