The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a pilot study for a faster system of testing water quality at beaches.
On April 1, the county will begin a yearlong study on where and when the quantitative polymerase chain reaction testing system, which gives results on bacteria and other pollutants within four hours of testing, could be used. The study method will be used concurrently with the existing system, which involves growing cultures and sometimes requires up to two days to get results.
The state-funded water quality testing program has been run by the county Department of Environmental Health since 1999. When the testing finds contaminated water, after sewage spills or rain storms, the DEH posts warning signs at affected beaches.
"San Diego County has 70 miles of coastline and dozens recreational beaches. Millions of residents and visitors come into contact with the water every year, so clearly beach water quality is a public health issue," according to Board Chairman Greg Cox, who suggested the study. "Any delay in identifying contaminated water puts people at risk."
Cox said water quality was also an economic issue.
"Tourists need to know if our oceans and bays are safe to swim. Any delay in giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy our beaches puts our tourism economy at risk," Cox said.
The qPCR method is not permitted under state law, but an earlier trial of the system by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that it works scientifically but should be "deployed systematically to fit local needs," according to Cox.
"Our goal is to convince the state that this is a perfectly valid testing method," Cox said.
During the study period, results for the qPCR method will supplement existing monitoring methods and will not be used to determine beach access or initiate public health notices. The trial run will cost $59,000, Cox said.
County staff was directed to return within 60 days of the study's completion with the results and recommendations on how the system would fit into the county's water monitoring program, to urge the state to update its regulations to allow for the new testing methods and to enable it to reimburse the county for the program's costs.
– City News Service