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Santa Cruz BWTF, 20+ Years of Service!

Building a 20-year record of water quality information for local beaches and driving campaigns to solve beach pollution problems

The Santa Cruz Chapter was one of the first Surfrider chapters to establish a BWTF water testing program back in 1993.  In fact, they were performing beach water quality tests before CA State law AB411 went into effect requiring local health agencies to start monitoring beach water quality. 

Over the past 20+ years, the chapter has been building a historical record of water quality at area beaches and freshwater outlets from Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz down to Manresa State Beach in Watsonville, CA. There are currently twelve BWTF volunteers in Santa Cruz that collect water samples from 17 local beaches every week.  Samples are processed at the chapter’s lab located at the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor.  See where the Chapter is testing and view their data on the BWTF website.

The chapter has done a great job of getting their water quality results out into the community in many different platforms.  A map of their sampling sites and their BWTF data is posted directly onto their chapter website.   They have created a Facebook page dedicated solely to their BWTF program that is updated every week with their most recent results.  They have also driven the development of a new BWTF data widget that any chapter can use to promote their water testing program with their local partners or sponsors.  A local surf report,, displays the chapter’s water testing results with this widget right next to the surf cams for Steamer’s Lane and other local surf breaks.

The chapter has been doing more though than just providing valuable water quality information.  Motivated by years of reporting high bacteria levels at Cowell Beach near the popular downtown wharf area, the chapter decided to start investigating the possible sources of pollution.  Cowell Beach has received a failing water quality grade for five years in a row from Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card and, likewise, has had a continued presence at the top of their Beach Bummer list. 

In collaboration with the Coastal Watershed Council, the County and City of Santa Cruz, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the chapter conducted a comprehensive watershed study of the San Lorenzo River from October 2013 to September 2014. The aim of this study was to locate bacteria hot spots and identify sources of pollution in this river that discharges into the ocean right next to the popular beaches located in downtown Santa Cruz.  The results of this study will be presented soon, but bacteria data can be viewed now on the BWTF website.

The chapter has also been participating in a Cowell Beach Working Group with other environmental NGOS and local agencies to find and implement pollution solutions.   The Working Group has already prompted changes in the management of the Neary Lagoon outfall that empties onto Cowell Beach. A gate has been installed at the lagoon, and a diversion pump to block foul water from reaching the beach is in the works.  The Group has also recommended a new citywide sewer lateral inspection program.  Area sewer mains were replaced in recent years, but they want to ensure laterals connecting homes and businesses to the system are in good working order.  A full suite of recommendations from the Working Group is expected soon.  

Read more about the Chapter’s efforts to solve the water pollution problems at Cowell Beach and to finally take this popular beach off the Beach Bummer list on their website.