Sewage, storm water runoff can make beaches dangerous
"... Paul Jenkin, environmental director of the Surfrider Foundation, said that, while surfers are often the ones getting sick because of dirty water, it's an issue that goes beyond riding waves.
"It's about a lot more than a few surfers getting sick," said Jenkin, who has gotten ill a time or two after surfing. "The health of the ocean should be a priority."
Sewage, storm water runoff can make beaches dangerous
Some days, shore areas are simply sickening
By Zeke Barlow, zbarlow@...
August 24, 2006
Robert Laurain can count on two things when he paddles out to surf at the Rincon.
The first is world-class waves that earned the point break the nickname Queen of the Coast. The second is a wicked infection from swimming in the sometimes nasty water.
"I can count on two or three times a year getting an ear infection, sore throat or some sinus stuff," said Laurain, who has been surfing for 15 years at the spot included in Beach Boys harmonies.
The surf at the border of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties is sometimes too good to pass up, so he gets shots for hepatitis A and B just to hang 10 without getting sick.
Rincon Creek, which dumps into the ocean near the surf spot, has the dubious honor of being named a national "Beach Bum," by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which released its annual report recently on the health of beaches. The creek exceeded federal health levels 97 percent of the time it was tested.
"We have a world-renowned surf spot like the Rincon, and it's also one of the poorest water quality beaches," said Michael McFadden, coordinator for the county's ocean water monitoring program. "It's unfortunate."
Other beaches that also had high rates of exceeding health levels include parts of San Buenaventura Beach, Faria County Park and Ormond Beach, in areas near storm drains or creek mouths.
Pollution flows to ocean
Much of the pollution problem is the result of sewage and storm water runoff. In heavily paved Southern California, human and animal waste, oils and fertilizer are often flushed by rain from roads and parking lots into the ocean. The pollution can lead to health problems ranging from gastroenteritis and dysentery to hepatitis.
"A trip to the beach shouldn't mean a trip to the doctor," said Anjali Jaiswal, a water attorney with NRDC. "We are not saying that all of the beaches are dirty, but that the beaches are terrible too much of the time."
In addition to its annual report card on beaches, the NRDC took an additional measure this year: suing the Environmental Protection Agency.
"We are suing them to do something they are supposed to be doing anyway," said Jaiswal.
The group claims the EPA is not doing enough to protect the public and the testing measures used are outdated and incomplete. Water testing can take more than 24 hours, which is too late to post a warning about an unhealthy beach, the group contends.
While many other counties in Southern California had an increase in the number of times beaches failed to meet health standards or were closed in 2005, Ventura County had a decrease of 4 percent. But it is not necessarily good news.
Winter monitoring was cut
During 2004 budget cuts, the county eliminated much of the water monitoring during the winter months, which is when some of the worst pollution occurs. The state mandates the county test the waters from April through September. The state provides funding, but the local government has to cover some of the costs, said Bill Stratton, manager of the county's Environmental Health Division. In the winter, he has to apply for grants to cover the cost of limited monitoring.
Jaiswal said Ventura was one of the few counties, if not the only one, that tests less than it used to. Less testing could factor into why there were fewer days that failed to meet health standards.
Stratton said his agency has a blanket policy to issue advisories after storms, reminding people those are the most likely times for the water to be polluted from fresh runoff.
The city of Ventura recently received a $953,000 grant to reduce the amount of runoff that flows from a pipe at Surfers Point, one of the city's most visible beaches. The city recognized it as a priority to keep clean, said Ray Olson, the city's environmental services supervisor.
Efforts under way for 10 years
And at the Rincon, efforts to clean up the area have been going on for more than a decade.
Hillary Hauser started Heal the Ocean in 1998 in response to pollution at the Rincon. She has turned the organization into one that addresses water quality up and down the coast.
She said the Rincon pollution is largely a result of the old or faulty septic tanks from the houses along the ocean. She's navigated a bureaucratic maze trying to find funding for a project to connect the residents to the Carpinteria Sanitation District. Hauser hopes the project will be approved to go forward in September.
"Everybody wants the ocean clean, but when it comes down to doing something about it, it's ¿Not in my backyard,'" she said.
Paul Jenkin, environmental director of the Surfrider Foundation, said that, while surfers are often the ones getting sick because of dirty water, it's an issue that goes beyond riding waves.
"It's about a lot more than a few surfers getting sick," said Jenkin, who has gotten ill a time or two after surfing.
"The health of the ocean should be a priority."
Surfrider Foundation Ventura County Chapter
Coordinator, Matilija Coalition
(805) 648-4005 pjenkin@...