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Our View – ‘Don’t drink the water’ not sufficient

Published 6/14/2007 on Daily 49er

Cal State Long Beach professor of marine biology Gwen Goodmanlowe's assessment in the June 7 issue of the Daily Forty-Niner, concerned with the city's beach pollution woes, nails precisely a problem local environmentalists have been struggling with for years, resulting in much frustration and only minor success.

Nothing could be nearer the truth than Goodmanlowe's comment, "It really isn't fair."

The city of Long Beach got a lot of bang for its buck nearly 70 years ago, when it condemned current and future beachgoers to wade among a variety of potentially serious health threats.

The city was already shaping itself as a septic tank with ever increasing port activity between the early 1900s and late 1930s, but sealed its aquatic fate by selling the future of its waterfront to the U.S. Navy for $1 in 1940.

The Navy bought Terminal Island, established the now-departed naval base and – following World War II – completed building the breakwater that encloses the one-time salt marsh, according to the Port of Long Beach website.

Because of the artificial enclosure, the ship-friendly port is not designed to provide the oceanic circulation necessary to remediate waste and toxins dumped into the harbor. It's built for boats, plain and simple.

Long Beach was naturally, accidentally and intentionally destined to serve as a catch basin for runoff sewage from communities straddling the two tributary systems, the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, sandwiching the area's original tourist attraction.

Conflicting interests between seaside homeowners, the city of Long Beach and Los Angeles County have created an effective blockade to remedy the problems that cause the deplorable conditions on our beachfront.

One partial solution would be to take out the breakwater and let the port breathe. While it would allow waves to reach the shore again, those same waves would wash dangerous microorganisms into the Pacific Ocean.

Flushing our toilets out to sea wouldn't be the most desirable natural remediation, but the process is better than hazardous human exposure to the gunk listed in Heal the Bay's report.

Each time environmental watchdog groups like the Surfrider Foundation bring up the topic of removing the rocky barrier sea-facing residents, who justifiably worry about erosion and destruction to their homes, shoot them down.

In addition, the region would stand to lose immeasurable shipping revenues because its "natural state" would diminish its access viability. Considering anything potentially detrimental to the local economy is a taboo among the succession of beachfront political representatives.

Looking inland for cures has proven equally futile. Long Beach continuously wags an accusing finger at communities along the rivers as source origins for many of the contaminants. Few of those communities wish to take the initiative of storm drain runoff regulation or enforcement of existing laws.

Even during the area's frequent dry seasons, upstream communities let watering their lawns and washing their cars take precedence over the health concerns of visitors to the sand and sea a few miles downstream.

It seems more prudent for them to turn a cold shoulder on their neighbors – until they want to take a saltwater dip, that is. When the summer urge hits, most will probably take to beaches with higher grades than Long Beach.

Failure of the conflicting special interests to implement and enforce workable solutions will result in continued human exposure to the water-bound health risks cited in the report.

Until the stretch of coast gets a better report card, Long Beach's visitors could eventually be grounded for life, a true "Beach Bummer."

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