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The State of Santa Cruz Beaches 2014

The Natural Resources Defense Council's annual water quality report on America's beaches shows some surprises from Santa Cruz County beaches.

by Traci Hukill

June 25, 2014—Cowells Beach is cleaner than it used to be and Mitchell Cove is dirtier, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council's 2014 Testing the Waters report, out today.

Cowells Beach west of the wharf, which last year returned enterococcus levels in excess of public safety standards 34 percent of the time, improved dramatically in this year's report, showing excessive levels just 11 percent of the time. That's in line with California as a whole, which returned high levels 9 percent of the time and ranked 11th out of 30 states for water cleanliness. The state ranked 20th last year.

But Capitola Beach west of the jetty, another beach of concern in last year's report, did not improve at all. Both years it tested above the federal safety level for enterococcus in 33 percent of cases. Both Cowells and Capitola were heavily tested (more than 60 times) in both years.

The good news for Cowells in 2014 is somewhat offset by bad news about Mitchell Cove, at Almar and West Cliff Drive. It exceeded safety standards 42 percent of the time, compared with 8 percent last year.

Nine beaches in Santa Cruz returned red flags exactly 0 percent of the time. That list of clean beaches includes Lighthouse (Its) Beach, Sunset State Beach and newcomer Manresa State Beach.

Click here for the complete list of the cleanest beaches in Santa Cruz County 2014

It's worth noting that for the 2014 report, NRDC used an updated, more stringent enterococcus standard. The new standard, dubbed the BAV (Beach Action Value), was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency. It sets the safe allowable level for enterococcus, a bacteria that indicates the presence of human fecal matter, at 60 colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml of seawater. The previous standard was set at 104 cfu per 100 ml of water.

In spite of the good news suggested by the NRDC report, the outlook for Cowells remains complex. The Santa Monica-based group Heal The Bay named it, yet again, a "Beach Bummer" in its 2014 Beach Report Card, released in May. The Sentinel reports that the city of Santa Cruz has located and repaired a sewer pipe from a Pacific Avenue residence that was emptying directly into a storm drain, and that the city is now focusing efforts on a storm drain leading from Neary Lagoon to the beach.

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