By Leslie Daigle
Newport Beach’s miles of shore are a source of relaxation, joy, solace and exhilaration for visitors and residents alike. And perhaps nothing strikes at the heart of the unique and special Newport Beach lifestyle as much as beach closures.
The City Council and staff have long recognized this, and actions they have taken have markedly reduced the number and duration of closures. We have turned the tide.
Closures are ordered by the county Health Care Agency when bacteria levels in the water reach levels that are an immediate threat to public health. Usually these are the result of sewage spills.
Closure is the most severe level of a three-tiered system the county uses to alert the public to possible health hazards in OC waters.
The lowest level is an advisory, which identifies an area as prone to contamination from urban runoff – usually near a storm drain, creek or river outfall.
A warning – the second level alert – is issued when bacteria counts in the water exceed thresholds that mark possible threats to public health.
In 2003, there were 14 warnings issued in Newport Beach, totaling 23 days duration. By 2011, those numbers were seven warnings totaling eight days.
The decline follows several initiatives undertaken by the city – on its own or in concert with other responsible agencies – to improve monitoring and reduce the bacterial contamination reaching the Bay and beaches.
- Improved water testing, at more locations
- Diversion of storm drain flows to the OC Sanitation District treatment facility during high-flow periods such as after storms
- Efforts to prevent contaminants from entering storm drains, including better street sweeping practices and installation of screens at street catch basins to intercept bacteria-laden debris
- A campaign to eliminate sewage discharges from boats in the Harbor, including improving and better maintaining pump-out facilities and creating more of them
- Control of the mallard duck population (they’re cute, for sure, but they’re also really messy and a significant source of contamination)
- Providing doggie bags for dog owners walking their pets on Balboa Island and other areas of the city (again, cute but messy!)
- Instituting practices and regulations to minimize sewage spills, including requiring grease traps for restaurants and an aggressive program of scoping and maintaining sewer lines
These measures took a lot of effort, and some have taken a lot of time (the pump-out program dates to the 1980s). Some required us to change longstanding habits. The city has spent millions of dollars in funds and staff time on the effort. But the end result is less contamination and fewer health warnings and beach closures.
We in Newport have a special relationship with the waters of our Bay and ocean, and we are protecting what we love.
Leslie Daigle is a two-term Newport Beach councilwoman and candidate for the Orange County Water District board.