A Breach of Faith

A mass die-off of marine life this week at Surfrider Beach coincided with a breach of Malibu Lagoon.

Today’s guest blogger is Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s Coastal Resources Director. She’s also a Malibu resident.

When people talk about the Malibu stench, it’s usually in reference to septic-related smells. But, there’s a different stink in Malibu right now – that of rotting, dead marine life along Surfrider Beach. It’s impossible to walk along the stretch of beach between the Malibu Pier and the Colony without noticing the thousands of dead urchins washed ashore, strewn amid the seaweed, driftwood and swarms of kelp flies. There’s even an occasional dead lobster, sea hare and seabird in the mix.

I noticed it first over the weekend after heading to Surfrider for a mid-day surf. I had to tread carefully across the beach to avoid stepping on the prickly decaying urchins. I went back down to the beach this week to take some photos of the shocking mass mortality.

Some folks may remember a similar die-off October of last year, after someone artificially and illegally breached the lagoon in advance of projected good surf. The recent mortality seems to have coincided with the breaching of Malibu Lagoon last week. The latest breach occurred near Third Point toward the end of last week, around the same time as our first storm of the year, as well as a late season south swell.

Continue reading

A Bloomin’ Mess

Would the EPA call this impairment?

Does the scene in this photo count as algal impairment under the Clean Water Act?  I’m just curious if the folks in Florida that are attempting to blow up the Clean Water Act over proposed nutrient standards would agree that this is impairment.  After all, the kids appear to be enjoying themselves, and after all, isn’t that what recreational water contact is all about? Heal the Bay gets in a lot of fights on the definition of algal impairment with regulators and the regulated community.  When you see pictures like the ones from Qingdao in China, it makes you realize that the regulated community isn’t even willing to come part way on the issue.  If there is a Karenia bloom in Florida that poses a respiratory health risk to beach goers, is that an impairment?  If Malibu Creek has an antifreeze algae bloom that covers the entire creek for a quarter mile, is that impairment? The regulated community may argue that 10% algal cover for  30% of the time isn’t impairment (a definition previously used by some at EPA). But how can they look at pictures like those in China, Florida and Malibu Creek and not offer nutrient reduction recommendations?

Harmful algal blooms are a growing problem that are choking our nation’s rivers and coastal waters with devastating impacts to aquatic ecosystems.  Yet, the EPA and most states are still arguing over the right thing to do and completing an endless series of studies.  They should be requiring aggressive reductions in nutrient discharge loadings (nitrogen and phosphorus) and concentrations, and they should have done it years ago.

Suing Over Septics

spetic-rincon

Despite years of public outcry at Rincon and other locales, the State Water Board has been slow to adopt mandated regulations on septic systems

Enough is enough.  Although Heal the Bay generally only uses litigation as a last resort, we do have our limits.  On Tuesday, Santa Barbara environmental group Heal the Oceans and Heal the Bay filed a lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board for its failure to implement Assembly Bill 885, which required the Board to develop regulations for on-site wastewater treatment systems. AB 885 was authored by former assembly member Hannah-Beth Jackson in 1999 and Gov. Davis signed it into law in 2000. The bill required the Board to develop regulations for the siting, permitting and operation of on-site wastewater treatment systems, or OWTS, by 2004.

The regulations took aim at septic systems, which pose a serious threat to water quality at several famous beaches up and down the coast.  After seven years of patience and a decade of regulatory negotiations with the state, county health agencies, OWTS experts and local government representatives, the environmental groups involved felt that they had no choice but to sue the state to ensure that the law would be implemented. Coast Law Group filed the suit on behalf of the organizations.

Both groups were instrumental in the passage of the law as bill sponsors.  In the 1990s, while Hillary Hauser and Heal the Oceans led efforts to clean up chronically polluted Rincon, Heal the Bay pushed for cleanup at the even more polluted Surfrider Beach.  Both groups noted scientific studies that found human pathogens in the adjacent coastal lagoons — strong evidence that nearby septic systems were causing or contributing to chronic water quality problems that posed health risks to the surfing community.

