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Beaches awash in garbage after series of storms

Much of the Southern California coastline, particularly near river mouths, is littered with bottles, cans, tires, shoes and shopping carts.

January 25, 2010|By Corina Knoll
  • Last week's storms left Southland beaches littered with trash. "It's gross...the water was really murky," said Kelsey Widman, background, who braved the piles of refuse to catch some choice waves at Seal Beach.
Last week's storms left Southland beaches littered with trash. "It's… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Tina Cassar spent last week watching rain flood her backyard and overflow from her pool. So when the sun came out Sunday morning, the Los Alamitos resident took her family for brunch and a stroll along Seal Beach.

There they encountered a stretch of sand littered with mangled shopping carts, bicycle tires, tennis shoes and thousands of plastic cups and bottles.

"It's awful," Cassar, 37, said as she walked along the shore. "It just shows what kind of pollution comes through the river system."

Sewage-strewn beaches often appear after Southern California is pummeled by storms, with those near river mouths hit especially hard. The rain and wind pull debris and garbage into riverbeds that eventually spit everything out into the ocean.

Seal Beach received refuse that had traveled along the 75-mile-long San Gabriel River, which begins in the Angeles National Forest, runs through the Santa Fe Flood Control Basin and empties into the Pacific Ocean. Over in Long Beach, the sand was also awash in rubbish, courtesy of the Los Angeles River that flows through the San Fernando Valley and Santa Susana Mountains.

"Unfortunately it's just the way things are, living in an urban place like this," said Seal Beach lifeguard supervisor Tim Senneff. "We get a lot of trash any time it rains, but especially with back-to-back storms."

The city's Department of Public Works is expected to begin clearing the garbage this week, with lifeguards responding over the weekend to immediate needs, such as removing the carcasses of animals that had washed ashore.

Although the trash on Seal Beach's sand shocked many beachgoers, Kim Masoner of Save Our Beach said the amount of debris actually gave her hope about the future. A decade ago, she and her husband, Steve, began the nonprofit that organizes beach cleanups on jetties that can't be combed by public works' machines.

"Before, you could sit down and fill up eight bags just with the trash around you," she said. "But this rain had less aluminum cans and less plastic bottles, which is wonderful."

Masoner said it's a sign that people are learning about the ill effects of trash.

"If your garbage cans get knocked over and it rains, all of that trash is going to go down into the curb, into the gutter, into a storm drain, which goes into a riverbed that flows all the way out into the ocean," she said. "If you come to a beach cleanup you'll see it and want to use less Styrofoam and less plastic."

It's what isn't visible to cleanup crews that worries surfer Tony Soriano, chairman of a local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

"How many of these shopping carts are still out there in the ocean that we can run into?" he asked. "That's the danger."

After rainstorms, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health cautions people to stay away from ocean waters near storm drains, creeks and rivers to avoid bacteria and chemicals that may have contaminated the area.

But on Sunday, a few surfers took advantage of swells that glittered under the sun.

"It's dirty, but the waves are fine," said Stuart Sherman, 38, who'd arrived at the beach mid-morning. Sherman said the murky water smelled of sewage, but he planned to stay in it for a while. He couldn't resist riding waves under blue skies that harbored no hint of rain.

corina.knoll@latimes.com

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