Last week county health officials posted warning signs at three Santa Cruz beaches notifying people to stay out of the water. The water at the three beaches, which is tested for bacteria levels each week, is unsafe to swim in due to the high levels of bacteria. Cowell Beach, Main Beach, and Rio del Mar Beach received the warning signs, which were mainly ignored by beach-goers.
Currently, County of Santa Cruz Health Services says the advisory has been lifted and the signs have been removed at Main and Rio del Mar Beaches. As of Tuesday, Aug. 16, the advisory is still in effect for Cowell Beach west of the wharf to Collin’s Cove and 100 yards east of the wharf to Lifeguard Tower Two. The county’s Health Services website says that the area is “considered unsafe for body contact.”
The high levels of bacteria are caused by the rotting kelp that lines the shores of the beaches. The kelp, which cannot be removed between Memorial Day and Labor Day because of a California Coastal Commission regulation established in 2005, provides food for flies, sand fleas, and the dangerous bacteria that has caused health officials to issue the warning. The Coastal Commission’s regulation is meant to protect those species that rely on the rotting kelp as their main food source.
This summer, researchers from Stanford University are leading a study at Cowell Beach to find out more about the poor water quality. Heal the Bay, which has also studied Santa Cruz beaches, put Cowell Beach on its “Beach Bummer” list for the second year in a row because of the high bacteria levels. In the organizations 2010-2011 “Beach Report Card,” Cowell Beach made the number one spot “as the beach with the poorest dry weather water quality in California.”
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