Friday, July 23, 2010

Working Towards Solutions in Cannon Beach, Oregon

ALEX PAJUNAS — The Daily Astorian
Beachgoers wade or float back and forth across Ecola Creek in Cannon Beach. This year 11 Clatsop and Tillamook County beaches are being monitored for enterococcus, bacteria present in animal and human waste. More photos on the Web at
ALEX PAJUNAS — The Daily Astorian
Bathing seagulls freshen up near the beach in the waters of Ecola Creek Wednesday. Mark See, the Cannon Beach public works director, says DNA tests by the city indicate gulls are the main polluters of streams running over the beach.
Water monitoring comes ashore
Summer means it’s time to begin tracking beaches for contamination

The Daily Astorian

CANNON BEACH - Two health advisories issued for beaches in or near Cannon Beach this summer signal that the beach-monitoring season is under way.

This year, 25 of the state's 94 beaches are being monitored weekly, every two weeks or monthly for enterococcus, bacteria that is present in animal and human waste. It also indicates the presence of other bacteria.

Bacteria can enter the ocean, creeks, rivers and outflows from a variety of sources, including stormwater runoff, animal and seabird waste, failing septic systems, spills from sewage treatment plants or discharges from boats.

Of the 25 beaches slated for routine monitoring, 11 are in Clatsop and Tillamook counties.

While most of the beaches usually don't show high enough counts of bacteria to rate an advisory, the Ecola Court outflow pipe in midtown Cannon Beach garnered 12 advisories after 26 tests last year.

This year, so far, the percentage of good tests over bad is better: It failed only once - during April - in nine tests.

"Over the past few months, we've seen water quality at Ecola Court outfall improve," said Charlie Plybon, Oregon Field Manager for Surfrider Foundation. The foundation monitors water quality on beaches and has been critical of Cannon Beach's efforts to address the outfall area. Recently, however, the city and the foundation began working together to develop solutions.

But, Plybon added, "The area is still of concern until we can demonstrate this 'improved' water quality over time, and beachgoers are safe from advisories." Advisories are issued when more than 158 organisms of bacteria per 100 milliliters of water are found in the samples. The bacteria can cause gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections and other illnesses.

State health officials warn people to avoid wading in creeks that have advisories and to stay clear of water runoff flowing into the ocean.

On April 5, the monitor for the state's testing system found 579 organisms at the outfall site. Two subsequent tests - on April 19 and May 3 - indicated the presence of organisms was significantly reduced, and state officials lifted the advisory.

The Hug Point advisory, issued June 29, was the first in nearly three years, when an advisory was posted for the south end of the cove on July 30, 2007. The advisory was lifted a week later.

Tolovana State Park hadn't been tested since Oct. 29, 2007, and at that time no organisms were detected. This year, however, an advisory was issued June 2 and lifted on June 9. A subsequent test on June 14 could not detect bacteria.

"Tolovana Park has been a relatively clean area over the years and it fell off the radar of the state's monitoring program for this reason," Plybon said.

The state took a sample from the area following a request from Surfrider, he said.

"In all honesty, that doesn't really tell us much other than we need to test more," Plybon added.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has required 35 coastal and Great Lakes states and territories to monitor beaches since 2000. But because the $230,000 EPA grant isn't enough to cover all of Oregon's 94 recreational beaches, monitoring is done on the top 25 that have a high use, a history of pollution or are near potential pollution sources, said Jennifer Ketterman, Oregon beach program coordinator.

The state has learned that each beach has its own character and personality, Ketterman said. "What we find on the South Coast is different than what we find on the North Coast," she said.

Where the monitor collects the water sample depends on the size of the beach and whether one particular area has a history of a high bacteria count, Ketterman said. The Ecola Court outfall, for instance, has a history of higher-than-normal bacteria counts, so samples are taken at the pipe as water flows out and in the stream as it empties into the ocean. Monitors are particularly concerned about pipes that flow on the beach "because people are getting more water contact," she said.

Although the state receives funds to test the water, it doesn't have the money to investigate the source of bacteria when the tests fail.

"There are a variety of sources near the shore or inland," Ketterman said. "They could come from animals, seabirds, diapers, agricultural products, sewage treatment plants, septic tanks, boat disposals. It's a pretty complex process."

The problem is even more complex, she added, because the presence of bacteria can fluctuate wildly. "You can collect data one minute and it will be different the next minute," Ketterman said. That has been a frustration experienced by Mark See, Cannon Beach public works director. Because it takes time to get a test result the city isn't notified until the next day that a problem exists, he said. "We're getting a warning today about the tests yesterday.... We need real-time testing for a real-time warning." Cannon Beach is tested every Monday during the summer. If the test fails, more samples are taken on Wednesday and confirmed on Thursday. The public is notified on Friday.

"There's a real flaw in the testing program," See said.

Eventually, he said, "real-time" testing will be available so city officials and the public will know instantly that bacterium is in the water.

Recent DNA tests performed by the city indicate gulls are the main polluters to the streams on the beach, See said. He intends to send samples to an Oregon State University lab to confirm the source whenever Cannon Beach tests high. This will rule out other sources, such as a misconnected sewer line or illegal dumping.

See also hopes that, eventually, the city and Surfrider can take over testing Cannon Beach's water from the state so money will be freed up to test other coastal sites.

"My vision is that we want the Department of Human Services to do lots of testing for everyone if we agree to do our own testing," See said. The city's testing would be checked against Surfrider's tests for accuracy.

But, while the city can continue to monitor the water and take steps to remedy some pollution source, the public needs to get involved, too, See said.

The city's public works committee is drafting educational pamphlets, which will be distributed to local hotels and businesses. The pamphlets will discuss why water is tested, the risks of contacting untreated water and other facts involving water tests.

"When you do a lot of test sites in one place like Cannon Beach and one pops up bad and an advisory is issued, it sounds like there's an advisory for all of Cannon Beach," See said. "It affects business. The chamber of commerce has gotten involved, so we have a balance of all concerned parties."

The public works committee may also ask the City Council to prohibit people from feeding birds and other wild animals. The animals become used to the feeding and stay close to public areas, See said. Instead, they should be discouraged from roosting on roofs.

"You always see gulls on the roof tops and parking lots of the Surfsand, the Wayfarer and the American Legion building," he said. When they leave their waste on the roofs or asphalt and a summer rain occurs, "there's just enough rain to put a slurry of seagull poop into the drainage system."

Those buildings are also close to the stream that runs from the Ecola Court outfall, across the beach and to the ocean.

Other solutions may be found as well. Roof drains may be disconnected from the city's drainage system and put into "drainage swales" where the water is filtered through natural vegetation before being directed into the city's drainage pipes, See said. But drainage swales take up space, which is scarce in developed areas near the beach.

But See will experiment with another "pre-treatment" method when the restrooms on Second and Spruce streets are reconstructed later this year. He plans to build a "rain garden" that, much like the drainage swale, will act to filter out pollution from the building's roof before it goes into the city's system.

Although the contamination can be reduced, it will never be eliminated, See said.

"The truth is, there's fresh water everywhere. And there's still some chance that bacteria will get into that fresh water."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Surfrider Testing Florida Beaches for Chemical Dispersants

Tony D'eramo, Emerald Coast Surfrider board member and marine biologist
takes water samples on July 10. Photo courtesy Michael Sturdivant

As a component of the Not the Answer Campaign, The Emerald Coast Chapter of Surfrider Foundation has begun its "on the ground" efforts to test their local Gulf beach waters in Florida for oil and dispersants being used to 'clean up the oil'. They have adapted the Blue Water Taskforce Program to specifically address the oil spill disaster. They are starting to test for dispersants because no other agency or organization in Florida is testing for these chemicals. It is thanks to the diligence of the Emerald Coast Chapter that the agencies have at least stepped up their testing for oil at some beaches, but this data is not being shared with the public.

The lack of information being shared with the public is a major health risk to both residents and tourists as tar balls wash up on these shores daily. On Sunday there was a sheen in the waters as far east as Miramar Beach (Walton County) and multiple reports of health concerns, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, skin and eye irritations due to people entering the water. The Suncoast Chapter (St. Pete/Sarasota) and other FL chapters will likely be following suite if the underwater plumes sync with the loop current and make their way east.

To learn more go to the Chapter's website or check out the story that ran in their local paper.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ocean Friendly Gardens in Los Angeles


Promoting and installingOcean Friendly Gardens in your community is a great way to make a positive impact on water quality in your watershed and at your beach. This program dove tails nicely with beach water testing programs. Check out the local media being generated by the West LA/Malibu Chapter'sOcean Friendly Gardens program or the new OFG Blog.

