Cowell Beach Water Quality Success Continues on Heal the Bay Annual Beach Report Card

SANTA CRUZ For the second consecutive year, Cowell Beach is not included on Heal the Bay’s “Beach Bummer” list. The environmental nonprofit’s annual Beach Report Card, released today, shows that the iconic City of Santa Cruz beach located west of the Municipal Wharf continues with water quality success in weekly levels of ocean bacterial pollution.

This water quality, measured by independent analyses reported in 2020 by the City of Santa Cruz Environmental Laboratory and Santa Cruz County Environmental Health Department, derives from the continuing combined efforts by City of Santa Cruz staff and Cowell’s Working Group. Their work previously revealed and addressed the issue of birds roosting on or near the Wharf as a major source of past water quality issues.

“This is such great news,” said Mayor Donna Meyers.The changes in bacteria data measurements which have kept Cowell Beach off of the ‘Beach Bummer’ list over two years now demonstrate the positive power of government working with a focused group of community organizations.”

Cowell’s Working Group was launched in 2014 at the direction of the Santa Cruz City Council. It includes representatives from the City, Santa Cruz County, Save The Waves Coalition, Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation with the mission to study and develop recommendations to improve the water quality at Cowell Beach.

“Santa Cruz beachgoers can continue to enjoy a healthy ocean thanks to all of the group’s efforts at Cowell’s,” said Save The Waves Coordinator Shaun Burns.  “It’s a great win for the community and the World Surfing Reserve, and we’ll continue to work hard to improve our local beaches.”

A critical factor in the Cowell Beach water quality success has been the installation of bird screening designed to reduce pigeons and gulls roosting and defecating under the Wharf.  Another important installation has been the sliding gates placed at Neary Lagoon to keep bacteria-infested water there from flowing through a storm outlet vault and onto Cowell Beach during summer months. A third installation of a steel plate at the Neary outfall pipe below sea level has diverted the flow of bacteria-laden water to the Wastewater Treatment Facility for treatment and disinfection.

“These installations, in combination with now routine City cleaning and management practices at the Neary Lagoon outlet and Cowell Beach vault, plus Main Beach cleaning and management practices, have radically reduced bacteria count,” said Laboratory and Environmental Compliance Manager Akin Babatola who has led the City’s scientific efforts.

The City and Cowell’s Working Group will continue their efforts with plans to further monitor water quality and enhance public understanding of the situation at Cowell Beach.

More information on Cowell Beach water quality improvement is available at savethewaves.org/cleancowells.

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