For the media

The ocean waters are calling — but are they safe?

By The Health News Team | July 8, 2022
Family and friends splashing in ocean waves

With summer temperatures rising, swimming at San Diego’s beaches seems more inviting than ever. But the water isn’t always safe. Sometimes, beach water may contain sewage that can cause illness if people come into contact with it.

In response, the County of San Diego has a beach water-safety system to let beachgoers know if it’s OK to go in for a swim or better to stay on the sand. A new category was added to provide more information and give beachgoers the opportunity to choose whether they want to risk exposure to organisms that can cause illness.

How ocean water can make you sick
Throughout the county, ocean water is tested for a variety of organisms — such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa — that can cause illness. Using a molecular method called digital droplet polymerase chain reaction (ddPCR), samples from the Tijuana border to Trestles Beach are tested, with results available almost immediately.

The testing reveals disease-causing organisms that can cause symptoms such as:

  • Diarrhea

  • Skin rash

  • Ear pain

  • Cough

  • Congestion

  • Eye pain

What to know before you go
The county now uses three categories to update beachgoers on the safety of the water:

  • Advisory — An advisory sign is posted when bacteria levels in the water exceed state health standards but no known sewage conditions exist. However, people may have a higher chance of getting sick if they come in contact with the water.

  • Warning — The warning sign was introduced on July 1, 2022, and will be posted when water testing exceeds state health standards and south swell ocean conditions are pushing waters from the south to the north. When this south swell occurs, sewage-contaminated runoff from the Tijuana River may affect San Diego water.

  • Closure — Beach closure signs are posted if there are sewage or chemicals known to be contaminating the water. To protect the public’s health, state law requires the affected beaches to be closed.

The new warning sign is meant to alert people that the water may contain sewage — due to the south swell — that could cause sickness. Beachgoers can make their own decision about whether to swim or stay on the beach.

County authorities note that even if the water looks clean and does not have an odor, it may still have bacteria levels exceeding state health standards. Before heading to the beach, people are advised to check the beach water quality results on

Checking the testing results online and abiding by all beach postings are vital to remaining healthy and safe when visiting local beaches.

Related topics

You might also like:

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.