Southern California environment news and trends

Bacteria breakdown the best part of top beach reports

Today I broadcast a radio story on the NRDC's "Testing the Waters" report - that legal advocacy group's take on beach pollution. When I first got here - when I wasn't paying as much attention - all these beach pollution reports confused the heck out of me. The NRDC's neighbor in Santa Monica, Heal the Bay, does an Annual Beach Report card (not to mention weekly reports). And the federal Environmental Protection Agency has the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000. So here's a primer to make it easier. 

All of 'em use public data to come to their assessments. They just do it slightly differently. 

NRDC's "Testing the Waters" report pays its attention to bacteria standards for beaches. Not all beach closures are caused by bacteria levels, but bacteria are the best indicator we use regularly for skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory illness - all the gross ailments your surfer friends have humble-bragged about. It's also a national report, so this year, outside of southern California, continuing closures in the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil spill are a big story for the NRDC. 


Seven seas' worth of books for World Oceans Day

Pledge drive plus actual reporting is killing me. For World Oceans Day, here's something better than me trying to write about the ocean: seven writers who succeeded in making me fall in love with the ocean, over and over. These are books I carry with me, no matter what ocean I'm living near, or reporting on. And of course, they're stories of the sea through the prisim of peoples' eyes; they're no conservation cases. But these books made me more interested in marine policy, even so. 

1. Thor Heyerdahl, Kon-Tiki

So what if his experimental anthropology wasn't always right? Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki captures the imagination of every kid who has ever thought of building a raft and taking off over open water. The book makes everything about being in port seem awful, confining and mundane. Whereas at sea? "The ocean does not separate us. It unites us." 


5th-grader Dario does the LA Department of Water and Power hearing: watch this video!

I'm swamped, getting together some stuff on the LADWP/City Council joint meeting over the weekend, but I wanted to take a minute to notice David Pettit's blog over at NRDC's Switchboard

Pettit calls out and features a kid who spoke to the meeting - you can see him here. His name's Dario, and he goes to the Alessandro Street school. He is in the fifth grade!

A lot of folks at this hearing where there to talk about coal. A few were there to talk about once-through cooling transitions for LADWP plants, and even fewer still were there to talk about the ratepayer advocate. You expect speakers like David Pettit to do a good job - he argues in federal court, for Pete's sake. Or Liz Crosson from Baykeeper - she made her point and beat the clock. Jack Humphreville is practiced at appearing before the LADWP commission. And who hasn't heard of Dr. Clyde Williams, gadfly celebre of the City Council? Some of those people have been talking to city council as long as Darrio's been alive. 


Your local Superfund site: Palos Verdes Shelf & its fish

This week, we got word of a study from the San Francisco Estuarine Institute finding plenty of what people leave in coastal waters - including mercury and PCBs - in sportfish. 

You might not know that southern California is home to the largest underwater Superfund site in the US - and so a lot of our PCBs and DDT has settled there. So without further ado, just a little background on the Palos Verdes Shelf - the largest underwater Superfund site in the US!

Superfund's a total misnomer, by the by. It's a program run by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to clean up toxic waste at sites around the U.S. - 1200 or so of 'em - but the fund's been, well, underfunded, for quite some time. Still, since CERCLA got made law 31 years ago, the word Superfund has become synonymous with nasty hazardous and toxic waste. 


Santa Monica Beach gets smart green trash cans -- that don't recycle

Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, Santa Monica beach got 500 new, spiffy trash cans with green features. In addition to reminding people not to litter, these cans come with a QR code that takes smartphone users to the new Santa Monica Beachcast — a mobile site with tips on keeping the beach clean, a quick signup feature for upcoming beach cleanups, information on beach water quality, and more.

However, these trash cans won’t let you recycle. That means everything put in these greener-themed trash cans will go straight to the landfill.

Why aren’t recycling options provided on Santa Monica Beach year round? “Santa Monica’s been very conservative in their distribution of common area recycling,” says Andrew Basmajian, communications coordinator for the City of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability. “A lot of people would like to see more [recycling bins]. It’s just that a lot of it gets stuck in committee. It’s a difficult thing to do. It’s very expensive to maintain the infrastructure.”