Tag Archives: urban runoff

Trash To Treasure


Have you ever heard the saying “One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure”?  I haven’t come across that statement in a while but it was the first thing that came to mind after visiting Aliso Beach two consecutive weekends in a scene representing trash to treasure.

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Aliso Beach Debris from storm runoff.

We have experienced a rainy season for the record books.  I hate to say it but rain and Southern California are like an oxymoron most seasons.  This winter has proven to be a very memorable one for weather, rain and snow.  While it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the wet season is over, the snow pack has been measured well over 100% of normal, California dams have been stressed to near breaking points and roads have been washed away with cars overcome by torrents of water under heavy downpours.  Our local Southern California Beaches, including Aliso Beach, Laguna, are on the receiving end of all the runoff and whatever it carries down stream from storm drains, washes, creeks and rivers.  With significant rain over short periods of time, you can imagine all the things swept down into our ocean and deposited back on our beaches. Plastics, bottles, toys, wrappers, bottle caps, cigarette butts, styrofoam cups, baggies and even dreaded syringes as seen recently in Newport Beach near the River Jetties.  Also ending up on the beach from heavy rain and wind events were leaves, twigs, tree branches, logs and driftwood.  At times it seems like you could take a rake to the top layer of the ocean surface along our coastline, and those logs and branches put wave riders at risk of serious injury.

That first trip to Aliso Beach, there was an unsightly pile of wood and branches just south of the main lifeguard tower.  It was, however, cleared from the beach and shoreline and staged for removal.  This is where the ingenuity of a father spending time with his son transformed the debris from trash to treasure.  I had no doubt the County of Orange, who does a great job of maintaining Aliso Beach, was going to come in and remove the pile of wood.  Probably because of consecutive days of rain, they were unable to get the debris out of there, or they figured they would add to the pile during additional rain events so they could clean up the beach all at once.  It is completely logical to me.  The picture to the left shows the wood all piled up steps from the parking lot and ready to be hauled out of there.  Given that our winters in recent years have not produced much rain, it was somewhat surprising to see a pike of branches and wood like that on the beach.  Some of the branches were substantial, and with all of the trees that came down in South Orange County along the coastline, it really wasn’t any surprise to see that kind and volume of wood deposited on the beach.  I am wondering if the Full Moon Drum Circle group saw that pile of wood.  It would have made for a great night with plenty of wood to keep everyone warm!


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A fort built by a father and son with wood washed to the beach from winter Southern California storms.

While the pile of wood certainly wasn’t hurting anyone, a father and a son went on a building spree.  They took the larger wood pieces and buried them vertically in the sand.  I was surprised that with the girth of the branches that the sand would keep them standing upright.  As far as I know, no one was injured in the evolution of trash to treasure in what I call the making of an Aliso Beach fort.  I have to admire the father.  It takes the ability of a parent to think creatively like a child to entertain a child.  I remember how much I liked forts as a kid, and to be child-like was worthy of my attention and a smile.  In that moment, it felt like all was right in the world and that everything was okay.

The picture below, is the result of a creative father showing his son a good time.  It was cool to think back to my own childhood and how forts at summer camp at home were a big part of my own childhood!  My guess, by the looks of him, is that the little dude had a really good time!  I was truly happy for them and grateful to be under the smiling eyes of Mr. Sun.  Is it summer yet?




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Urban Slobber


I learned a new word thanks to some research sent to be me by my new friends down at the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition.  The word is urban slobber.  Urban slobber is the result of quite frankly us urban slobs.  That sounds harsh, but everything we do in our consumption based economy contributes to the trash and pollutants that enter small storm drains emptying at Aliso Creek on its way to South Laguna’s Aliso Beach.  Please keep in mind that the fight against ocean pollution exists everywhere in the world where there are fresh water tributaries that carry inland and coastal runoff to the ocean.

So what is urban slobber?

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Urban runoff from inland cities dammed up in the lagoon at Aliso Beach.

Oil, gas, trash, plastics, soaps, industrial cleaners, pesticides, brake dust, pet waste, bird droppings, grease, cigarette butts, dirt, bacteria, chemicals and fertilizers make up urban slobber that is carried through the drains to creeks that feed the ocean.  Would you knowingly swim in that?  Do you think that the elements found in this kind of runoff are worth the risk of exposure?  Did you know that it requires only a sewage spill to have elevated fecal coliform bacteria present in Aliso Creek?  Think again! The seagulls that congregate there to bathe increase the bacterial risks without sewage spills.  Yes, they poop in that water.

We have long understood that storm runoff from prolonged periods of rain had a fouling effect on our coastlines.  Aliso Creek would run dry if it weren’t for runoff produced by irrigation and inland Orange County cities.  Research has confirmed that the dry season is a problem as well with Aliso Creek damming up in a lagoon at the beach virtually every day with surf photographers and wave riders breaking it and essentially letting this urban slobber out into the ocean without any cleaning or filtration.  With our concrete jungle of paved roads, malls, high rise cities and industrial parks we have effectively taken out the best defense we have in the fight against urban slobber and ocean pollution.  It used to be that native plants did the filtering of pollutant carrying runoff to the ocean, and now runoff picks up everything listed below as a part of urban slobber and dumps it into our oceans and bays. Take one look at the color of the water dammed up at Aliso Beach and tell me that the quality of this water isn’t potentially hazardous to your health.  Furthermore, if you support the idea of the Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area that Aliso Beach is part of, you are also well aware of the damage this runoff does to the marine ecosystem everyone is working so dilligently to preserve for future generations. Just the other day I stood on the sand above the water thinking about grabbing my board and paddling out when the lifeguard pulled up in his truck and began putting familiar stake signs in the sand warning of water quality issues and advising no swimming.  This happens all the time.

