When $1.9 million in funding for local ocean water testing was granted earlier this month, just days after it was announced that mandated safety monitoring would be halted due to state budgetary cuts, it was as if the problem never existed.
But representatives of the county’s environmental health department are still unsure if they’ll be able to resume tests in time for the current off season and the mandated period, next spring. A formal agreement to release state money into their hands hasn’t yet been reached, and may not be for some time.
“It’s been discontinued, at least at this point. We’re waiting for the state department of public health to send us a new contract and agreement,” says William Stratton, manager of Ventura County Environmental Health. “Until that money is offered to the county … the mandate is not in place.”
AB 411 is a state assembly bill mandating that coastal waters be tested for pollutants and harmful contaminants, during a six-month period between April and October. It’s run by the county and paid for by the state. By and large, along the Ventura coast, 53 beaches are individually tested each week, and the results are publicly posted.
When officials in Sacramento informed Stratton’s department there wasn’t any money to fund next year’s testing cycle — a first in the program’s 10-year history in Ventura County — the state water board came to the rescue, allotting enough for another two years of tests.
The question, though, is when the testing will begin, says Stratton. The grant money must still come down through each individual county in the state, then through a county’s board of supervisors for proper approval, and then distributed to each separate municipality.
“We’re not sure what those terms and conditions will be yet,” Stratton said. “Certainly, it has to be in place before April 1.”
If not in motion by then, beachgoers won’t have the county as a resource for checking which shores have met their water quality standards. While the majority of beaches in Ventura County routinely pass with flying colors, it soon turns risky when considering the health effects from exposure to contaminants.
According to the Web site of the Environmental Protection Agency, beach water pollutants have been known to precipitate gastroenteritis, dysentery and cryptosporidiosis, among other serious ailments, even in the off-season.
“People still swim and surf in the winter months,” says Polly Barrowman, a water quality scientist with Heal the Bay, which issues an environmental “report card” on area water quality. “It’s important to continue public health by monitoring.”
“We have had, historically, issues with harbor beaches,” Stratton says. “Sometimes we’ll see an increase in water quality issues there.”
Those beaches are enclosed and remain vulnerable to contaminated currents that can’t flow out. Other local beaches in Ventura, he said, benefit from tidal action that keeps currents coming and going.
Still, even with an uncertain future as to when water testing may resume, environmental health will continue to issue rain advisories and other warnings when water quality is at a higher risk. People are urged to stay out of ocean waters for at least 72 hours after a storm event, for example.
“That’s prudent advice,” Stratton said. “That’s still in place.”
E-mail Paul Sisolak at firstname.lastname@example.org