August 18, 2023 11:13 AM
by Sunny Wang
Santa Monica Beach is one of the most iconic and picturesque locations in the world.
But you may have seen recent news coverage questioning the water quality at the Santa Monica Pier. I’d like to clarify some information and update you on what we do as a city to make sure you feel comfortable and safe when swimming at Santa Monica’s beautiful beaches.
As the Water Resources Manager, I lead a dedicated team committed to providing high-quality water to the community and collaborate with staff from other City teams that work around the clock to ensure an enjoyable beachgoing experience for the public.
Santa Monica beaches are safe for swimming. In fact, 95 percent of Santa Monica Beach consistently receives an “A” grade or above for water quality on average. The best beach and water quality is 100 yards to the left and right of the Santa Monica Pier, thanks to the City of Santa Monica’s significant investments in pollution reduction. To ensure the beach remains clean and in tip-top shape, the City’s dedicated Public Works staff perform routine maintenance activities such as beach combing, trash cleanup, periodic replacement of pier planks, and routine inspection for pipe leaks beneath the pier.
We run into greater challenges with the water directly under the pier, which is the area that those news articles were referring to.
The City is actively working to improve the water quality of the area immediately underneath the pier, which accounts for roughly 5 percent of Santa Monica Beach. Water quality here can be impacted by:
- Lack of sunlight: Sunlight provides natural disinfection through its ultraviolet rays, and the water directly beneath the pier is largely shaded.
- Stormwater runoff: When it rains, stormwater that flows over lawns, pavement, streets, and other hard surfaces picks up trash, pollutants, oil from vehicles, and dirt that ends up in the ocean.
- Birds: More than 100 different bird species have been observed around the Santa Monica Pier. Birds often perch and nest on the support structure underneath the pier.
In the past five years, the City has proactively invested more than $100 million in the Clean Beaches Project, the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Project (SWIP), and bird netting replacement to protect the Santa Monica Bay and improve beach water quality. The City just completed construction of new bird netting beneath the pier in August 2023 to ensure the well-being of the birds while minimizing their impact on beach water quality, both of which are important to the preservation and maintenance of the Santa Monica Pier.
The Clean Beaches Project, completed in 2018, uses a 1.6-million-gallon tank beneath the pier parking lot to capture stormwater and urban runoff from the downtown and pier drainage areas to eliminate pollution from being discharged into the water.
The recently completed SWIP includes a 1.5-million-gallon stormwater harvesting tank and a state-of-the-art advanced water purification facility that purifies stormwater and municipal wastewater to drinking water standards for irrigation and recharging our local groundwater basin.
Collectively, the Clean Beaches Project and SWIP diverted more than 20 million gallons of stormwater pollution away from the Santa Monica Bay this past winter.
From innovative infrastructure investments to dedicated City staff, Santa Monica is working around the clock to protect the environment and enhance the beachgoing experience for all visitors to the iconic Santa Monica State Beach.
Water Resources Manager