Friday, May 28, 2010

Beach Bummer Again...

This week’s release of Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Report Card shows modest improvements in Long Beach water quality, with one notable exception – Colorado Lagoon. The lagoon received straight Fs across the board. Rain or shine, winter or summer, year after year, the story is the same.

Heal the Bay gathers water quality data from 450 locations throughout California and, once again, Colorado Lagoon features prominently in their Beach Bummer top ten list, this year moving from 4th to 6th place. This dubious distinction reflects the lagoon’s dismal water quality during summer dry weather months, when swimming and other recreational uses are at their peak. This news comes on the eve of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, traditionally seen as the start of our summer recreation season. This weekend hundreds of Long Beach children will be swimming in Colorado Lagoon, a place their parents consider safe because of the gentle sloping beach and lack of waves.

Water quality in Colorado Lagoon remains a serious health and safety issue. Despite significant progress towards cleaning up the lagoon, bacteria and algae blooms continue because the lagoon has been isolated from the rest of the bay, and the Pacific Ocean, by an ill-conceived underground culvert. This culvert restricts the tidal circulation that the lagoon needs to be clean and healthy. Tidal circulation is the life blood of an estuary like Colorado Lagoon. Restricting this life blood, while pouring more and more urban runoff each year into the lagoon has gotten us where we are today. A good analogy is asking an athlete to run in a race with the blood circulation to their legs restricted. It is a recipe for disaster.

The storm drain work being done around the lagoon this year will reduce the amount of trash and urban runoff entering the lagoon during the dry season, and this is an important step forward. But unless full tidal circulation is restored, the lagoon will continue to have bacteria and algae problems each year. The existing underground culvert will be cleaned this summer, at a cost to the city of more than $400k (paid for through a grant secured by the city and FOCL). This will lead to marginally better tidal circulation, but in a relatively short period of time the culvert will again clog with silt and marine growth. This is not cost effective and certainly not a long term solution.

The only long term solution to this health issue, and the one recommended by the EIR, is restoring the original tidal creek that used to connect the lagoon to Alamitos bay. This original connection was filled in back in the 60s to make way for a “cross town freeway” which thankfully never happened. The city, Port of LB, along with resource agencies such as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and US Fish and Wildlife have been studying options to restore circulation to the lagoon, and the results will be released by the city in a few weeks. This data, along with public input, will help the city decide on the best way forward for restoring full circulation, also know as Phase II of the lagoon restoration.

We look forward to hearing your input on this important health and safety issue. If we make the right decisions now, Colorado Lagoon will no longer be known as one the 10 most polluted beaches in California, but instead as a safe and clean recreational asset that the citizens of Long Beach can be proud of.

Dave Pirazzi, Friends of Colorado Lagoon

PS. Thanks to Lenny Arkinstall for the use of his photos, and more importantly for his and LCWS work to remove the rafts of algae. Most of the algae seen in these photos has been removed as I post this.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Champions and Cub Scouts

Today was an incredible day at the Colorado Lagoon and I would like to point out the inspiring people that helped make it so. With all of the wonderful improvements to the storm-water infrastructure occurring right now it has been difficult to host FOCL’s education activities. While we have limited our education program a bit, it is quite another task to keep our regular volunteers away from the current community-based restoration of planting plants and non-native removal. Every volunteer is a great volunteer and at each event we host it is guaranteed at least one of our veteran restoration volunteers, FOCL’s Champions, will be pitching mulch and creating habitat along the shores of the Lagoon. These people are the backbone of our community-based efforts. What makes these Champions so special? Our volunteers are innovative, intelligent, and dedicated people mostly in their mid-twenties(!), either in college or a few years outside of graduation, giving back to their community while exploring the natural world and expressing themselves with utmost compassion. They are impressive people providing the greatest proof of that care: their action. FOCL’s Champions are regular people who have found something special in a little wetland and each of them has their own reason for caring. But at the Lagoon what they share is a community built around mutual appreciation and love of the natural world that, in the last 18 months, is over 2200 volunteers strong. Today a handful of those Champions decided that taking a couple hours to wander about the Lagoon exploring birds and plants before sweating a little to nurture those same creatures was valuable to them. It is an inspiring act when those are the values chosen by people who have every opportunity to put their energies elsewhere. FOCL, the Colorado Lagoon and the surrounding Long Beach community are fortunate to have these committed Champions investing their time and energy and demonstrating what is valuable to them.

While the Champions were busily working on the habitat, a group – or rather, a pack— of cubs and tigers descended on the Lagoon. An intimidating number of these scouts were scouring the beaches of the Lagoon for trash trying to understand why litter is even there at all. When I met up with them each had a plastic grocery bag in one hand and a stick or rock or leaf or feather in the other. All tools necessary toward trash cleanups, for sure. This rowdy bunch met with the intention of cleaning the Lagoon and you can only imagine how excited they were to see the giant earthmovers that are currently stationed on the adjacent roads, on weekend break from the Lagoon restoration. We went on a brief nature walk to explore the colors and scents of the flowering habitat in full spring showiness and all were delighted to stand by a field of California Poppies while Forster Terns were diving in the Lagoon water, fishing for Topsmelt. We explored more and had a great time thinking about what it would be like to drive the back-hoe. And then this energetic pack met the Champions at work.

Introducing the group of scouts to the group of Champions was fun for me because, in the end, we’re all playing and we all have a purpose. The scouts came for trash and experienced the dynamic habitat while getting dirty and playing with their friends. The Champions did much of the same. The big construction equipment on-site right now is really wonderful because it is the evidence of at least 10 years of work trying to make this restoration happen. Equally inspiring and a concept that is joyously difficult to fathom is that there were two generations of people – 6 year olds and 26 year olds – that were at the Lagoon today that will now accept those earthmovers as fact, that see a hard-won restoration not as a hard-won restoration but as something that just is. These two inspiring groups of people who chose to give their Saturday to fixing the Lagoon in their own ways, now know that that’s the way the world is, a world where positive restorative activity occurs. That is very hopeful. And it is their respective evolving worldviews that is inspiring.

Taylor Parker
Education Director
Friends of Colorado Lagoon