Photo credit: Swan Dive Media

For the first time in 10 years, Cowell Beach is not included on Heal the Bay’s annual “Beach Bummer” list! Our Surf City is buzzing with this great news as the environmental nonprofit’s 2020 Beach Report Card shows improvement for our beloved beach in weekly levels of ocean bacterial pollution.



The welcome water quality improvement stems from combined efforts of our City staff and Cowell’s Working Group. Their determined work over the past five years revealed and addressed the issue of birds roosting on or near the Municipal Wharf as a major source of past water quality issues.



“In late summer 2016 the first steps were taken to ward off birds roosting in the area,” said Nik Strong-Cvetich, Save the Waves executive director and facilitator of Cowell’s Working Group. “The very next year, the number of water quality samples exceeding state standards dropped by over 50 percent indicating that we were on the right track to improve our beloved and famous beach in the Santa Cruz World Surfing Reserve.”



The group, in conjunction with our City Wharf crew, oversaw installation of bird screening designed to reduce pigeons and gulls roosting and defecating under the Wharf. This, along with routine City cleaning and management practices at the Neary Lagoon outlet and Cowell Beach vault, plus improved Main Beach cleaning and management practices, has radically reduced bacteria count.



“The bacterial population at Cowell Beach became controllable once its distribution and concentrations were identified by routine sampling along a gradient at the Wharf and the beach,” said Laboratory and Environmental Compliance Manager Akin Babatola who led the City’s scientific efforts. Bacteria concentrations have appeared to be highest under the Wharf, and have tended to get lower upon travelling along the beach away from the Wharf in either direction (east or west) where the birds do not roost and nest.



An important factor in the Cowell Beach water quality improvement has been the effort by our City wastewater treatment Collections division. In 2014 they installed sliding gates at Neary Lagoon to keep bacteria-infested water there from flowing through a storm outlet vault and onto Cowell Beach during summer months. They also placed a steel plate at the Neary outfall pipe below sea level to divert the flow of bacteria-laden water to the Wastewater Treatment Facility for treatment and disinfection.


Photo credit: Swan Dive Media

Santa Cruz Vice Mayor Donna Meyers is a member of Cowell’s Working Group which was launched by the City Council in 2014. Members include representatives from the City, Santa Cruz County, Save The Waves Coalition, Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation.  Here you can view the group’s “Cowell’s Off the List” video.


Photo credit: Swan Dive Media

The changes in bacteria data measurements which have removed Cowell’s from the “Beach Bummer” list this year demonstrate the positive power of government working with a focused group of community organizations. The City and Cowell’s Working Group will continue their efforts with plans to conduct a public health study, further monitor water quality and enhance public understanding of the situation at Cowell Beach.

More information on Cowell Beach water quality improvement is available at







City Beat

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