Op Ed: Protecting Water Quality at Newport’s Beaches

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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.

These include:

  • 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.


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  1. On Labor day weekend this month, I took my 2 year old niece into the waves at the beach in West Newport at Orange Street. I noticed the water was dirty and smelled bad. Then I see the barge that the city is moving all the filthy debris from the marina park construction site being dumped just offshore in front of my neice and I. The city uses our ocean as a dump dispite there being alternative sites further offshore that could be used. This is not a sand replenishment project because the beach at river jetties grows wider each year by 3 feet on average. There have actually been 3 sand removal projects in the past 15 years since we have so much sand here. They did the same thing a couple of years ago when they dredged up all the filthy material from the back bay. The biggest polluter of our local oceans and beaches is Ms Daigle and the rest of the city council. If you read the EIR for marina park the only specifications for dumping are granule size. I contacted Dave Kiff the city manager and Ms Daigle repeatedly and got no information. They don’t know who tests the material to be dumped or what they test it for.

  2. Efforts for water quality in Newport Beach have been a landmark compared to most cities and with plenty of push from local NGO’s (never mentioned) like Coastkeeper and Surfrider. This past year Little Corona was posted (County Health) many times, some local joggers say there was a broken pipe up in Buck Gully, shhhh don’t tell anyone, the leak was eventually fixed, the postings went down, well except for the recent one last week. Until San Diego Creek stops using our bay as a flood control system (our bay is the receiving waters, the end of the pipe is the harbor entrance) the bay will suffer and while filtration systems might help, the flow must be diverted.
    I personally have figured out a way to change the course of this problem, but it lands on deaf ears, or the old “who’s going to pay for it?” comes up (well the civic center was $150 million). Dredging the entire harbor is needed, but if the reason for the fine toxic sediment continues into the bay, dredging is only a bandaid (There are oxygen and turbidity problems from the runoff). The County and The Irvine Company, and many local environmental groups sugar coat the runoff into the bay. Even eel grass mitigation is a boondoggle for its high failure rate by transplanting, seeding is the best, very economical while grants are a waste of time and tax dollars. There has been a recent discovery of Iodine 131 being found in Crystal Cove State Park on giant kelp, while not toxic to humans, the area is a ASBS which makes any discharge illegal. This is most likely coming from the over-irrigation of Newport Coast, and reclaimed water is on the top of the list for causing this (IRWD doesn’t check for Iodine 131 which can only come from nuclear power plants, hospitals, and water treatment facilities). So while there are great efforts for water quality, we still have a long way to go before water quality objectives are reached for our recreational bay uses.