A report released last week by Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica environmental group, revealed that while water quality at Bay Area beaches is generally high, it varies widely — and predictably — between bay and ocean beaches. The group's study monitored bacteria levels at 69 beaches in San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin counties between April and October 2011, and found that while 94 percent received A or B grades during the peak summer season, ocean beaches in general fared better than bay beaches. Four San Mateo County bayside beaches scored Ds or Fs for high bacteria levels due to poor circulation. During the winter and wet-weather events, bay water quality tends to be even poorer.
For those who swim, sail, or paddle in the bay, it's important to know what you're getting yourself into. That's why San Francisco Baykeeper helped developed the Bay Area version of the free Swim Guide app, available from the Apple App Store, Google Play (for Android phones), and TheSwimGuide.org. The app provides up-to-date water-quality information from government agencies on more than a dozen Bay Area beaches, including Keller Beach in Richmond and Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda (both are a-okay right now, by the way).
It's easy to search for beaches using the custom Google map, and water quality is clearly indicated by red and green icons. Green means go ahead, red means stay away; there's no middle ground. The app also allows users to report water quality issues, which Baykeeper says it will investigate and follow up on if necessary.
It'd be nice to see more bayside beaches and marinas included in the app, although Swim Guide is limited by the data it receives from public agencies. Perhaps more is coming down the pike. For the time being, the app is most useful for frequent users of Alameda's Crown Beach and of both bayside and ocean beaches in San Francisco and Marin. Stay clean out there.