Surfrider workshop to show gardeners how to reduce pollution flowing to ocean

July 7, 2010 | 7:44 am

I stopped putting manure on my lawn after reading L.A. at Home columnist Emily Green's review of Douglas Kent's book "Ocean Friendly Gardens." Wrote Green: "This book strives to keep the things that we may apply to our yards where they belong and out of the ocean. Above all, it strives to protect the wild environment that drew so many of us to California in the first place."

You can learn more about preventing garden pollution from reaching the ocean at the Surfrider Foundation's hands-on workshop on Sunday. Presented as part of Surfrider's Ocean Friendly Gardens program, the class will cover site evaluation and the principles of CPR -- conservation, permeability and retention, all methods that will help prevent urban runoff.

GAP workday 813 Venezia 112The class also comes with a wonderful perk: Participants have the option of using the Surfrider Garden Assistance Program at a later date. This means that once you have developed a plan, Surfrider volunteers will help to tear out your yard and replant it in just one day. The catch? You have to be willing to help someone else with a garden face-lift in return.

"Attendees have to provide a plan, materials, plants and food, and we show up with volunteers," says Celeste Howe, chairwoman of the Surfrider Foundation West L.A./Malibu Chapter's Ocean Friendly Gardens program. Howe says that the sidewalk strip shown at right took about six hours to transform. They started around 9 or 10 a.m., and by 4 p.m. they had taken out turf, installed plants, added layers of compost and mulch, and applied compost tea.

The Green Gardens Group will lead the Sunday class, which will include a tour of a Westchester yard. The class runs from 9 a.m. to noon. Cost: $25. or (310) 694-8351.

-- Lisa Boone, Los Angeles Times

Photo credits, from top: Angie Johnson; Celeste Howe

Friday, July 2, 2010

New Rapid Methods in OC

Water Quality Kiosk on display at Orange County Beaches, photo: OCRegister

There has been some recent media attention paid to a new, rapid water testing and notification system that is being implemented at beaches in Orange County, CA this summer.,0,6214475.story

We've had some questions regarding how Surfrider chapters and activists might be able to get this new system employed at their own local beaches, as it gets water quality information to the public much faster than at most beaches in this country. This new beach monitoring system is part of a demonstration project run by the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP). Surfrider has been a stakeholder and regular participant in meetings of the Beach Water Quality Workgroup of SCCWRP via Rick Wilson, for about 10 years. Part of the emphasis at SCCWRP for the last several years has been to encourage development, implementation and approval of test methods that are both faster and more accurate predictors of health problems than the current methods.

Should we start seeing these new systems pop up at other beaches soon? Not yet. Orange County and SCCWRP are way ahead of most of the nation in developing these rapid methods. Not only do these methods require a lot of capital do get a lab set up ( we are talking 50k plus), they also require a much higher degree of training on very specific genetic lab methods, that at this point, are not practical for volunteers or even many staff at the state and local health and enviro agencies that conduct beach monitoring programs.

Is this the way of the future? Most likely, but we aren't there yet. EPA has not approved these methods for use yet. EPA does not currently allow federal BEACH Act grant monies to be spent using these new methods. These federal dollars are in some locations are the sole or major source of funding for beach monitoring programs, so we are not at the point where we should be demanding our local authorities to be implementing these new technologies.

What can Surfrider activists do????

Plug into the action alert directed to the Senate to pass the latest version of the Beach Bill, which amongst other things, requires the EPA to approve new rapid testing methods.

There is a previous post on this blog that describes the history of the beach bill, what the new bill is proposing (including rapid methods) and its current status in Congress. This brief post, gives enough good info on this bill for a chapter to dive into this campaign. Quality and timely information on the status of our beach water is relevant everywhere. It is core to what we do.

Meanwhile, while Congress takes its time to reauthorize the BEACH Act, the EPA has been working on revising their water quality standards and approved testing methods as a result of a lawsuit NRDC filed a few years back. Revised water quality criteria and methods are due in the fall of 2012. I will post on EPA's progress towards this end soon.

Contact Mara Dias, to discuss your chapter getting more involved with the Beach Act campaign or improving local beach monitoring programs.