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Task Force To Report On Beach Water

Published on Grunion Gazette on 7/9/2007 

A “water quality task force” made up of environmental groups and city officials will sit down in the coming months and take a closer look at the beach and bay water quality in Long Beach — and what can be done to improve it.

Mayor Bob Foster announced the formation of the task force last Tuesday at the start of a City Council study session on water quality.

“I’m hoping this group can come up with a report with suggestions that will come back to this City Council,” Foster said.

The task force would include officials from Heal The Bay, the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project and Long Beach city staff, among others.

It was Heal The Bay, through its annual report card, that put beach water quality in Long Beach on the front burner. After years of fairly good report cards, the group’s annual Beach Report Card gave Long Beach failing grades — 24 of the 28 beaches in Long Beach got “C” grades or worse.

Downtown beaches all the way east to the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier received “C” grades in 2007, except at testing locations at Fifth and 16th places, where the grades were “D.” That pattern continued citywide.

City staff gave a detailed report on the search for the reason that the 2007 beach water quality was so much worse than previous years. They said while they found several potential pollution sources and made fixes, those changes didn’t have immediate water quality impacts.

Much of the problem was inside Alamitos Bay, city staff said, noting the numerous closures last year of Colorado Lagoon, Mother’s Beach and Marine Stadium.

The task force will look into potential causes for the worsened water quality last year and steps the city can take to prevent problems in the future. However, that may be challenging, particularly dealing with cities upstream that allow contaminants into the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, both of which end in Long Beach.

“I think we know some of the water quality problems are due to our unique geography, being at the mouth of two rivers,” Foster said.

Testing the water quality in the Los Angeles River as it goes through North Long Beach was suggested by Third District Councilman Gary DeLong and was well received. Long Beach Health Department officials said that testing will start soon.

A large portion of the City Council study session was focused on the breakwater.

In 2005, the City Council asked the federal government to consider paying for a one-year “reconnaissance study,” which would be performed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps built the breakwater and has jurisdiction over it.

That has not happened, in part due to resistance from Congressman Dana Rohra-bacher (R-Huntington Beach), who represents the beach areas of Long Beach.

“We met with Mr. Rohrabacher and he said absolutely no, you are not getting a dime for this,” said Eighth District Councilwoman Rae Gabelich.

The city has not been able to get either of California’s senators — Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer — to sponsor the measure either.

City Council members and members of the Long Beach chapter of Surfrider — the organization that has spearheaded the breakwater reconfiguration effort — said they were looking at finding a way to pay for that first study, at $100,000. Another impartial organization can do the reconnaissance study, then submit it to the Army Corps.

But after that there would be big hurdles, financial and otherwise.

After the reconnaissance study, if the breakwater project moved forward, a full feasibility study would be required, which would include detailed environmental work. The study also would look at the impact on the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. The city would be required to pay a portion of the money for that study, likely between $1.5 million and $3 million, and half of that in cash.

If all the studies and plans were approved, then there would be the actual work. Early estimates are that it could cost between $150 million and $400 million to remove the breakwater, although Surfrider and others have talked more about a reconfiguration. Whatever the cost, the city would have to pick up at least 35% of it.

Gordana Kajer, chair of Surfrider’s Long Beach chapter, urged the council to help them start the process with a reconnaissance study. Also, she said that the homeowners on the Peninsula needed to be included in any process.

“We believe there are other aspects of changes in the breakwater that can be studied rather than just removal,” she told the council.

But while anything with the breakwater is long-term talk, the focus eventually returned to the water quality task force. First District Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal said she hoped the group could come up with some ideas.

“Part of what we’re talking about is continuing to talk to cities upstream (on the Los Angeles River) that don’t seem to want to participate in cleaning it up,” Lowenthal said.

There is no timeline for the task force report.

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