Cynthia Cudaback, PhD
Independent Oceanographer

Home Science Education Policy

Bacterial Contamination On Beaches

Story from Huntington Beach, California

© 2008 Cynthia Cudaback

The Story

Huntington Beach, California, is a popular surfing beach near Los Angeles. In July, 1999, the State of California instituted new beach cleanliness standards, that beaches should be closed when bacterial concentrations exceeded a certain amount. The beach promptly closed for two months. As the bacteria that cause trouble are found in feces, local environmentalists blamed a nearby sewage outfall. The Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD), that operates the sewage plant, funded a $5 million study to determine whether the stuff could hit the shore.

How would you figure out whether the outfall was to blame, and what would you do about it?

First print out this overview with study questions, and this plot of bacterial concentrations in the water at Huntington Beach.

1. Geography Where is Huntington Beach? Reading a Map
2. CA State Policy Is the beach clean enough for swimming? CA state AB411 Standards
3. Science How is beach water quality measured? Measuring Bacteria
4. Federal Policy How is sewage treated? US Sewage Treatment Standards
5. History What factors have affected beach cleanliness in the past? Timeline
6. Science How clean was Huntington Beach in summer of 2000? Observed Bacterial Concentrations
7. Science Could bacteria travel from the sewage outfall to the beach? Bacteria in Cold Water
8. Decisions Should the sewage treatment plant be upgraded? You decide
9. Science Is there more to the story? Follow-up Studies
10. Calculation Can I let my dog poop on the beach? Not if you want to swim there
11. Regulation How clean are the beaches in my home state? State Regulations

Bacterial Contamination Bibliography

Student Comments

"The overall progression used in the bacterial pollution is a wonderful idea. We are learning the basic means ... to determine the facts to make a decision, but also seeing just how in depth the scientific process must be in order to present a valid result. Combining the two is a great way to learn" R. Unsworth, comment in class journal

Brown Pelican Surf's Up Pier at Sunset