Southern California environment news and trends

Surfers use beach experiences to advocate & educate

Today on The Madeleine Brand Show, they talk to Jess Ponting, the founding scholar at the new Center for Surf Research at San Diego State. I have to admit, at first I was pretty hostile to the idea that this is even a job. I also have to admit that comes from schadenfreude-envy, since he gets to be an academic and make surfing part of the gig. (As someone who got paid to listen to Sam Cooke and the Meters in New Orleans, I've not got a leg to stand on here.)

The other thing I realized is that leveraging surf tourism to improve conditions in far-flung surf hotspots maybe doesn't sound that wild around here because surfers are pretty consistently getting more active on environmental policy in California.

Issues Ponting's talking about in Indonesiadon't have much overlap with our endless summer. We don't have a foreign controlled surfing tourism industry; ours is pretty much native. American beach towns are pretty well empowered to hold on to their own revenue. But some decisions surfers make have ecological importance anywhere. Any surfer who chooses to hop a plane can consider the carbon footprint of a long-haul jaunt to Fiji. Chemicals used in making surfboards are toxic for anyone. 


DWP still looking for more time on once-through cooling?

LADWP's supposed to stop an environmentally harmful process called once through cooling at its coastal power plants. This summer the utility even got an extension of time to do it. An item at its commissioners' meeting today reveals DWP may want still more time to comply with new federal rules. In a memo to the board on the DWP's website, the utility describes a schedule six years longer than the law now allows.

Under the Clean Water Act, once through cooling is illegal because the process harms water quality and sea life. It sucks sea water in to cool equipment, then it spits heated water back into the ocean. That outflow kills tiny organisms, the bottom of the food web. A couple dozen California power plants have used sea water this way, including DWP's Scattergood, Haynes, and Harbor facilities. As a municipal utility, DWP has long sought to be treated differently.


Doing the math on sea level rise & coastal erosion in Malibu, Venice, and locally

The fun part of covering an economic study of sea rise’s coastal impacts is seeing what the math looks like without politics to distort it.

And sea walls at Zuma and Broad beach don’t math out, San Francisco State University economist Philip King and his fellow researchers say in the new study we reported on. “[A]n overwhelming majority of benefits are directly tied to protecting residential structures at the back of Broad Beach.” Those high-value homeowners were instrumental in getting a 4100 foot emergency seawall up at Broad Beach in 2010. King’s report says that if it’s maintained, “nearly all of the recreational and habitat benefits associated with this stretch of shoreline will be lost in the near future as water levels rise.”

Venice has its challenges, too. At that beach, they’ve already started nourishment projects: shoveling more sand into the maw that the sea leaves behind just doing what it do. King’s team says more shovelfuls would be good in the future (though they note potential ecological consequences). “Additional nourishment projects could help minimize recreational losses due to sea level rise; the placement of winter berms could also help reduce the impacts of flooding following large winter storms.”


Superfund site of the week: Monitoring and wells in the San Gabriel valley

Over the last couple of weeks we've talked about the kind of chemicals in the San Gabriel Valley and the way polluters are held responsible there for the presence of those chemicals. Our Superfund Site of the Week remains the SGV. This time around we talk about where the chemicals are, who keeps track, and how. 

In EPA lingo, the chemicals are in cleanup projects called "operable units." The San Gabriel Valley Superfund problem is actually four areas of groundwater contamination. Within those sites, area one has five cleanup projects (El Monte, Richwood, South El Monte, Suburban Water Systems, and Whittier Narrows). Area 2 is Baldwin Park. Area 3 is Alhambra. Area 4 is Puente Valley. So, eight operable units all together. 

Cleanup at those units is the job of the EPA, the regional water board, and one specially created local organization. California's state legislature created the San Gabriel Basin Water Quality Authority to administer federal and California money for groundwater treatment programs. The authority's authority extends over the San Gabriel Valley, Three Valley, and Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water Districts, as well as cities in the region whose water doesn't come through those districts. 


Secret public art in Santa Monica meant to help... [UPDATED]

In Santa Monica, a homeowner and some graffiti artists have unveiled a huge mural that's supposed to call attention to an environmental problem. 

The homeowner is named Adam Carlin. The graffiti artists are Risk and Retna. It's beautiful. Retna is famous in certain circles for hieroglyphics. The colors cascade downward, orange and yellow, purple, green and blue. I'll even give you a hint. They represent the sky, pollution, and the sea. 

But you're to be forgiven if you have no idea what any of that means. And I guess that's the basis of my question about this project.

Carlin, Risk and Retna have made this installation called "Oceans at Risk" for Heal the Bay. If you go to the project's website, it's essentially a Facebook page, on which it proclaims the project "the biggest and most important residential art project ever."