Murky Surfing

The winter season brings with it winter storms. Despite California’s “perfect” weather, the state still gets slapped with some awful storms from time to time. This winter with the return of “El Niño” – a complex weather pattern that creates fluctuating temperatures, and high winds, resulting in fierce storms – has brought with it an array of problems to the California coastline. Power Outages, flooding, fallen trees, and even deaths were reported during the most recent ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) cycle. According to, beach goers and surfers are seeing some different effects, as California coastlines are pumped with loads of dirty water.

Water-1560x1170According to Heal the Bay’s Senior Coastal Policy Manager Dana Murray, one inch of rain from a storm can translate into one billion gallons of runoff in LA County storm drains. Since so much surface area is covered by asphalt, large quantities of rainfall are not absorbed into the soil, but instead streamed right into municipal storm drains. Most of Southern California’s storm drains run into the ocean, draining billions of gallons of LA street water into the ocean. Yuck.

“Dirty water” running into the ocean is definitely a health hazard for surfers and beach goers in California. Since much of the runoff originates from streets and sidewalks, much of the dirty waters flowing from the region’s storm drains contain harmful pathogens, pollutants, and fecal bacteria. This pathogens can cause infectious diseases like Hepatitis, Salmonella, Shigellosis, E Coli., Enterococci, MRSA, Conjunctivitis, and others. Each of these is just as harmful as the other if not treated properly. Some, even with treatment, can be unpleasant. Therefore, in order to avoid future discomforts, you should take a few extra precautions before running into the water after a storm.

For starters, don’t surf in dirty water. Once the 72-hour warning goes into effect, heed that warning. Find the discipline to stay away from the water even if you’re a beach bum or surf aficionado. If you have any open wounds, it is ABSOLUTELY imperative that you stay out of the water.

Secondly, screen your surf turf. Be very selective of where you choose to surf and swim after a storm. Definitely avoid swimming in areas near storm drains and river mouths. Make sure the area you surf doesn’t seem too murky, and please, avoid taking gulps of bacteria soup while you’re in the water.

Finally, check yourself thoroughly after the fact. If even a few days have passed it’s better to be safe than sorry. First try to blow as much water from your sinuses as possible. Scrub and disinfect any cuts or abrasions with alcohol and anti-bacterial products. And lastly, shower and brush your teeth immediately (either at home or at the beach showers). Don’t forget to clean behind the ears !

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