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Health officials remind residents about the potential health risks from stormwater runoff

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Posted at 6:18 PM, Jun 08, 2023

After a rainy winter that washed a buildup of debris into the Pacific Ocean, it’s no surprise some surfers on the Central Coast have reported getting sick after getting in the water.

Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services, a branch of the Public Health Department, sent out a reminder for residents after the most recent rainfall on Tuesday. The reminder states coming into contact with stormwater can cause certain illnesses in swimmers and surfers.

“That’s concerning. I’d want to know more about it. I don’t know too much about it but I could see potential cause for concern,” said Natalie Matthews, who is visiting from Utah.

The San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department advises the public to avoid contact with ocean water during and at least three days following a significant rainstorm.

The most recent rainfall on Tuesday did not meet the threshold for a significant rain event; however, the Public Health Department says any amount of rain can transport harmful substances into the ocean.

“You get kind of a nasal thing or sometimes it’ll get in your ears and can give you an ear infection type of thing also,” said Mike Jones, owner of Azhiaziam surf shop.

Jones surfs in Morro Bay and says he’s been impacted by runoff in the water before.

The Public Health Department also mentioned that water at some of the local beaches may appear brown in color, indicating the presence of marine organisms including algae that can also have negative effects on health.

“I did surf after the last rains a little bit and you feel a little bit congested. So not sick but just like, oh there’s something in there that’s not supposed to be there,” Jones said.

His rule of thumb is simple.

“Maybe like right after a rain I try to stay out of the water for a day or two to let it get diluted a little bit,” Jones said.

The Public Health Department says rainstorm runoff is known to transport high levels of bacteria and viruses into the ocean from urban areas and young children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable.