August 2, 2012
By Max Groel
Surfrider beach in Malibu is one of the most famous surf spots in the world. People come from all over to surf the waves that break there. Surfrider beach is also known for the Malibu lagoon, a biodiversity hotspot and the habitat for endangered species. Water quality has been a reoccurring problem for the lagoon. In order to help water quality, a state-funded restoration project has begun on the lagoon. The project involves a six-month construction process of removing excess sediment and reshaping the lagoon (1). Now stagnant, the lagoon will soon reconnect with the ocean and contain increased water flow. This is meant to improve the water quality of the lagoon and the nearby ocean water.
However, the restoration of this lagoon has caused a great deal of controversy in the Malibu community. On one side are Malibu surfers, celebrities, and environmental activists. On the other are public officials, scientists, and environmental interest groups. Supporters of the project claim that the lagoon ecosystem is in dire need of saving. They claim that the lack of circulation and waste material has resulted in very low oxygen levels in the water, which put local wildlife and fish at risk (2). Those against the restoration believe that the project will destroy the world famous waves and hurt the endangered species living in the lagoon.
The plans for the project involve the lagoon connecting to the ocean by the pier. Surfers believe that by having the water connect there as opposed to further north, the sediment deposition will ruin the waves (3). Scientists in support of the project claim that the restoration will in no way alter the waves at Surfrider beach. This controversy has resulted in protests and heckling of supporters. Regardless, the restoration project is underway. Those against the project have said they will not stop fighting the project, but as of now the restoration has gone smoothly. However, a security guard still watches the lagoon at night.
This controversy is a perfect example of how environmental issues can easily become more complicated than they first appear. This particular case study shows a battle between surfers and environmental organizations, two groups that normally have similar interests. Even environmentalists are arguing between themselves about which is the best way to deal with the lagoon situation.
As a frequent surfer at Surfrider beach and an environmental studies major, I am personally very torn between both sides of this issue. Is this restoration truly necessary? Will it actually alter the waves at first point? Are the current design plans the correct ones? Either way the project is underway and only time will reveal which was the correct decision.
About the author: Max Groel is going to be a sophomore undergraduate at USC in the fall. He is majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Spanish. He is from Pacific Palisades, CA and graduated from Palisades Charter High School. His hobbies involve surfing and playing beach volleyball.
By Richelle Tanner
Whenever another high school from the Seattle region won a jazz festival, our pristine drinking water was always given full credit. Often when an outstanding athlete, musician, or scholar hails from a region already plentiful in their kind, people joke that there must be something in the water supply that gives them a specific advantage in their field. While the validity of this is debatable, there is no question whether certain areas are more susceptible to water contamination. Even after standardized treatment of wastewater, pharmaceuticals still persist and are released into the ecosystem, whether it be into the ocean or via fertilization of crops.
Currently there are no EPA regulations on levels of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in drinking water or wastewater, even though trace levels have been detected for the last forty years. Wastewater must undergo primary and secondary treatment in order to be released, with some receiving tertiary treatment for use as “gray water”. However, these treatments are not fully comprehensive, and some minor contaminants remain in the water after all treatments have been administered. One particular PPCP in question is ethynylestradiol, which is commonly used as an oral contraceptive. It is known to have had “hermaphroditic” impacts on male fish, essentially “feminizing” them – yet another anthropogenic effect on the ecosystem. It is only a matter of time before the impacts of PPCPs’ presence in the water is apparent in humans as well. Even though there are not significant amounts of PPCPs in drinking water supplies (the maximum concentration ever found of meprobamate, a PPCP, is 0.000042 mg/L — in order to receive a single therapeutic dose, one would have to drink >4.7 million liters of water in one day), the potential for rising concentrations is significant.
Using the Hyperion Water Treatment Plant as an example, the wastewater treated there ends up in the ocean, in crop fields, and in industrial settings. Although the water is not directly used by humans, the implications of PPCPs on the ecosystem and humans’ place in said ecosystem (not to say that humans are more important) are inevitable and could already have negative consequences that are not yet known. The EPA has jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act to regulate the presence of PPCPs in water supplies, and similar to other pressing environmental issues, it needs to be addressed before it becomes a noticeable concern. Pushed aside any longer, and maybe the saying, “it must be something in the water”, will hold true — at least for trending genetic mutation or abnormalities, that is.
About the author: Richelle Tanner is a sophomore in the USC Dornsife College and the USC Thornton School of Music pursuing a double degree in Environmental Studies, B.S., and Jazz Studies, B.M.. She intends to pursue graduate studies in Marine Science and originally hails from Seattle, WA.
By Will Getz
It’s early August; the migratory Sockeye salmon of Bristol Bay Alaska are in the process of finishing their annual spawning season. The Sockeye spend most of their lives in the saltwater seas of the Northern Pacific outside of Bristol Bay, but migrate towards the freshwater streams they were spawned in to reproduce at the end of their lifecycle. This seemingly insignificant event occurring inland from the Bay is central to the existence of the largest Sockeye population in the world, which not only provides for a productive sustainable regional fishing industry (valued at some $2.2 billion), but also serves as the primary component of the region’s food webs (Rosenthal 2012).
Bristol Bay is connected to an inland region hosting a large set of lakes, rivers, and wetlands linked together by an elaborate groundwater system consisting of many hyporheic regions where surface water and groundwater are constantly exchanged. For the anadromous Sockeye, the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers stemming from flows north of Lake Iliamna serve as particularly vital spawning grounds (Lewis 2012). Any disruption to these rivers from impacts in the larger valley watershed could be devastating to the Sockeye populations and those dependent upon them.
