State budget cuts have put a stop to water testing for bacteria at six local beaches in San Luis Obispo County.

As of Oct. 23, San Luis Obispo County’s Environmental Health Services will no longer sample sites north of Pier Avenue and south of Strand Avenue at Pismo Beach. Also no longer being tested is Morro Strand State Beach, the city beach north of Morro Rock, San Simeon State Beach, and Hazard Canyon in Montana de Oro.

Weekly samples from 14 other county beaches will still be tested for the presence of indicator bacteria known to cause illness. As long as the testing program still receives federal funds and an allocation from the county budget, testing will continue at these sites, said Curt Batson, the director of environmental health for San Luis Obispo County.

“Obviously we will still respond to complaints if there were sewage spills there or anywhere else, certainly. This is just our weekly, routine sampling that we had to discontinue,” Batson said.

Due to the cuts, the county will no longer be able to take preventative measures at the untested locations.

Beaches with the fewest number of state standard violations weren’t cut, Batson said.

“So they are essentially our best beaches,” he said.

Similar cuts have impacted every coastal community in the state. San Mateo County in Southern California is cutting back to emergency services only after losing funds for testing at 38 beach and creek sites.

Some say San Luis Obispo is lucky to still have 14 sites.

“My counterparts throughout the state were all lobbying to not make that cut,” Batson said. “We did six out of 20; some of the counties eliminated all of their site funds because it all came from the state.”

In addition to receiving funds from more than one source, San Luis Obispo was buffered from the budget cuts thanks to foresight. The county Environmental Health Department left a salaried position vacant to free up funds because of a sense that the state’s economic climate wasn’t healthy.

“This has been on the books for awhile now and it’s really very unfortunate,” said Cal Poly biology professor Chris Kitts, who headed a 25-person research project on contamination at the Pismo Pier over the summer.

While the testing site near the pier is still under scrutiny and the data from Kitts’ project is still being analyzed, the two sites no longer tested at Pismo Beach sometimes have water quality issues according to his study.

“It’s a bit of a problem because we do have occasional hits from those sites,” Kitts said. “We took our own samples, but the real results were being used to compare, ‘Are we getting the same stuff as they are?’”

The unusually high contamination at the Pismo Pier is still considered a unique situation by the Environmental Health Department and will remain unaffected by the cutbacks.

“For some reason we just don’t seem to have the same problems at those other Pismo Beach locations that we discontinued and the ones at Morro Bay just don’t seem to have the same effect,” Batson said.

The final report from Kitts’ team to the city of Pismo Beach isn’t slated until 2010.

Research on that site will continue, collecting E. Coli and looking for other unique marker bacteria to trace the contamination.

“With another year, we might get another summer (of testing) out of it,” Kitts said.

“We certainly look forward to seeing what they find and we will become involved once they trace the problem and we find out what the solution might be,” Batson said.

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