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IB Economy, Beach Access May Improve With New Water Quality Testing

A new testing system being considered by the County Board of Supervisors Tuesday may return water quality test results in a matter of hours, not days, and increase beach access.

At its meeting Tuesday, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider a faster system for testing water quality at beaches.

Under a proposal by Supervisor Greg Cox, the board chairman, the county would start a yearlong study of a system that gives results on bacteria and other pollutants within four hours of testing.

The current system, which involves growing cultures, 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 post warning signs at affected beaches.

San Diego Coastkeeper also monitors water quality in watersheds across San Diego and post closure information on their website.

Quicker testing could mean shorter closures in the future, said Jill Witowski who heads Coastkeeper's water policy and programs. The testing could mean the difference between a beach being closed for a day or waiting the customary 72 hours after a rain event, she said.

"We think this is a fantastic development for anybody who uses our water and especially those of us who are frustrated and have to stay out of the water when it rains: surfers, swimmers and what not," Witowski said.

Beaches near the Tijuana River and U.S.-Mexico border in Imperial Beach received the lowest grades of any shoreline in San Diego County in Heal the Bay's 2011-12 Report Card.

If approved, the trial run would start on April 1 and cost $59,000, according to Cox.

"Residents and visitors deserve quick notification if the water quality at local beaches is unsafe, and our tourism economy depends on healthy beaches," Cox said in a memo to fellow board members. "By moving towards rapid detection methods for our beach water monitoring program, the county of San Diego will use the latest in science to protect the public and deliver reliable information."

An earlier trial of the quantitative polymerase chain reaction testing system by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that it works scientifically, but should be "deployed systematically to fit local needs," Cox said.

 

City News Service contributed to this report.

Mark February 26, 2013 at 05:23 AM
How does testing improve quality? Answer: it does not. It will let you know sooner when the poop is gone. The solution is complicated but really not as much as one would think. We need to build a diversion pipe/channel/fence to redirect the poop south into Mexico. It is Mexico's poop, let Mexico keep it. Problem solved.
someonewhowasconsideringmovingtoimperialbeach February 26, 2013 at 05:37 PM
Exactly. Why waste money on testing when you can just use the money to contain the problem? And why does the testing need a yearlong study? Seems like this board is really good at wasting tax dollars, just my opinion.
Chuck Perkins February 26, 2013 at 06:56 PM
$59K for a "trial" run? Would hate to think what it might cost if permanently installed. Mr. Cox: you are NOT in "D.C"...kindly protect our money & not just throw it around! San Diego Coastkeeper does a great job already.
Serge Dedina February 26, 2013 at 07:58 PM
Improved water quality testing will help us to make more informed decisions on when to close beaches and more importantly when to open them. The delay in getting test results often hinders our ability to open our beach quickly--which hurts our economy. This is money well spent. And also please remember that not all the pollution that hits our beaches comes from Mexico, we have a lot of local sources as well.
Paloma February 26, 2013 at 08:59 PM
Faster water quality test results will significantly improve timely notification of beach closures/openings. This has great public health benefits and improves our local economy by not having to wait 48 hours to obtain results but rather having results within four hours time. Regarding cross-border pollution: we need to improve binational collaboration and advocate for increased funding for binational projects and improved waste water infrastructure.
Mike G February 28, 2013 at 03:18 AM
Hmm, we had DNA verification of Osama Bin Laden in less than 12 hours, BUT we can't figure out if there is poop in the water instantly? Really? Come on!

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