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Pismo pier water is worst in area, but not even close to worst in the state

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A new report by the National Resources Defense Counsel shows that the bacterial contamination level in the water 14 yards south of the Pismo Beach Pier in 2007 was an averaged 23 percent higher than the accepted state standard.

Though 23 percent may look trivial in comparison to the report’s highest figure—83 percent at Avalon Beach in Los Angeles County, it’s notably high for San Luis Obispo County, where every other checkpoint scored less than ten percent. In fact, nine of 20 monitored locations actually averaged a zero percent differential.

The figures come from a report entitled “Testing the Waters 2008,” released on July 29.

Approximately two-thirds of California’s 400-plus beaches are monitored for the study every year, with tests administered weekly from at least April 1 through October 31. The SLO County Environmental Health Department collects samples year-round and issues health advisories when bacterial levels exceed acceptable state standards. According to the Defense Counsel report, SLO County issued health advisories and/or closed beaches on 20 occasions in 2007, for a total of 41 days.

Though bacterial contamination of beaches is sometimes caused by sewage spills, it is most commonly attributed to storm water run-off, which is why beachgoers are generally urged to avoid water contact during and after rainfall. Contact with bacteria-laden water can cause diarrhea, fever, ear infections, and other common cold-like symptoms.

Bacterial contamination at Pismo Beach is not a new problem and has been a point of concern for nonprofit environmental groups such as the Surfrider Foundation and Heal the Bay, for years. Community speculation about the origin of the bacteria varies, and a “pigeon poop” theory, inspired by the large pigeon population at the pier, instigated a scientific study that began last summer. Funded by a voter-approved state grant, the study is currently being conducted by a team of Cal Poly professors and students, who will report their findings to the Pismo Beach City Council. The study is expected to take up to two years to complete.

SLO County ranked 11th out of the 17 coastal counties monitored in California, according to the Defense Counsel report, beating Santa Barbara County by a two percent margin.

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