County supervisors to consider new, faster system for testing water quality at beaches

SAN DIEGO - At its meeting Tuesday, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider a faster system for testing water quality at beaches.

Under a proposal by Supervisor Greg Cox, the board chairman, the county would start a yearlong study of a system that gives results on bacteria and other pollutants within four hours of testing.

The current system, which involves growing cultures, sometimes requires up to two days to get results.

The state-funded water quality testing program has been run by the county Department of Environmental Health since 1999.

When the testing finds contaminated water after sewage spills or rain storms, the DEH posts warning signs at affected beaches.

If approved, the trial run would start on April 1 and cost $59,000, according to Cox.

"Residents and visitors deserve quick notification if the water quality at local beaches is unsafe, and our tourism economy depends on healthy beaches," Cox said in a memo to fellow board members. "By moving towards rapid detection methods for our beach water monitoring program, the county of San Diego will use the latest in science to protect the public and deliver reliable information."

An earlier trial of the quantitative polymerase chain reaction testing system by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that it works scientifically, but should be "deployed systematically to fit local needs," Cox said.

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