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A Clear Necessity

Photograph: Santa Monica City


A Clear Necessity 
Water Quality and Why It Matters to You This Summer 

Picture yourself planning the perfect beach day with your friends and family. You pack your sunscreen, towels, snacks, and maybe a frisbee or a volleyball. You arrive at the shore and see the sparkling blue water inviting you to dive in. ...But wait! Before you jump into the waves, have you checked the water quality?

Water quality is an important factor to consider when choosing a recreational area, especially if you are going to swim or plan on being in contact with the water. Water quality refers to the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of water that affect its suitability for different purposes. When it comes to recreation, an important biological factor to consider is the level of enterococcus bacteria in the water.
Enterococcus bacteria are a group of bacteria that live in the intestines of humans and animals. They are normally harmless when in your intestines, but they can cause infections if they enter the body through wounds or ingestion. Enterococcus bacteria are also used as indicators of fecal contamination in water, which means that they can signal the presence of other harmful pathogens such as viruses, parasites, and other bacteria.

Fecal contamination can occur when stormwater runoff, sewage overflows, animal waste, or human activities introduce fecal matter into the water. Factors that impact the level of enterococcus bacteria in water include rainfall, temperature, salinity, sunlight, and water circulation. Rainfall is one of the most significant factors because it can wash fecal matter from land into water bodies, increasing the bacteria levels. This is why it is advisable to avoid swimming or being in contact with water for at least 72 hours after a rain event.

Swimming or being in water with high levels of enterococcus bacteria can pose health risks such as gastrointestinal illness, skin rashes, ear infections, eye irritation, and respiratory infections. These risks are higher for children, elderly people, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. To protect yourself and others from these risks, you should follow these tips this summer:

  • Check the water quality before you go to a recreational area. You can find information on enterococcus bacteria levels in California from the Surfrider Website.
  • Avoid swimming or being in contact with water that looks cloudy, murky, or has an unpleasant odor.
  • Avoid swimming or being in contact with water near storm drains, pipes, or areas where animals congregate.
  • Rinse off with fresh water after being in contact with water.
  • Cover any open wounds or cuts with waterproof bandages before jumping in.
  • Do not litter or leave pet waste on the beach or near the water. Report any signs of pollution or illness to the local authorities.

Water quality is not only important for your health, but also for the health of the environment and aquatic life. By being aware of enterococcus bacteria levels and other water quality indicators, you can enjoy the summer sun safely and responsibly. Remember: when in doubt, stay out!

Check out Blue Water Task Force for water quality levels at LA's beaches!