Six local beaches that recently lost funding to test for disease-causing bacteria have been put back in rotation.
The State Water Resources Control Board restored funding for the state’s testing program from which San Luis Obispo County had been receiving $26,600. The restoration comes after lobbying efforts by the state’s coastal counties and pressure from non-profit groups including the Surfrider Foundation.
“We’re certainly not getting anything extra, but the money has been essentially replaced to continue services throughout the planed two-tear contract,” said Curt Batson, the director of environmental health for San Luis Obispo County. “They had told us several months ago that they were going to reduce our funding by 10 percent and instead what they did was reduce it by 100 percent.”
San Luis Obispo County’s program is responsible for monitoring 20 local beaches, receiving funds through a contract with the California Public Heath Department. Already scheduled cutbacks reduced the new contract to $23,800. However, the total project costs the county $125,000, the balance of which comes from federal grants and the county general fund.
The restored sites are north of Pier Avenue and south of Strand Avenue at Pismo Beach Morro Strand State Beach, the city beach north of Morro Rock, San Simeon State Beach and Hazard Canyon in Montaña de Oro.
Batson said in October that the beaches dropped from the list were the best quality among those tested. However, they are also among the most frequented in the county and preventative testing should put people’s minds at ease when weekly operations resume Nov. 17.
“I don’t expect that there will have been any significant changes (since the last test),” Batson said. “They were our best locations so they should still be doing well.”
Beaches with bacteria levels exceeding health requirements are posted with warning signs telling people to avoid contact, but the budget lapse had allowed only emergency response services to contamination.
While non-profit organizations helped win this battle for testing in California’s coastal communities, the larger issue is far from resolved.
“There are a whole bunch of surf spots that never get tested,” said Colin Nicol, president of the Cal Poly chapter of Surfrider. “You just hope for the best when you go out without that protection. A lot of surfers get really sick for sure.”
Nicol said that many people aren’t even aware of the issue when they go in the water, attributing illness to other factors.
“For example, St. Anne’s off of Spyglass Drive (in Pismo Beach) is a heavily used for surfing and is never tested,” Nicol said. “Last time I checked, the county was saying that there was no official walkway down there and that it was too dangerous for them to send people down there.”
“We periodically reassess which ones we check, but 20 is the limit,” Batson said. “As we were looking into selection last time, we found place names on the map nobody had even heard of. We certainly don’t have any long term plans for changing, it’s just based on the issues that come up.”