By Mike Beanan
Have you ever been on your surfboard and found yourself drifting up the coast? Or while swimming in the kelp forest, do you notice the kelp fronds leaning against the strong current?
In 1542, the exploration of the Californian coast by Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo âdiscoveredâ the Gulf of Santa Catalina. From the bridge of the 100-foot San Salvador galleon, Cabrillo observed a string of islands on his left-hand side starting around San Quintin in Baja California as he sailed northward drifting with the seasonal counter current of Southern California from Cabo San Lucas to the California waters of Laguna. . The Channel Islands offered protected waters and the seasonal ripples provided a smooth superhighway carrying its small flotilla traveling north. Around 1602, explorer Vizcaino named these protected waters the âGulf of Santa Catalinaâ to distinguish the region from the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The same seasonal counter current pushes surfers to constantly paddle to maintain position for the next wave. It is a challenge when returning from a long swim in the high seas.
If we don’t know where we are, how do we know where we are going?
The Gulf of Santa Catalina reflects inland characteristics with a half-mile deep submarine valley surrounded by semi-submerged âmountainsâ functioning as an island chain. Today, Laguna discharges an average of 1,870,000 gallons of secondary wastewater into these gulf waters assuming it disappears. Yet, the waters of the gulf circulate and recirculate whatever we send into the ocean and it bioaccumulates in marine life.
Is Laguna a city on the Gulf of Santa Catalina or a community in the Pacific Ocean? Why is this important?
Our misunderstanding of Laguna’s coastal waters leads to bad decisions.
Each month, the swirling Southern California backwash carries seawater and wastewater from Laguna to sheltered coves and downtown main beach. Migrating California gray whales returning from the nurseries of the Lower Baja California lagoon swim with this boreal current.
As the California Current, which flows mainly southward, moves to the Channel Islands from the north, the flow is interrupted as it passes through the spaces between the islands and forms vortices. to trap and concentrate seawater.
Laguna’s secondary wastewater discharged just 1.5 miles offshore is captured in this local gulf waters to add to the region’s bioaccumulation of contaminants in the wastewater which includes pharmaceuticals, microplastics, chemicals. and other pollutants discharged at the daily rate of 2 million gallons from our homes, restaurants and businesses to Gulf waters. The bioaccumulation of wastewater constituents ends up fueling harmful algal blooms (HABs) and massive fish deaths in bays like Santa Monica Bay – a common occurrence in Florida waters in the Gulf of Mexico. In California, an unusual mortality event in 2013 was declared when dolphins, sea lions and whales died from domoic acid poisoning, a byproduct of harmful algal blooms.
As the waters of the Gulf bioaccumulate pollutants and HABs, they also retain heat to become warmer. The hot water expands, adding to the rising sea level threatening the businesses of the main beach, coastal highway and downtown Laguna.
For thousands of years, communities have simply sent their sewage and wastewater to the nearest creek, river, lake, or ocean with the shared belief that âeverything is goneâ. Engineers, trained with a mantra “the solution to pollution is dilution”, never take into account that the illusion of dilution fuels the bioaccumulation of pollution. Upwelling and alternating currents capture what we cannot see in the sea. In nature, nothing ever goes away and âfarâ can be closer than we think.
What can be done?
Translating our love of the ocean into caring for the ocean means that we must aim for zero liquid discharge (ZLD) in Laguna’s coastal waters. ZLD technology has been used by petroleum remediation companies for decades to prevent contamination of water from their drilling operations and violations of federal clean water law. Currently, we are polluting the ocean with secondary wastewater discharged daily to the Aliso Creek oceanic outlet marked by a bare buoy visible from the front of the Montage Resort. The whales and their young must cross âLaguna’s Poobeltâ.
Rather than polluting the ocean and contaminating the state‘s marine protected areas (MPAs) and popular Laguna beaches, sewage wastewater could be cleaned up and used as part of a recycled water system at the city scale. This would achieve the dual objective of protecting against forest fires and improving the quality of ocean water. Bringing new high-purity recycled water to Laguna Beach would complement the irrigation of 1,440 homes along the fuel mod areas of the Greenbelt. In addition to a new revenue stream for the City’s water district, homeowners could expect a reduction in fire insurance rates with the presence of a new independent water source to prevent and suppress forest fires.
The first step, of course, is to accurately identify the charted coastal waters of Laguna Beach as the Gulf of Santa Catalina. Knowledge is power.
Mike is a longtime waterman and co-founder of the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition.
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