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By Eric Heinz
Since the summer, the city of San Clemente has been trying to identify the reasons as to why the bacterial levels at the Pier have exceeded the health standards set by the County of Orange’s Heath Care Agency.
“In June 2016, the City Public Works Department started a water quality investigation at the Pier to have a stronger understanding of the reasons behind the summer beach postings issued by the County (OC Beach Info),” Cynthia Mallett, the city’s environmental programs supervisor, stated in an email. “Water quality issues have been occurring during sunny, dry and warm beach days, which means that the Pier’s bacteria problems are not coming from rainwater washing down the watershed.”
City officials are trying to determine whether the bacteria is coming from human sources or from domesticated animals or any other source such as from droppings from seagulls.
“We have some data from the county’s microbial bacteria study, and we’re trying to determine the source of the bacteria,” Mallett said in a phone interview, adding the city is looking into “bird barrier” options to prevent or deter seagulls from nesting underneath the Pier.
Larry Brennler, the supervising environmental health specialist for the county’s Water Quality Program, said the samples are checked for certain amounts of coliform and enterococcus, an indicator of possible pollution from various areas.
“They are called indicator bacteria because they are relatively easy to collect and analyze, and may show the presence of harmful viruses, bacteria or protozoa (also known as pathogens),” Brennler said in an email.
The Health Care Agency has been tracking water runoff quality at the Pier since mid-2014, and since then, the San Clemente Pier spot has seen an increase in days that exceed the county’s standard of acceptable bacteria.
Mallett said information from the county and the city’s examinations of the water quality will be presented to the Coastal Advisory Committee at the Feb. 9 meeting. Brennler said the San Clemente Marine Safety Department already prohibits swimming below the Pier for safety issues, but swimmers should avoid ocean water contact in any area where bacteria levels have exceeded state health standards. Mallett also said the city’s Code Enforcement officers patrol the Pier Bowl watershed to look for urban runoff and coordinates with the Public Works Department to try to limit the runoff.