DATE: February 26, 2013
TO: Board of Supervisors
SUBJECT: IMPROVING DETECTION TIMES IN OUR BEACH WATER QUALITY MONITORING PROGRAM (DISTRICTS: ALL)
The County of San Diego through its Department of Environmental Health (DEH) performs beach water quality sampling and acts as a clearing house for beach water quality monitoring data in order to notify the public when water quality standards are not met at recreational beaches (ocean and bays). Through the Beach and Bay Water Quality Monitoring Program DEH samples and posts signs warning of contaminated water at beaches affected by sewage spills when monitoring indicates bacteria levels exceed State standards, or during other events that may pose a threat to public health. Water samples are currently tested using culture-based methods, which typically require at least 24-48 hours for results. To address this significant lag time between water collection and public notification, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated new criteria for beach water quality and certified new rapid measurement methods for Enterococcus bacteria.
Approval of the recommendations will direct the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to initiate a rapid detection pilot study for our beach water quality monitoring program in San Diego County and add to the Legislative Program language that would advocate several allowances for the qPCR method. The study will systematically evaluate when and where the qPCR method can be used to effectively and efficiently reduce the lag time for getting lab results.
CHAIRMAN GREG COX
- Direct the Chief Administrative Officer to conduct a rapid detection pilot study for beach water quality monitoring in San Diego County and report back to the Board within 60 days of its completion to report on its findings.
- Direct the Chief Administrative Officer to add to the County of San Diego Legislative Program the following advocacy priorities: Urge the State Department of Public Health to allow inter-laboratory calibration until the State certifies the qPCR method for use in laboratories throughout the State and urge the State to allow reimbursement of costs for qPCR testing under the ongoing contract for beach water quality testing.
- Direct the Chief Administrative Officer to seek legislation to allow for qPCR results for Enterococcus as an option for determining beach water quality as it does with the current culture based fecal indicator bacteria methods for Total Coliform, Fecal Coliform and Enterococcus and to add this legislative sponsorship proposal to the Board’s Legislative Program.
- Direct the Chief Administrative Officer to identify funding, in the amount of $59,000 to implement this study.
This funding is not included in the Fiscal Year 2012-13 Operational Plan. It is estimated that funds to conduct a rapid detection pilot study for beach water quality monitoring will cost $59,000 in lab and material costs to set up the program ($17,000) and to conduct monitoring in certain locations from April 1, 2013 to April 1, 2014 ($42,000). Upon approval of this item, funds will be identified.
Business Impact Statement
Advisory Board Statement
Residents and visitors deserve quick notification if the water quality at local beaches is unsafe, and our tourism economy depends on healthy beaches. 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.
Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) is a new testing method that can reduce the wait time to four hours for results, when compared to conventional culture-based analytical methods that may take 24-48 hours. The Southern California Coastal Water Research Project performed a pilot project study, under a grant from the State Clean Beaches Initiative, to test the EPA qPCR method and determine if the method was logistically and scientifically viable for use along California’s diverse coastline. While it proved that the new method works scientifically, the study demonstrated that the new method needs to be deployed systematically to fit local needs.
Since the use of qPCR to analyze beach water quality samples has logistical and site specific limitations, this study, which will run from April 1, 2013 through April 1, 2014, will evaluate when and where the qPCR method can be used to effectively and efficiently measure the beach water quality in San Diego County. The study questions to be answered are; 1) Will the use of qPCR for Enterococcus allow the County to expeditiously determine the extent of impacts to beach water quality as a result of sewage spills or sewage contaminated flows 2) When there is an exceedance of the State Health Standards based on traditional culture based methods for Enterococcus and the County posts the affected beach with “advisory” signs, will the use of qPCR for Enterococcus allow the County to expeditiously determine the extent and duration of the contamination event?
The use of the qPCR method data will only supplement existing beach water monitoring methods during this study phase and will not be used to determine beach access or initiate public health notices. Traditional water testing methods will continue to be used throughout the study. The two methods will be analyzed and compared for consistent results.
Upon completion of the study, the Chief Administrative Officer will report back to the board within 60 days to report on the findings of the study.
Linkage to the County of San Diego Strategic Plan
Today’s proposed action supports the county’s strategic initiatives of promoting safe communities and supporting sustainable environments and healthy families.