Blue Water Task Force, Source Identification, Water Quality
September 09 2008

Investigating the Sources of Pollution at Pismo Beach, California

by Mara Dias

Researchers from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo began a source tracking study in May, 2008 at Pismo Beach in California. The San Luis Bay chapter was highlighted in Making Waves last year for drawing attention to a chronic water quality problem at Pismo Beach and working with the Mayor to apply for a State grant to fund a source tracking study. It is good to see this issue continuing to move forward.

The below article reports the study’s cost at $660,000 plus a $50,000 local match. These costs certainly vary depending on the scope of the study and location, but are usually out of range for a chapter to pursue on their own. Congratulations to the San Luis Bay chapter for establishing good relationships with the Mayor’s office and the Pismo Beach Water Quality Group to successfully obtain funding for this source tracking study.

OCEAN POLLUTION: Pismo study to find source of bacteria
A team of Cal Poly professors will begin a yearlong analysis of the waters south of the pier in Ma
By AnnMarie Cornejo, originally posted on
April 2, 2008.

A team of scientists next month will begin tracking the source of ocean pollution that has caused a series of bacteria warnings for the waters south of the Pismo Beach Pier. This week, the city received a state grant of more than $660,000 to pay for the project. Five Cal Poly professors will use an advanced DNA tracking method to identify the source of the bacterial pollution — something that city officials say has not been done in the state.

High bacteria levels have plagued the small beach town’s coastline near the pier for years. Last year, an annual statewide beach report done by Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica- based environmental group, gave Pismo Beach a grade of D for the busy summer months and a C for the year. Those marks compare unfavorably to the A grades at all other county beaches. So far this year, high bacteria warnings have been posted at the stretch of beach just south of the pier seven times. The beach was posted 23 times last year and 24 times in 2006.

The grant allows the city to hire Cal Poly microbiology professor Chris Kitts, who will work with a team to gather a year’s worth of water samples and conduct DNA testing on the bacteria to determine its source. Potential sources include people, wildlife and livestock. The city is required to contribute only $50,000 to the study, which was included in the budget in anticipation of the grant. “As far as I know, we are the only city to pursue this to this level,” said Dennis Delzeit, city public works director. “Everyone in the state is looking at this study to see what comes out of it.”

Kitts predicts that the source of the polluting bacteria will be determined by January 2010. The team will begin taking water samples in May and do so weekly for the next 11 months. In the summer, when most problems occur, daily samples will be taken. And, for two days at the height of the study, water samples will be taken hourly. “There has been an increase of advisory postings during the summer over the last three years and that is when Pismo really needs the beach open,” Kitts said.

Pismo Beach officials have worked to solve the bacteria problem during the past two years with actions that included adopting an ordinance prohibiting beachgoers from feeding birds in order to limit the amount of pigeon feces near the pier. The city also changed the way it cleans the pier, inspected all sewer lines around the beach and formed an Ocean Water Quality Committee. City officials anticipate the study will help provide a solution. “The city has struggled with a negative image, and this grant allows us to turn that around and be seen as an environmentally active community,” Delzeit said.