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Project: Clean Beach Task Force Source Identification Team

Background and Objectives

The State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB’s) Clean Beach Task Force (CBTF) advises the SWRCB on how best to allocate Proposition 84 funds toward improving beach water quality. The CBTF began with identifying contamination sources at some beaches that routinely fail water quality standards. They also continue to work with local communities to assist them in preparing proposals for Prop 84 funds that address their particular problem. However, at some beaches, the source of fecal bacteria contamination is unknown. To address this issue, the CBTF created a Source Identification Team to help develop and implement methodologies to identify unknown bacterial sources.

The goal of this project was to coordinate and support activities of the Source ID Team. The objectives were to (1) develop protocols for source identification, (2) identify sources of beach contamination on a site-specific basis, and (3) provide recommendations for management practices that can be implemented by the local community to reduce or eliminate those sources.


Microbial Source Tracking Overview


This project was initiated in 2008 and completed in 2014.


The source identification program was developed in a phased approach. First, the highest priority beaches were identified. Next, bacterial sources within these watersheds were identified and prioritized. Based on results within these high priority watersheds, a set of investigative protocols were adopted and laboratory personnel trained to perform these analyses. Source identification studies were implemented at a variety of beaches within watersheds having different land uses, including urbanized, agricultural/rural, and combined urban/rural watersheds.The same protocols for source investigation can be implemented at other beaches as resources become available.

A laboratory intercalibration study in March 2009 helped to standardize methods for assessing beach contamination among local laboratories. Field studies began in summer 2009 at four beaches initially identified by the Source ID team. These beach locations were: Baker Beach in San Francisco, Arroyo Burro Beach in Santa Barbara, Surfrider Beach in Malibu, and Poche Beach in San Clemente.


Microbial Source Tracking Methods

Arroyo Burro was one of the beaches examined to determine the source or sources of bacterial contamination (image courtesy Heal the Bay).


Over several years, SCCWRP worked with the statewide team to evaluate and recommend mechanisms for identifying sources of contamination to beaches with poor water quality. To evaluate the plethora of potential source-tracking methods, the Clean Beaches Initiative funded a comprehensive method evaluation study in 2011, referred to as the Source Identification Protocol Project (SIPP). The SIPP quantified specificity and sensitivity for 41 microbial source tracking (MST) methods. To address further questions about how to employ different marker types and how new genetic source identification methods might be combined with traditional methods, SCCWRP and the Source ID Team released a guidance manual in December 2013, emphasizing a cost-effective tiered approach to microbial source tracking and identification that incorporates the best-performing molecular technologies. The State Water Resources Control Board adopted the manual in January 2014 as a standard template for coastal managers and health departments who want to conduct source tracking, including those preparing Clean Beach Initiative proposals. This made California the first state in the nation to establish a standardized protocol for developing and implementing source identification studies.


This project was conducted with collaborators from Stanford University, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and the State Water Resources Control Board.


Clean Beach Task Force Source Identification Protocol Project - January 2009 presentation to SCCWRP member agencies describing the Source ID Pilot Program's background, goals, and methods.

Source Identification Protocol Project Method Evaluation Study - January 2012 presentation to SCCWRP member agencies describing the method evaluation study approach, results, and next steps.

Video and Photos

Overview of a 2011 source identification study at Doheny Beach to support the Source Identification Protocol Project (SIPP).


For more information on Clean Beach Task Force Source Identification Team, contact John Griffith at (714) 755-3228.
This page was last updated on: 3/26/2014