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Faster Way to Test Water Around Santa Monica Pier

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 23 -- A faster way of testing water quality could come to Santa Monica Pier soon, following development of a sophisticated new computer model that forecasts conditions for beaches within the hour, according to Heal the Bay officials.

As it now stands, testing beaches for harmful bacteria levels can take up to 24 hours before the results are posted that warn beach goers, said officials of the Santa Monica-based environmental group.

“It’s old news” by the time the warning is posted, said Amanda Griesbach, coastal water quality manager for Heal the Bay, which has worked with Stanford University the last two years on developing a new model for testing bacterial levels in ocean water.

“Predictive beach modeling,” as it is called, can be done within an hour, Griesbach said.

Griesbach said Health the Bay was “surprised and delighted” by how often the computer model, when compared with past data, accurately predicted what the condition of the water would be the next day.

She said the current system is “not very good” at predicting the condition on any given day, since it’s based on old testing. Some sites are only tested once a week.

The new system uses software to analyze data from significantly more sources, including information from the United States Geological Survey, offshore buoys, rain and other weather data -- even life guard log books and flow data collected by beach managers.

The analysis included 25 beach sites in California.

Pilot projects start this coming summer with testing of the new system at Santa Monica Pier – now tested year around, five days a week -- Doheny State Beach in Dana Point and Arroyo Burro Beach in Santa Barbara, Griesbach said.

Tests would start Memorial Day weekend and end Labor Day weekend. She said details have not yet been worked out, but that it is essential that postings for the day go up early in the morning, before the majority of beach goers have made plans.
Exactly how the postings would be handled and such issues as online access still need to be addressed, Griesbach added.

Pathogens found in contaminated water can cause minor illnesses such as gastroenteritis, characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain or fever, or ear, nose and throat infections for swimmers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Those with vulnerable immune systems, like children or the elderly, are considered particularly at risk. The EPA says highly polluted waters can sometimes cause more serious diseases, such as typhoid fever, dysentery, hepatitis and cholera.

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