Consumer Protection Program Water Quality FAQs

Is it safe to swim in the ocean and bay?

Yes. The vast majority of ocean and bay waters along the coast of Long Beach meet State ocean water quality standards. The only exceptions are areas adjacent or in front of discharging storm drains and after major rainstorms. Flowing storm drains and areas not meeting standards are posted with warning signs. A rain advisory is issued anytime ocean waters are affected by a rainstorm. On rare occasions when there is a sewage or chemical spill, beaches are posted with closure signs.

Why is runoff from storm drains a problem?

Storm drains direct runoff from urban areas to the ocean. While they do not normally contain sewage, water in storm drains can contain disease-causing pathogens. Depending on the amount of flow, the discharging storm drains can affect ocean water quality several hundred yards from the discharge point. Much greater areas may be affected following major rainstorms. When this happens, beaches are posted with the appropriate sign, warning the public to avoid storm water and runoff. After a rainstorm, the ocean waters impacted by the storm should be avoided for at least 72 hours

What are ocean waters tested for?

Ocean water is analyzed for three types of "indicator bacteria": total coliform, fecal coliform, and enterococcus (see Recreational Water Sampling for the levels of bacteria in this week's water samples). These indicator bacteria can be found in the natural environment as well as in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals. When present, they indicate the possible presence of disease causing bacteria, viruses or protozoa.

What types of pathogens can be found in runoff?

ORGANISMDISEASESYMPTOMS
BACTERIA
E.coliGastroenteritisdiarrhea, stomach cramps, fever
SalmonellaSalmonellosisdiarrhea, stomach cramps, abdominal pain, nausea, fever, anorexia
ShigellaShigellosisdiarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, nausea
VIRUS
Rotavirus Gastroenteritis diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea
Norwalk virus Gastroenteritis diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea
Coxackievirus Respiratory illnesses, meningitis, myocarditis sore throat, cough, sinus infection, fever, earache
Adenovirus Gastroenteritis and respiratory illness diarrhea, stomach cramps, ear/nose/throat infections
Echovirus Respiratory illnesses, meningitis, myocarditis sore throat, cough, sinus infection, fever, earache
Hepatitis A Infectious hepatitis fever, anorexia, nausea, jaundice
PROTOZOA
Giardia lamblia Giardiasis diarrhea, cramps, weight loss, fatigue
Cryptospordium Amebiasis Cryptospordiasis Amebiasis diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, weight loss
bloody diarrhea, fever, chills

How often is the water tested?

In the City of Long Beach recreational waters are tested weekly all year around. Other non-swimming waters are tested once a month, such as in the marinas. Samples are collected daily until levels fall below state standards.

When a beach is posted and has failed State bacteriological standards, how much of the beach is affected?

When a beach has failed to meet State minimum standards, contact with ocean water should be avoided for a minimum of 50 yards on either side of each posted sign.

What can I do to stay safe when swimming in the ocean?

  • As a precaution, avoid contact with storm drain water or runoff and ocean waters adjacent to where storm drains discharge into the ocean for a distance of at least 100 yards.
  • Avoid swimming adjacent to piers. Piers are an attractant to birds, which causes elevated bacterial levels. In addition, plumbing under piers is occasionally in disrepair and may discharge sewage into the water.
  • Ocean water should be avoided for 72 hours after a rainstorm. The high volume of storm drain water discharged during and after a rainstorm can cause high bacteria levels throughout ocean waters along the coast, especially near storm drain discharges.
  • If a beach area is posted with warning signs or is closed, avoid all contact with the water. If you have any question about where it is safe to swim ask a lifeguard.
  • Call the Beach Advisory and Closure Hotline at (562) 570-4199 for the latest status on beach closures or postings.
  • What happens when ocean water does not meet State standards?

    When testing indicates that ocean water does not meet State standards, the Health Department's Environmental Health Water Quality Monitoring Program will post warning signs in the affected area. The warning sign indicates that State bacteriological standards have been exceeded and that contact with water in the area may increase the risk of illness to a swimmer. The warning signs are removed after additional testing indicates that bacterial levels have returned to normal levels. If there is a sewage spill or chemical discharge, beaches are immediately closed regardless of the bacteria levels. Beaches are reopened only after testing indicates ocean waters meet State standards. Bacterial levels found in the weekly samples are posted on our website under Recreational Water Sampling.

What can I do when a beach is posted with a warning sign?

When warning signs are posted, the beach itself is not hazardous. It can still be used for picnics, sunbathing, etc. Just make sure to stay on the sand instead of swimming.

What can I do to help?

Remember, whatever is discharged into the street or on the ground flows to a storm drain and eventually makes its way to the ocean.

  • Pick up after your pets and properly dispose of their waste in trash cans.
  • Never pour pesticides, household paints, chemicals and motor oil on the ground or down a storm drain. Take household toxic products to hazardous waste facilities.
  • Do not over water or over fertilize your lawn; use natural products if available.
  • Wash your vehicle on your lawn instead of your driveway or street and use soap products that are safe for the environment.
  • Use a broom rather than a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks.
  • Don't feed wild birds or animals. Their droppings can significantly increase bacteria levels in the ocean.
  • Keep our beaches clean by picking-up after yourself every time you go to the beach. Organize and/or participate in beach clean-up days. Call 562-570-1471 for more information.