For the second year running, a beach near McKinleyville has been named to a water quality watchdog’s list of the worst beaches in the state.
According to the annual Beach Report Card compiled by Heal the Bay, a Southern California-based advocacy group that grades beaches along the West Coast, Humboldt County’s Clam Beach landed the No. 3 spot on the list, this year slipping from a “D” grade to an “F.”
“The poor score is due to something in the watershed of Strawberry Creek,” Humboldt Health and Human Services senior environmental health specialist Amanda Ruddy said, adding that a temporary advisory is in place to stay out of the creek and the water near the mouth of the creek.
“As of now, we don’t know a specific source,” Ruddy said. “There’s a lot of elements involved in this dynamic system.”
Four other Humboldt County beaches sampled by Heal the Bay — Trinidad State Beach, Luffenholtz Beach, Moonstone Beach and Mad River Beach — received A grades.
At Clam Beach, water samples were collected weekly between April and October near the mouth of Strawberry Creek; 80 percent exceeded at least one state bacterial standard, according to the report.
“Potential bacterial sources include on-site sewage treatment systems, wildlife and domestic animals, and Strawberry Creek,” the report said.
The samples test for a bacteria known as fecal coliform, better known as E. coli. This doesn’t mean that the waters of Clam Beach are dangerous, but this bacteria is an indication of other harmful bacteria, Heal the Bay beach report card manager James Alamillo said.
“When these indicator bacteria are at a certain threshold it indicates the presence of other organisms that are disease carrying,” Alamillo said.
The symptoms of these more harmful bacteria are skin rashes, cold or flu like symptoms and diarrhea, he said.
“They’re the kind of illnesses that put you on your back for a day but not for your whole life,” Alamillo said.
Clam Beach is considered impaired under the Clean Water Act, Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt said.
She said county representatives tried to find the source of bacteria up Strawberry Creek, but landowners denied access to their property for testing.
“The county went door to door near Strawberry Creek and not one said yes,” Kalt said.
Currently Humboldt Baykeeper is launching an effort to test local streams, creeks and rivers for bacteria, Kalt said.
“Until we really identify what the source is, it’s just pure speculation,” Kalt said.
The county has applied for grants for broad-range testing of area rivers, Ruddy said.
Ruddy said people can safely visit and frolic on the sands of Humboldt beaches, including Clam Beach, but need to pay close attention to posted yellow advisory signs from the county about water quality.
“Just because the creek has high bacterial levels doesn’t mean the beach is unsafe,” he said.