Every two years, the states and federal government assess the nation’s waterways to determine whether a specific waterway is impaired. The most recent findings from the Section 303 (d) list indicate that some of Laguna Niguel and Dana Point’s waterways are infested with bacteria.
According to ocwatersheds.com, the Orange County Watersheds Program’s mission statement is to develop strategies that: “preserve, protect and enhance coastal resources and surface waters throughout Orange County.” Created in the spring of 2000, it originates from the federal Clean Water Act.
According to Mary Anne Skorpanich, the manager of Orange County Watersheds, the Basin Plan identifies waterways as lakes, underground reservoirs, oceans, etc. It is then determined what beneficial use each waterway possesses. It may be to supply drinking water, for habitat/breeding wildlife, or a recreational use such as swimming. Finally, standards are then set for water quality to support those uses.
Once an impairment is found, it is placed on the Section 303 (d) list, which identifies the extent of the impairment, the year it was added to the list and the date when a regulatory program is expected to address the impairment. It is divided by region. Specifically, South Orange County is Region 9. The most recent list from 2010 has been released.
To understand the findings, it is important to understand a few key points. According to waterboards.ca.gov, Indicator bacteria are defined as: “surrogates used to measure the potential presence of fecal material and associated fecal pathogens.” Two types include Total Coliform and Enterococcus.
According to streamteam.org, Total Coliform is widespread in nature and its presence indicates contamination by an outside source. Lastly, Enterococcus is more human-specific and is differentiated by its ability to survive in salt water. Therefore, it more closely mimics other pathogens.
In Laguna Niguel, Aliso Creek was added to the list in 1998 and contains Indicator Bacteria, Phosphorous, Selenium, Total Nitrogen and Toxicity. The mouth contains Enterococcus and both Fecal and Total Coliform. The middle contains Enterococcus and Total Coliform. All of the bacteria come from unknown point and nonpoint sources and urban runoff/storm sewers as well. The Enterococcus and Fecal Coliform have an expected regulatory program in 2021, while the Total Coliform will be addressed this year.
Other findings include the following: Dana Point Harbor at Baby Beach: Enterococcus and Total Coliform; Salt Creek at Monarch Beach: Total Coliform; North Doheny State Park Campground: Enterococcus and Total Coliform; South Doheny State Park Campground: Enterococcus; Aliso Beach at West Street: Indicator Bacteria.
Baby Beach is expected to have a regulatory program take place this year while the others will be addressed in 2021.
The regulatory programs involve the use of TMDL’s, which are defined as total maximum daily loads. Skorpanich states that these are the maximum amounts of a particular pollutant that a waterway can contain, so that it does not impair its beneficial use.
Many of the load reduction plans in South Orange County are still being developed and luckily none of the creeks/beaches listed are used for drinking water. But rest assured, Skorpanich states municipalities are working together to assure that Orange County’s waterways are protected.