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Floating Fence Keeps Rain-Filled Creek From Carrying Trash to Sea

September 27, 1997|JOE MOZINGO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the concrete channel of Ballona Creek, a floating fence installed by county workers has saved truckloads of trash from flowing into the ocean with this week's rains.

As the first rainwater in 219 days streamed into the creek on its course from the Mid-City area to Dockweiler State Beach, so did foam cups, plastic bottles, junk food bags and tennis balls.

"This is the first flush," said Stephen Groner, a program manager with the county Department of Public Works, which maintains the runoff channels.

And it was a messy one.

Although the fence's rope net and steel cables caught the solid garbage, toxic substances slipped through, leaving motor oil swirling in iridescent eddies and pesticides stinking up the surf downstream.

"You can't clean up the worst stuff, the toxic stuff," said Groner. "Everyone wants their lawns as green as a putting green. Then it rains and it all goes into the ocean."

Groner said that swimmers and surfers who venture near storm drains risk viral infections, flu and skin rashes.

But the fence can at least clean up the appearance of beaches, Groner said. According to a recent study, Los Angeles County residents litter the streets with more than a million cigarette butts and 900,000 pieces of trash every month, he said. All of that makes its way through gutters and storm drains into the channels and ultimately into the ocean.

Last year, county work crews picked up 2,100 tons of trash along beaches at an estimated cost of $7.2 million, Groner said.

Before workers installed the fence, thousands of pieces of plastic and Styrofoam drifted up onto the beaches at the creek outlet.

"This particular catch system worked really well," said county Lifeguard Lt. Mike Cunningham. "Because the fence is diagonal, the trash moves down the line and over to the side where work crews can pick it up."

"It's been working off and on," said Cunningham. "If they don't have the crews to clean it, it starts piling up and going over the top."

Groner said that while there are fences across other channels in the county, this location has worked well because of its relatively narrow width and moderate outflow.

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