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New warning signs for South County beaches ahead of July 4th weekend

If you go to any South County beaches, you might see three possible signs.
San Diego Beach
Posted at 5:46 PM, Jun 29, 2022

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The County of San Diego has unveiled a new warning system Wednesday to show when our beach waters are unsafe for swimming.

Now if you go to any South County beaches, you might see three possible signs.

An advisory would be posted if bacteria levels exceed the state's standards. A warning sign would be posted if water is pushing from Mexico, going north, bringing the potential for sewage to be in the water. Before, this would warrant a beach closure. However, now during these two signs, the beaches will remain open.

The third sign is a closure, which will go into effect if there is sewage in the water, and will close the beach.

The County of San Diego says this will take effect July 1 and last until September when the tiers will be re-evaluated.

Vice Chair of the County Board of Supervisors Nora Vargas says that these new signs are because of our new water testing system which was adopted back in May. The system is said to be more accurate and sensitive to picking up bacteria in the water.

However, businesses like Treasures of the Heart in Coronado, depend on the heavy foot traffic and tourists. Owner Jeanne Jordan believes that by putting more signs, it will only deter more people from coming to the beaches, when the water is at similar levels to what it was before.

"The new system they have in place is more sensitive and it's going to pick up more than it needs to," Jordan shares. "Like I said it hasn't changed from the past."

Jeanne has worked in her store for 15 years and says when closures have happened, she gets half of the foot traffic she sees on a typical day.

This new system to warn beach-goers of any bacteria in the water off our coast comes as thousands of people are expected to visit local beaches for the Fourth of July weekend.

If there is bacteria or sewage in the water, those at the beach will see one of three signs posted.

The County says that this is a step in the right direction to ensure that the community is accurately informed about how safe these waters are.

But local Mayors are worried that signs will just turn people away.

The signs that range from advisory, warning, to closure, are posted daily based on daily testing by the new system that was adopted in May. If there is no sign on the beach that means levels are safe to swim.

"This new test is much more accurate and the county is able to make much more informed decisions on how we are able to inform beach-goers on what pollutants are in our beaches," says Vargas.

However, Mayor Richard Bailey of Coronado believes these new tiers do not paint an accurate picture.

"The water today in Coronado's beaches is just as safe and just as clean as all previous summers," explains Bailey.

Before this new system, beaches would be closed if there was suspected sewage in the water. Now there are three categories.

According to the County of San Diego, this is the breakdown for the three tiers:

  • Advisory Category
    An advisory sign is posted for awareness for beachgoers when test results exceed State health standards, but no known sewage conditions exist, and water is not moving from south to north. When an advisory is posted, it means people have a higher chance of getting sick based on testing levels of bacteria found in the water that may cause illness.
  • New Warning Category
    The new warning category will be used when testing exceeds State health standards AND south swell ocean conditions are pushing waters from the south to the north, a warning sign will be posted for beachgoers. A warning indicates that even though sewage impacts are not verified, sewage may be in the water due to the south swell conditions. Warnings will help people make their own decisions on whether to enter recreational waters. Previously, test results and a south swell would have resulted in a beach closure.
  • Closure Category
    Beach closures are issued if there are known sewage impacts. This means it is known for sure there is sewage in the water, and to protect the public’s health, State law requires the closure of affected beaches. Closures follow reported sewage spills, or when the Tijuana River is flowing and reaching recreational waters, or when County environmental health experts verify sewage odors or water discoloration reported by lifeguards, beach managers, and/or surfers/swimmers.

Bailey says that warning signs will just turn people away.

"They are changing the threshold once again and saying 'Hey, even if the same conditions happened earlier this summer we are not actually going to close the beaches,'" shares Bailey. "So either the beaches should have been open then, or they need to be closed now. And so it really just begs the question, what is this threshold? And what is it actually based off of and is it the appropriate threshold to be using?"

Vargas believes it is, "There's a lot of misinformation about the beaches in South County and if they are polluted or not. And now the beauty of this is that our business owners and our community can actually tell people look our beaches are open and they are clean and they are safe."

However, Mayor Bailey says that he is worried about the holiday weekend. With tourists coming into town, he does not want them to potentially find their vacation destination closed off.

"So we don't inadvertently shut down the public's access to coastal waters when in fact the public's health is not really at risk," shares Bailey. "So we just want to make sure they get this right."

Vargas emphasizes that at the end of the day it is up to the individual if they choose to enter the water unless it is a closure.