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Beaches All Washed Up?

August 06, 1994

The fourth annual report from the Natural Resources Defense Council on beach closings is as sobering as each preceding tally of coastal pollution. Indeed, "Testing the Waters IV" finds, if anything, that the problem has improved only slightly nationwide--with 2,438 closings or health advisories in 1993, down from 2,619 in 1992.

At the local level, however, the picture is frightful. Beach closures and health advisories due to high bacteria counts more than doubled in California from 1992 to 1993, to nearly 1,400. One-third of the beach closures nationwide occurred in Southern California; 59 were in L.A. County, up from 37 in 1992.

Ironically, part of the explanation for the egregious number of closings and advisories lies in the fact that local officials, in California especially, have become more diligent about monitoring. And, sadly, the more often they monitor, the more they find it necessary to warn swimmers away from coastal waters contaminated by human sewage or animal waste from spills or runoff.

But apart from better monitoring, is there remedial action? Local initiatives that look toward changing individual behavior are underway in many communities. Here, Heal the Bay and the City of Los Angeles have launched an education campaign to reduce the amount of trash dumped into gutters and storm drains.

Continued improvements in sewage-treatment technology and capacity, albeit costly, will also help as will tougher controls on urban runoff and coastal monitoring. Reauthorization of the Clean Water Act, under discussion in Congress, should include those controls along with funds to help cities upgrade their treatment facilities.

Beaches near the Mexican border remain local trouble spots. Sewage flowing up the Tijuana River from Mexico has caused persistent problems at San Diego County beaches. As part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico and the United States have pledged to work toward improvement in this area. NAFTA side agreements have created the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission and the North American Development Bank; they should help states and localities upgrade outdated infrastructure.

This nation's coastal waters are among its most valuable natural resources. We must keep them clean.

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