Diamond in the Rough

Machado Lake is most famous for being the former home of Reggie the Gator. But in the water quality world, the lake is better known as one of the most polluted bodies of water in the L.A. region, with trash, nutrient, legacy pesticide and contaminated sediment problems.

Last week, the city of Los Angeles hosted a tour of the Proposition O-funded Machado Lake project. Tucked away off the Harbor Freeway between Harbor College and the Conoco Phillips refinery, this valuable lake-freshwater marsh system spreads over 40 acres at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park. It serves as one of the last remaining coastal wetlands in Los Angeles County.

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Swim at Your Own Risk

Our End of Summer Beach Report Card came out today. This year marked another great summer at the beach, with excellent water quality at nearly every beach in the state. Some 92% of the beaches got A’s and B’s with every county other than L.A. County above the 95% level for A’s and B’s.

Sounds like a great reason to celebrate, no? Unfortunately, to the shock of the State Department of Public Health and the State Water Board, Governor Schwarzenegger unilaterally eliminated all state funding for beach monitoring.

That’s right. The Bush Administration now gives California more money for beach monitoring (about $500K annually) than the state. Without beach monitoring, the governor may as well put “Swim at Your Own Risk” signs up along California’s coast.

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Love-Hate Relationship

The region under new media/sports magnate Sam Zell empire is never dull.  I won’t spend time talking about Zambrano’s no-hitter, the Trib, or the inevitability of Bartman’s curse this October. But I would like to share some thoughts about some recent Heal the Bay doings at our local Zell outlets – the Los Angeles Times and KTLA.

A couple of days ago, Steve Lopez, the biggest reason for not canceling my home delivery of the Times, wrote a wonderful article about Heal the Bay’s founder, Dorothy Green.  He portrayed Dorothy as the amazing, selfless, passionate fighter that she has been for decades.  Dorothy has been fighting melanoma heroically and Steve eloquently illustrated that that cancer was not an excuse Dorothy was willing to use in her relentless fight for clean water and a sustainable California water supply policy.

The piece by Steve is why newspapers are so important. Not only do they provide investigative journalism that sheds light on corruption and the world’s tragedies and injustices, but they can provide an intimate view into the extraordinary lives that make cities like Los Angeles such an amazing place.

On the other hand, we had a media experience Thursday that was a bit disheartening.

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Heal L.A.

This Saturday marks the 18th year that Heal the Bay has led the Coastal Cleanup Day effort in Los Angeles County.  This year, nearly 11,000 volunteers will come out to 71 locations throughout the region to give the county a three-hour face lift. Volunteers of all ages will participate in cleanups from Sun Valley to Echo Park, Malibu to Long Beach.  Divers will brave the murky depths at Redondo and Santa Monica piers and kayakers will help clean up Marina Del Rey. 

The event continues a tradition where communities come together to make L.A. a better place.  One might look at Coastal Cleanup Day like a shot of botox on Joan Rivers.  The injection helps a little, but it doesn’t last long.  Just a day or two later, all too much of the trash is back on our beaches, strewn along our rivers and creeks, fouling our local communities.

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Party All the Time

There is nothing more American than a great party.  At the Beijing Olympics, who partied harder than the Americans?  In particular, the Redeem Team was seen everywhere, from the Water Cube to the Beijing beach, whooping it up in the name of the good ole USA.  Next was Denver, where the DNC festivities couldn’t be contained by an indoor arena.  And finally, the RNC demonstrated that every day can be the Fourth of July. It took the patriotic party to a new level with chants of “U – S – A” after every nationalistic proclamation.

Until this week, little did we know that Big Oil was king of the party crews. Those wacky, fun-loving guys from “Animal House” grew up to work in Big Oil and they invited the b-crats from the Minerals Management Service to join in the ongoing festivities.

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Quality Decision

After a year and a half of litigation, the NRDC has finally settled with the Environmental Protection Agency over the BEACH Act lawsuit.  As a result, the EPA will develop long overdue beach water quality criteria for swimmers nationwide. 

The current criteria were developed in 1985 and are based on health effects studies completed in the late 1970s.  Obviously, a lot has happened in the beach water quality world since then.

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Curbing Pollution

filtration on all driveways

Oros Street: filtration on all driveways

I can’t help but notice how many street “improvement” projects are under way in Santa Monica, the region’s most sustainable city. All sorts of traffic “calming” projects – a euphemism for slowing traffic to a crawl in the name of public safety — are springing up all around town. Most of them involve narrowing the street, installing ADA compliant curb cuts and providing a small landscaped area. 

Unfortunately, none of them are green streets projects, which have been commonplace in Seattle and Portland for over a decade. You may have seen some photos of these foreign- looking streets with beautiful landscaping, small to no curbs, permeable surfaces where gutters often reside, and genuine curb appeal — features that seem to be anathema in urban L.A.

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Youth Is Served

Heal the Bay educates more than 10,000 children annually.

As millions of school kids return to classes statewide this week, I’m reminded that teaching our children about environmental problems, their causes and the solutions to these problems has never been a higher priority.

Opening up the newspaper or visiting a few environmental websites can lead to an overwhelming sense of depression. The San Francisco Bay-delta ecosystem is on the verge of collapse.  Over a billion people don’t have access to clean water on a regular basis. The rate of species loss globally is comparable to the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction event that led to the end of the dinosaurs.  Climate change is leading to glacier and polar ice cap melting at a pace beyond those predicted by the least conservative of scientific models. China is adding a coal-fired power plant every two weeks and its pace of air and water pollution is unprecedented. Fisheries around the world have declined dramatically and the scourge of marine debris wreaks havoc on even the most remote parts of the world’s oceans. All are environmental tragedies grabbed from today’s headlines. All leave one with a sense of helplessness in our fight for a cleaner, healthier environment.

Before you put click away to another web site, take a hard look at your son, daughter, little sister or brother, or a neighborhood kid.

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Back-to-School Blues

I just dropped another $250 at Staples on school supplies for my two sons, Zack and Jake. I’ve never seen so much plastic in my entire life.  Binders, folders, rulers, protractors, pens, markers, pencil holders and sharpeners, and even the new backpacks were all made of plastic. I couldn’t help chuckling at the hypocrisy of putting all of that plastic in my four canvas bags.  I felt like the guy ordering an In-N-Out double-double, fries and a diet Coke.

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Bridge Over Troubled Waters

The State Water Board today received a comprehensive water recycling policy for California that the state desperately needs to heed. After five months of intense negotiations, a coalition of water supply agencies, water recyclers, sewage treatment agencies and environmental groups, including Heal the Bay, wrote the policy in response to a draft effort completed by the water board that was universally opposed. 

The fate of the policy lies in the hands of the Water Board, but it is critical for the Schwarzenegger administration, including Lester Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources, and Secretary Linda Adams from Cal-EPA, to use the policy as a springboard for a more comprehensive and integrated water policy for all of California.

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