Continue reading

Clear Victory for Malibu Lagoon

The Coastal Commission voted 11-0 to support Lagoon plan.

The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to support the State Parks and Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission plan to restore Malibu Lagoon. The 11-0 vote provided the last needed permit approval before the rehabilitation of the brackish wetland can proceed next summer. The restoration will increase salt marsh acreage by four acres and will provide long-needed water circulation to the often stagnant marsh, but there was still vocal opposition against the project. The challengers even brought in a high-priced attorney and an East Coast wetland restoration consultant to bolster their case, which argued against the use of heavy machinery to repair the wetland.

Despite these efforts, the recommendations of the Bay Commission, Coastal Conservancy and State Parks prevailed. Heal the Bay helped put together the plan back in 2004. Key testimony from renowned UCLA coastal ecologist Rich Ambrose and wetland nutrient scientist Marth Sutula was very persuasive.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Fish and Game, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Regional Water Board all had previously signed off on the project. Environmental group support from Santa Monica Baykeeper, the local Audubon, Surfrider and Sierra Club chapters, Malibu Surfing Assn. and Friends of Ballona didn’t hurt either.

Evidently, successful wetland restorations at Bolsa Chica, Carpinteria and San Diego County that used earth moving equipment helped sway the commission that the Malibu plan is prudent.

Continue reading

No Poo at the ‘Bu

The septics prohibition - a major step towards cleaner water at Surfrider Beach

The septics prohibition - a major step towards cleaner water at Surfrider Beach & Lagoon. Photo: Jon Shafer

On Tuesday afternoon, the California State Water Board voted unanimously to support the Regional Water Board’s prohibition of on-site wastewater plants in the Malibu Civic Center area. Commercial facilities must be off septics by 2015 and residential sites must be off by 2019.

Opposition to the action was strong with Malibu’s City Attorney threatening litigation if the State Board upheld the prohibition. Malibu City Council members, local residents and the business community all opposed the prohibition citing cost concerns and Malibu’s new found commitment to Clean Water. Continue reading

Saving Surfrider

Citizens speak out for clean water at Surfrider.

The Surfrider Foundation, Malibu Surfing Assn., Santa Monica Baykeeper and Heal the Bay held a joint press event Thursday morning focused on cleaning up chronically polluted, iconic Surfrider Beach. More than 50 Surfrider locals joined the environmental and surfing groups at the rally, bringing  attention to the two decades of “F” Beach Report Card grades at California’s most famous beach. Everyone echoed the common-sense edict that a day at the beach should never make you sick.

The Battle of the Bu has been going on even before Malibu became a city 18 years ago. The history has been filled with broken promises from Malibu officials about moving forward and recycling wastewater in the Civic Center area instead of relying on septic systems and on-site wastewater treatment systems. One delay after another has occurred. The city most often cites lack of funding as an excuse for making no progress on a water recycling plant. During the decades of inaction, no beach or coastal lagoon has been the site of more studies — ranging from groundwater contamination to fate-and-transport studies to health effects analyses.

Finally, last year, the Regional Water Board passed a resolution prohibiting on-site wastewater treatment at all commercial properties in the Civic Center by 2015 and all residential properties by 2019. The residential ban, in particular, has been strongly opposed by the city and many residents.

Continue reading

Victory at Sea

03beach-2-600

After 18 years of fighting for clean water, surfers in Malibu score a major win

The Regional Water Board voted 5-2 last night to approve a moratorium on septic systems in the Malibu civic center area.  In a bid to clean up chronically polluted Surfrider Beach, the measure bans any new septic systems in the area and mandates removal of existing systems by 2015 for commercial properties and 2019 for residential properties.  The environmental community — Baykeeper, Surfrider Foundation, Malibu Surfing Assn. and Heal the Bay — came out in large numbers to support a prohibition and moratorium for the civic center area.   It was a great organizing effort that involved all groups.

Continue reading