Ocean Water FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is it safe to swim?
  • The ocean at Ventura County Beaches complies with State bacteriological quality standards most of the time. Occasionally, runoff, animal or human contamination, and/or sewage spills may cause unsafe levels of bacteria in the ocean waters. In the event this occurs, warning signs will be posted along the affected beach areas.



Why are storm drains and runoff a problem?
  • Storm drain and runoff water can contain disease-causing pathogens and viruses. As a general precaution, swimmers should avoid body contact with storm water or runoff, and the ocean waters impacted by the runoff. Permanent signs will be placed at or near each drain that flows onto the beach, warning the public to avoid storm water and runoff. After a rainstorm, the ocean waters impacted by the storm should be avoided for at least 72 hours due to high bacteria levels that could be present in the storm - induced runoff.



What are the ocean waters tested for?
  • The ocean water is analyzed for "indicator bacteria" (total coliform, fecal coliform and enterococcus) that indicate the possible presence of disease causing bacteria, viruses or protozoa. Sample results are compared to State Standards for ocean water quality. If the ocean does not meet the State Standards at a beach, this beach will be posted with signs warning the public to avoid body contact with the affected ocean water. The warning stays in effect until resampling indicates the water meets the State Standards and at that time, the signs will be removed. Information regarding ocean water quality is provided to the public via telephone hotline (805) 662 - 6555, press releases, website, and signs posted at the beach. The beach itself can still be used for picnics, sunbathing, etc. when warning signs are posted advising the public to avoid contact with ocean water.



Where do these "indicator bacteria" come from?
  • Bacteria are a natural component of our environment. Indicator bacteria can be found in soils, decaying vegetation and animal waste. Humans also contribute to bacteria levels in the environment via discharges of raw or partially treated sewage, soiled diapers, improper garbage disposal, etc. Bacteria may also enter the ocean through runoff. Runoff can happen anytime of the year when rainfall or excessive water use from irrigation, car washing, and other sources carry litter, lawn clippings and other pollutants into storm drains.



What pathogens may be found in swimming waters contaminated with sewage and possibly in runoff?
Pathogenic Agent Disease
I. Bacteria
E. coli Gastroenteritis
Salmonella typhi Typhoid fever
Other salmonella species Various enteric fevers, gastroenteritis, septicemia
Shigella dysenteriae Bacterial dysentery
Vibrio cholera Cholera
II. Protozoa
Cryptosporidium Diarrhea - Cryptosporidiosis
Giardia lamblia Diarrhea - Giardiasis
III. Viruses
Rotavirus Gastroenteritis
Norwalkvirus Gastroenteritis
Coxsackievirus Various, including severe respiratory disease, fevers, rashes, paralysis, aseptic meningitis, myocarditis
Adenovirus Respiratory and gastrointestinal infections
Echovirus Various, similar to coxsackievirus
Poliovirus Poliomyelitis
Hepatitis A Infectious hepatitis (liver malfunction), also may affect kidneys and spleen

What are the State Standards?
  • Single sample standards:

Total Coliforms - 10,000 organisms/100 ml. sample

Fecal Coliforms - 400 organisms/100 ml. sample

Enterococci - 104 organisms/100 ml. sample

Fecal:Total ratio - >1,000 total coliforms if ratio exceeds 0.1

  • 30 - day log mean standards (of five weekly samples):

Total Coliforms - 1,000 organisms/100 ml. sample

Fecal Coliforms - 200 organisms/100 ml. sample

Enterococci - 35 organisms/100 ml. sample




What happens to the bacteria/viruses/protozoa in swimming waters?
  • Die off to sun, salt water or age
  • Dilution
  • Predation by other organisms



When a beach is posted and has failed State bacteriological standards, how much of the beach is affected?
  • When a beach has failed to meet State minimum standards, contact with ocean water should be avoided for a minimum of 50 yards on either side of each posted sign.



What can I do when water quality is unsafe at the beach?
  • A. Stay away from storm drains or creeks where runoff flows onto the beach and into the surf zone.
  • Call the ocean water quality hotline (805) 662 - 6555 or check the Environmental Health's web page to determine where ocean waters meet State standards.
  • Play on the sand instead of swimming in posted areas.
  • Help keep our beaches clean by participating in beach clean-up days and by picking up after yourself every time you go to the beach.




What can I do to help?
  • Properly dispose of animal waste
  • Use a "doggie bag" when walking pets
  • Keep horse corrals clean
  • Pick up after your cat
  • Use a broom rather than a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks
  • Control irrigation flows to minimize runoff
  • Properly dispose of household paints, chemicals and motor oil
  • Never pour chemicals on the ground or down storm drains
  • Don't feed wild birds or animals. Their droppings can significantly increase bacteria levels in the ocean