You easily can win a bet that the swallows will come back to Capistrano in March. Unfortunately, it's nearly as simple to win a wager that the upcoming rainy season will, at some point, force the closing of Aliso Beach because of pollution.
A coordinated effort may get underway next summer to spare the beach the urban runoff that periodically forces health officials to close it to the public. Orange County and the Aliso Water Management Agency have designed a temporary solution, endorsed by the Laguna Beach City Council and the state Water Quality Control Board. The proposal calls for building a sand berm several hundred yards east of Aliso Creek Bridge and Pacific Coast Highway. The berm will be lined with plastic and designed to create a shallow pool.
The water that collects in the pool will be pumped through a pipeline into an outfall line that will dump it nearly 2 miles offshore. Getting the pollution into the ocean will dilute it. This will benefit swimmers upset at the periodic closures of Aliso Beach, where Aliso Creek flows into the ocean.
If this has to be a solution, we hope it will be a temporary one at most. Obviously, a long-term plan is needed that averts the undesirable dumping of pollution into either shallow or deeper waters. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hopes to come up with a permanent answer in several years. It should include steps to minimize the effect of urban runoff.
The pollution problem is the result of the heavy development of Orange County in recent decades. Aliso Creek rises inland near Cook's Corner, at the edge of the Cleveland National Forest. Years ago the creek reportedly supported marine life that included steelhead trout and crayfish. Now the creek supports used motor oil, pesticides washed off front lawns, and animal droppings. The problem has been complicated by occasional leaks in lines at waste-water treatment plants along the Aliso Creek watershed.
The effort to stop pollution of Aliso and other beaches in the county has not been as quick and concerted as it should have been. The beaches are one of the county's treasures. They need to be protected, and with a more permanent plan.