Malibu Lagoon Restoration Delayed

Bureaucratic bungling means another year of degradation and Clean Water Act violations at the Malibu Lagoon.

By now, most people in the local environmental community know that last Friday afternoon, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith issued a stay on the Malibu Lagoon restoration project. The project was supposed to begin June 1, but the court order suspended the project until an October hearing on the Coastal Commission project approval. As a result of the court’s stay, the restoration efforts will be delayed until at least the summer of 2012 because the wildlife protection agencies that approved the restoration justifiably require all efforts to occur during the summer months when wildlife impacts are minimized.

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Long Beach Fights Back

Long Beach bears the brunt of plastic pollution from the L.A. River. Its new ban on plastic bags may help.

The movement to ban plastic bags in California scored a major victory when the Long Beach City Council voted 5-0 last night to support a disposable bag ban based on the Los Angeles County bag ordinance. Heal the Bay boardmember Suja Lowenthal spearheaded the City Council effort to ban single use plastic  bags, but Dee Andrews’ support for the ordinance was key. (Five votes were needed as there were four absences). 

Large retailers are required to stop giving out single use plastic bags by August, with smaller retailer requirements kicking in for January. Like the county’s ordinance, retailers are allowed to sell “green” paper bags for a dime as an alternative. But the message from Long Beach remains strong:  Use reusable bags instead of single use bags.

Long Beach has a lot to gain from the bag ban because the city sits at the bottom of the heavily urbanized, over 1500-square mile L.A. and San Gabriel River watersheds. As a result, Long Beach beaches bear the brunt of our society’s irresponsible waste disposal behavior.

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Healing San Pedro Bay

Some of the new regulations designed to clean up San Pedro Bay are more fork than spoon unfortunately.

Santa Monica Bay pollution may make the headlines, but the pollution in San Pedro Bay is a lot worse.  Last week the Regional Water Quality Control Board made an attempt to heal our other local bay by passing the most comprehensive and complicated Total Maximum Daily Load in California history.  (TMDLs are water body-specific pollutant limits.) The TMDL covered 79 different impairments of  Dominguez Channel and the Greater Los Angeles and Long Beach Harbor (San Pedro Bay) waters and contaminants, including heavy metals like mercury, lead and copper, DDT, PCBs, toxicity and petroleum hydrocarbons.

The bottom line is that there are now five species of fish in the Bay that the state recommends you avoid eating and another 11 that you shouldn’t eat more than once a week.  Also, there are numerous toxic hotpots and the benthic ecology (bottom-dwelling animals) at some of those locations is highly degraded.

Although this TMDL was one of the most important in the entire Consent Decree between the environmental community and the EPA, it was delayed until 2011 because of its complexity and the number of industrial heavy hitters that are regulated by the action, including such players as the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, numerous oil companies, the Montrose Chemical Co. (the folks who brought us DDT), and numerous upstream cities with intense industrial use. Perhaps the biggest reason for the lateness of the TMDL was the complex and time-consuming modeling (five years in the making) of San Pedro Bay and the Dominguez Channel required to develop the regulation.

The Regional Board voted 5-0 to approve the staff recommended TMDL over strong opposition from Montrose and the Coalition for Practical Regulation cities. Montrose and the CPR cities opposed the TMDL because of cost concerns, and they actually claimed that they shouldn’t have to pay for the Dominguez Channel and San Pedro Bay cleanup because they already had to pay millions of dollars under the Superfund and Natural Resources damages lawsuit in the 1990s. In other words, “Let the locals eat toxic fish!”

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Deep in the Heart of Texas

Samohi's Ocean Sciences Bowl team learned some valuable lessons over the weekend about winning and losing.

I just spent a looong weekend in Texas, hanging out at Texas A&M Galveston overlooking the Bay and the lime green piles of sulfur lining the shores of the port. I flew out to watch the finals of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl and to root for the team from Santa Monica High School. Go Vikings!

I flew in Friday and got to the venerable Galvez Hotel on the Galveston breakwater by the afternoon. Beautiful hotel, but Galveston’s beaches are no match for the sand and surf of Santa Monica Bay. That evening, we went to Moody Garden Aquarium to hear Her Deepness herself give an inspirational talk on the importance of the oceans and why everyone needs to fight for them. Sylvia Earle always has this calm, persuasive way of making humanity realize the value of ocean stewardship.

Sylvia was nice enough to hang with the Samohi crew during dinner in the aquarium. Little did I know that this would be the first of many meals dominated by single-use plastics. Like every event she attends, Sylvia was a rock star, signing autographs, taking photos and answering everyone’s questions.

On Saturday, the games began. Watching my son Zack and his teammates, Dana, Mari and Maddy, compete at the marathon competition on Saturday marked one of the proudest moments of my life. Ingo Gaida, the Samohi Oceans Bowl team coach, did an extraordinary job preparing the students for the nationwide tourney. These guys already know more about the world’s oceans than I’ll ever know.

And they were joined by teams from Alaska to Hawaii, New England to Florida. The whole nation was well represented.

By the end of the day, there were three more plastic-served meals, consisting of Polystyrene plates and cutlery and Styrofoam cups. I don’t think any of our food came on readily recyclable plastics. Haven’t any numbers other than sixes even hit Texas yet? And recycling must not have hit Galveston.

The teams were culled down to the final six. Samohi was the top seed and finished the day undefeated, winning every game handily. This guaranteed a spot in the Final Four. Even the incessant local greeting of “Howdy” and our growing contribution to the global marine crisis didn’t get to me on Saturday. I was so proud.

We decided to ditch another plastic dinner and celebrate with grub at Gaido’s in homage to the coach’s almost namesake restaurant. A magical day ended with us sitting along Galveston high school students dressed to the nines for their prom dinner at the shoreline seafood restaurant that survived the last hundred years of hurricanes.  The giant green crab on the restaurant roof served as the perfect cap to a perfect day.

Saturday was more wonderful and stressful than watching UCLA get to the Final Four. Unfortunately, Sunday brought back flashbacks of Florida and Memphis State. This was Samohi’s Alamo.

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