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Project: Rapid Methods Demonstration

Background and Objectives

SCCWRP has been working with academic and industry researchers since the late 1990s to evaluate and refine rapid microbiological methods for beach water quality analysis. Application of rapid methods would improve public health protection by providing more accurate and timely information on which to base beach warning and closure decisions. Implementation of rapid methods has also been mandated by the Federal BEACH Act and California AB 639. Earlier research showed that quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) is the most viable rapid method for application to beach monitoring. In order to advance the application of rapid methods, the SCCWRP Commission created a Rapid Methods Task Force in 2009, consisting of experts representing multiple stakeholders. After reviewing the available science, the Task Force elected to implement a pilot project in the summer of 2010 to explore the efficacy of using rapid methods for issuing beach warnings and closures in Southern California. The pilot demonstration that began in Orange County was partially repeated in Los Angeles County in the summer of 2011.

The goal of this project was to assist the Task Force by conducting training and outreach to enable pilot projects where qPCR could be used in parallel with traditional methods for monitoring at select Southern California beaches. The objective was to produce rapid test results that could be utilized for making beach warning decisions and posting signs (if necessary) on the same day a sample is taken.


This study was initiated in 2010 and completed in 2012.


A rapid method dry-run transferring methods to local laboratories was implemented in May and June 2010 in Orange County, followed by a demonstration project in July and August. Throughout the pilot, all samples were processed by both rapid and traditional methods. The Task Force’s selected method was qPCR with Scorpion primers and probes, using a BioRad thermocycler and no DNA purification step. Frozen cell filters were used for calibration. To help resolve timing issues, the number of beaches targeted for rapid sampling were limited, automated calculation software was developed, and electronic signage was implemented. Through a partnership with MiOcean, the project team installed electronic signs at two of the demonstration beaches, and utilized others already in place to publicize beach warnings.

An electronic sign installed near the beach for use in communicating beach warnings and closures.

The 2010 demonstration took place in Orange County, at Doheny, Huntington, and Big Corona State Beaches and Newport Pier. Beaches were selected based on several criteria, including distance from disinfection sources, limited points of entry, history of bacteria standard exceedences, involvement of multiple agencies, and nearness to SCCWRP. Training and outreach involved a range of affected groups, including the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Orange County Coastal Coalition, State and Regional Water Boards, lifeguards, chambers of commerce, city managers, and California State Parks. In addition, method training opportunities for non-governmental organizations were held, as well as a press demonstration.

A second demonstration project was undertaken in Los Angeles County, involving sample collection at eight beach sites between Malibu and Long Beach from July 11 to August 31, 2011. Three laboratories (City of LA Bureau of Sanitation’s Environmental Monitoring Division (EMD), LA County Department of Public Health, and the LA County Department of Public Works) collected the samples and processed them using traditional methods, while the EMD processed them using qPCR. The results were used purely to gather data rather than for issuing health warnings.


Findings from the Orange County demonstration showed that technology transfer went smoothly. Laboratories routinely produced DNA amplification efficiencies greater than 90%, a high degree of repeatability between replicates, and results comparable to those from an experienced reference laboratory. The qPCR method slightly overestimated levels of Enterococcus compared to culture-based methods, and some samples were rejected due to inhibition of the PCR reaction caused by interfering substances in the water sample. Still, the Task Force did not consider these issues an impediment to method adoption, because they were outweighed by the value of providing same-day results. The logistics of issuing public warnings by noon on the same day samples were collected posed a challenge, but was achieved by limiting the number of test sites and using electronic means like signs, a phone hotline, and Twitter for communicating warnings. The Task Force concluded that capital and training costs were a lesser impediment to method adoption when compared to the expectation for more frequent monitoring, since rapid results add little benefit at beaches sampled weekly. Initial use of rapid methods is likely to be limited by cost and temporal logistics to highly visited beaches and/or those with highly variable water quality.

The demonstration in Los Angeles County also successfully transferred the qPCR technology to end users. Inhibition of the PCR reaction remained the greatest technical concern, and was not easily addressed by available methods. Results from the LA County demonstration were not used to issue beach warnings.


This research was conducted in collaboration with the Rapid Methods Task Force, Orange County Sanitation District, Orange County Public Health Department, State Water Resources Control Board, LA Regional Water Quality Control Board, EPA Office of Science and Technology, South Orange County Wastewater Authority, City of LA Bureau of Sanitation, LA County Department of Public Health, LA County Department of Public Works, University of North Carolina, Heal the Bay, and the City of Newport Beach.

Members of the Rapid Methods Task Force included:

• Dr. Mas Dojiri - City of Los Angeles
• Larry Honeyborne - Orange County Public Health Department
• Charles McGee - Orange County Sanitation District
• Darrin Polhemus - State Water Resources Control Board
• Michael Lyons - Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board
• Dr. Mark Gold - Heal the Bay
• Dave Kiff - City of Newport Beach
• Shari Barash - US Environmental Protection Agency

Video and Fact Sheet

(downloadable version - run the index file to start play, you will need Adobe Flash Player to view the video)



Progress toward rapid monitoring method development (Video) - January 2011 presentation to SCCWRP member agencies discussing implementation and outcomes of the demonstration project.
For more information on Rapid Methods Demonstration, contact John Griffith at (714) 755-3228.
This page was last updated on: 3/26/2014