Bay Area beaches bubbling with bacteria

With temperatures rising, Bay Area beach lovers should be aware of the water quality at their favorite beach before wading into the surf.

A study of bacteria levels at California beaches found the water at a handful of beaches in San Mateo and Contra Costa counties contains  some of highest levels of bacteria among beaches examined.

As part of a national report released Wednesday by the environmental group the Natural Resources Defense Council, researchers found 16.5 percent of water samples taken from 45 San Mateo County beach locations in 2012 exceeded the maximum levels for E.coli and other bacteria.

That was more than any other county in California — except Contra Costa County, where with only two monitoring locations, its sites exceeded the maximum level 17.3 percent of the time.

The samples from San Mateo County beaches were taken at locations on the Pacific Ocean, as well as along San Francisco Bay. The tests conducted in Contra Costa County were taken only at the two ends of Keller Beach, a beach in a small cove in Richmond.

The report found that a stretch of beach area near Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay had some of the highest bacteria levels in the state, with the monitoring site at Pillar Point-Capistrano exceeding public health standards for bacteria 52 percent of the time last year.

Parkside Aquatic Park and Lakeshore Park — two beaches along the Bay in San Mateo — also had consistently high bacteria readings.

Stormwater pollution, runoff from streets and parking lots in urban areas, as well as sewage spills are blamed for the high bacteria count.  Pet and animal waste also contributes to the higher bacterial levels.

NRDC senior attorney Jon Devin said:

“Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water can spoil a family vacation real fast, turning a day of lounging at the beach into a day at the doctor’s office with a sick child.  It’s no surprise that pollution in the waves is bad for business in beach communities. … Our government leaders can help support local economies and salvage countless summer getaways nationwide by tackling one of the principal sources of these problems — stormwater runoff.”

In a more upbeat report released earlier this year by the environmental group Heal The Bay, its researchers gave high marks to some of the beaches in San Mateo County including year-round “A+” ratings to Montara State Beach and Sharp Park Beach.