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Water Quality Attacked

{mosimage}12/07/06-LONG BEACH  City officials are not sure why there continue to be high bacteria counts in the water near Mother’s Beach in Alamitos Bay.

But they do know why city beaches suddenly got a lot of “F” grades in the recent Heal The Bay water quality report — the organization changed its grading standards.  An inter-departmental “task force” for water quality issues is now looking into ways to improve both those problems, and the first step will be a detailed study of tidal flows and the impacts of the power plants on Alamitos Bay. 

That’s because water quality in Alamitos Bay remains a concern. For example, Mothers Beach was closed from Sept. 28 to Oct. 24, and for several other days since then.  “We have not been able find a single source (of the pollution problems in Alamitos Bay) but we are looking at a number of things,” said Ron Arias, director of Health and Human Services for Long Beach, before the council meeting. 

Originally, the city thought that a pump-out station for boats that was improperly shut down led to the increased fecal and bacteria levels in the area. Once properly shut down, contamination levels started to fall.  Then, suddenly, they spiked again. Tests for other leaks from pump-out stations and sewage pipes did not turn up any leaks that would have caused the problem, the council was told.The task force — made up of city people from Public Works, Parks and Recreation, the Health Department, lifeguards and more — now is looking into the possibility that the contamination levels are tied to the reduced flow at the area power plants.  “We’re contracting with (the engineering firm) Moffit & Nichol to look at tidal flows, the power plant water use and to see how all this impacts the water quality,” Arias said. 

While that impacts a popular East Long Beach beach, there also are water quality concerns on all the city beaches.The most recent report from the environmental organization Heal The Bay gave 16 Long Beach beaches an “F” grade, while just three got an “A” or “B” grade. Compared to the 2005 report when 20 beaches got top grades, or 2004 when 21 did, the recent results look damning.  But city officials said that the water quality last year was similar to or only slightly worse than 2004.  “The grading criteria did change,” Arias said.  “The grades we had in 2004 were not great, but they were basically the same levels as in 2006.  ”For example, Mothers Beach had 13 health advisories in 2004 and was given a “C” grade. Last year, there were nine advisories but it received an “F.”  As for the 2005 years, Arias said strong early rains may have “flushed out” many of the contaminants in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, as well as area storm drain lines, which meant as the year wore on, the grades remained high, Arias said. 

When council members asked about how to improve water quality in Long Beach — one even bringing up the controversial breakwater issue — they were told that the biggest problem was that contaminants from more than 800 miles of watershed dumps right into Long Beach.  “The culprit is the Los Angeles River,” said Tom Leary, Stormwater Program manager for the city. 

For more information about the water quality in Long Beach, call 570-4199, or log on to the city’s Health Department Web site at www.longbeach.gov/health.

This article was written by Kirt Helin, Editor of Grunion Gazette

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