Maybe there should be a re-evaluation of things.  Breaking Aliso Creek is something that puts anyone using Aliso Beach at risk of health issues and damages the effectiveness of the marine protection area in Laguna Beach that works to save coastal resources for future generations.  If you think our local beaches and marine ecosystems are worthy of saving, you cannot in good conscious break Aliso Creek.  I know this won’t be a popular sentiment among my friends who have been doing this for decades.  Sometimes you have to take a stand and draw the proverbial line in the sand.  The mounting and indisputable evidence of harmful pathogens and carcinogens that come down Aliso Creek in the form of urban slobber to the beach has me taking a different view point than I have previously.  As the founder of this website and someone that has vowed to protect Aliso Beach, I would be a hypocrite to take any other side, and it is the right thing to do.  When people talk about leaving a legacy behind them and about affecting the world in a positive way, these are the types of decisions that define us.  I know full well that Aliso Creek being let out makes the waves better, but I have a problem.  I cannot endorse an activity that reverses the gains made by the marine protection areas of Laguna Beach and I can’t endorse the potential health risks that my friends subject themselves to if I say that I care about the health and well-being of my friends.

Stay tuned for the next urban slobber related post.  In that article, the potential effects of the toxins and bacteria on real human beings found in urban runoff let out into coastal waters of Aliso Beach.  In a second piece, coverage will be given to the effects on marine plant, fish and animal life.

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Ocean Bacteria Levels


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Aliso Beach Urban Runoff Causes High Ocean Bacteria Levels

With the recent rains in September, it is probably a good idea to remind everyone of the 72 hour rule and elevated ocean bacteria levels. That rule is the warning offered by Orange County Health officials related to dangerous bacteria levels and pollutants exceeding state water quality standards with the potential to make those entering the water sick. I was inspired by a Ben Ginsberg post Facebook Image of Google Maps showing all OC Beaches bacteria levels exceeding state health standards. As a professional surf photographer and ocean enthusiast, Ben is disappointed and angered by how little we value the Orange County Coastline. His sentiment is that we trash and pollute the ocean and that to see that every area along the Orange County Coastline had warnings against bacteria levels was very disheartening to him.  Following rain events in Southern California, elevated bacteria levels are not a new occurrence.  As an Orange County Body Boarder for 28 years, I can say that the battle against urban runoff, trash, sewage and intentional toxic dumping has been a losing one.  I have seen bags of medical waste with syringes float by me in the water while body boarding.  I have picked up needles, pregnancy tests, tampons, dolls, tooth brushes, used condoms, beer bottles, birthday balloons and petrified industrial plastic off the beach.  I have stepped into a pile of tar so large that a pair of new Nike running shoes had no chance. I had to throw them out.  By the nature of consumption and our over reliance on plastics, this battle against marine pollution is huge.  Trash is only a part of the elevated ocean bacteria levels and pollution.  When you add in untreated sewage overflows, surface street oils and fuels, pesticides, manure, pet waste and industrial cleaners, you have the recipe for a coastal environment that is highly toxic and risky.

We have made strides with environmental groups that watch over the coast like Surfrider Foundation, Wyland Foundation, Laguna Blue Belt, Reef Check, Coastal Playground and Adopt a Beach organizing armies of volunteers to educate the public, clean up beaches, protect reefs, and go after companies that are endangering our valuable coastal environments.  Despite all of the amazing efforts to protect our coastlines, rain events and the immediate bacteria warnings tell us we need to do more.

Today, another El Nino driven rain event with tropical moisture is expected to hit Southern California. While we need the rain , it is important to understand the increase risks of high ocean bacteria levels following measurable precipitation. I will be the first to tell you I have ignored warnings and I am not in the minority on that.  It seems unfair to wave riders and ocean enthusiasts that with any rain we get our beaches and water quality dip below acceptable levels.  We love to be in the ocean and warnings issued by the state or county following a rain event tell us that we still have not figured out how to be consumers without injuring the environment.  With coastal orange county’s ocean water taking a hit last week with the rain event, this new storm will elevate ocean bacteria levels and pollution even more.  While I can’t guarantee I will stay out of the water after it rains, I will remind everyone that it is a certainty that those levels will exceed state standards and prompt warnings much like Ben Ginsberg posted on Facebook after the last rain.  And yes, I too am angered and disappointed.

Ben Ginsberg is a fraternity brother, friend and photographer who covers the sport of surfing, waves and the coastal landscape.  If you would like to learn more about the work of Ben Ginsberg, click on the link for Driftwood Studios



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