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.


  1. The work at the Lagoon is quite exciting and it will be such a relief and incredible success when the Colorado Lagoon is off of Heal the Bay's list. Thank you Dave for expressing the importance of the open tidal creek toward this goal.

  2. If full tidal exchange is the goal (and it is!), restoring the original tidal creek that connected C.Lagoon to Marine Stadium is the only viable solution....all the others are just band-aids.

  3. Dave this is a great overview of the Heal the Bay's report card and Lagoon's poor performance this year. It is also notable that Heal the Bay is basing its ratings only on bacterial levels in the water measured by the City of Long Beach's Health Dept. If you take into consideration all the heavy metals and organic pollutants in the lagoon's sediments...the grades are even worse. F--