A proposed mining consortium known as Pebble Mine threatens this pristine and biodiverse bay and valley. The lands north of Lake Iliamna are estimated to contain over eighty billion pounds of copper, gold, and molybdenum that in an increasingly demanding global market could be worth as much as $200 billion. The Pebble Mine project will consist of an open pit mine a mile deep by three miles wide, making it the largest open pit mine in the world. This tremendous man-made chasm will further require the construction of several commensurate tailings dams up the valley to store ten billion tons of mining waste from excavation (Lewis 2012). These enormous engineering projects would completely and permanently alter the immediate ecosystem, while carrying an even more devastating environmental impact for the entire region.
The great concern is the mine’s highland position and adjacency to the watershed. The rivers and Lake Iliamna lie in a lowland position relative to the proposed mine site and tailings dams. Figure 1 depicts the topography of this inland region along the bay. Any kind of leakage from either of the sites could quite quickly and easily contaminate the lake, rivers, and groundwater system that lie downstream. A central concern in this eventuality derives from the fact that the mine’s primary ore is copper. Copper and its compounds (such as copper sulfates) can be lethal to fish and aquatic organisms in large quantities, but even exposure to small quantities (as small as two parts per billion (2ppb) can be disruptive to development of fish species like the salmon, however the effects of these small concentrations are far more subtle and often invisible to human observation (Johnson 2007). In order to spawn at the end of its life cycle, a Sockeye uses chemosensory function (sense of smell) to relocate the stream in which it was spawned. Several studies show that small particulate copper can inhibit the salmon’s sensory function preventing them from being able to avoid predators, find prey, and find spawning grounds (Brown 2007, Johnson 2007).
The primary ores being mined are copper sulfides (CuS, Cu2S). The tailings dams for the Pebble Mine project will include great quantities of metal sulfides such as Chalcopyrite (CuFeS2) that when exposed to oxygen and water oxidize to form acidic bisulfate (HSO4-) and dilute concentrations of sulfuric acid (H2SO4). This acid has the capability to break down other sulfide minerals in wastes into heavy metal ions such as lead and cadmium that become suspended in solution and carried with water flows (Druschel 2004). These tailings dams and water-saturated parts of the mining site thus will contain massive amounts of hazardous acidic heavy metal solutions. Given the great interchange of ground and surface water in this region, any amount of seepage of these solutions into streams from these sites would be damaging to not only the Sockeye spawning regions, but also the entire ecosystem (Lewis 2012). Prevention of such seepage from these dams will require monitoring and remediation for thousands of years.
The Berkeley Pit copper mine in Butte, Montana is an excellent forecaster of the perpetual remediation needed. It was closed in 1982, and the main pit became flooded with what is now cupric acidic water (pH ~ 2.5) from surrounding groundwater aquifers to over half its depth of 1500 ft. The water level is constantly rising gradually and needs to be constantly monitored for seepage and pumped out to avoid overflow into the Clarke Fork River, which is the water supply for a number of surrounding communities and ecosystems (Davis 1988). The already extreme demands of vigilance at Berkeley call into question the feasibility of a perpetual remediation at Pebble, which is projected to be the largest open pit mining operation in the world.
Beyond this daunting requirement and despite repeated assurances by Pebble’s planners regarding their ability to maintain tailing dam integrity and control seepage runoff, there remain several variable risks that lie outside of the mining operation’s control. Bristol Bay has strong annual rainstorms, which could flood mining sites and carry acidic runoff throughout the watershed into the bay. The mine’s position along the Lake Clarke fault also gives cause for concern about the integrity of the tailings dam in the event of a large earthquake as well as continual seismic activity. Throughout the world, tailings dam failure occurs frequently, with at least one incident occurring every year (Frontline 2012). Technological and engineering improvements have not sufficiently addressed the risks in Bristol Bay. Since even slight seepage from these dams into the ecosystem, could prove highly damaging, the collapse of the tailings dam containing billions of tons of waste would be catastrophic for the entire region.
In May, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created an initial assessment of the Pebble Mine citing major loss of fish habitat (54 miles to 87.9 miles of critical streams and up to 6.7 square miles of wetlands), high probability of pipeline failure, tailings dam failure, and acid mine drainage as major hazards (Rosenthal 2012). This initial report is the start of a long process to determine whether or not to approve mine construction (Rosenthal 2012). Unfortunately, these dire warnings might have little sway over the final decision on this project. There has already been a considerable backlash to the EPA’s involvement in this issue from pro-development Alaskan communities championing the mine’s potential financial benefits. Historically, mines seeking a permit in Alaska’s history have always succeeded, and, in the case of Pebble, in several years that record might well continue (Lewis 2012).
Moving forward with this project, however, promises to be a dangerous experiment, for never has a mining project been developed to coexist in such a complex water ecosystem, much less one of this immensity. With the survival of one of the last great populations of Sockeye and the attendant health of an entire regional ecosystem at stake, Bristol Bay is truly not the right place to be rolling environmental dice.
Brown, A. (2007, March 16). Copper increases predation risk to salmon, other fish | Extension and Agricultural Research News. Home | Oregon State University Extension Service. Retrieved August 1, 2012, from http://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/release/2007/03/copper-increases-predation-risk-salmon-other-fish
Davis, A., & Ashenberg, D. (1988). The aqueous geochemistry of the BerkeleyPit, Butte, Montana, U.S.A.. Applied Geochemistry, 4(1), 23-36. Retrieved August 1, 2012, from the Science Direct database.
Druschel, G., Baker, B., Gihring, T., & Banfield, J. (2004). Acid mine drainage biogeochemistry at Iron Mountain, California. Geochemical Transactions, 5(2), 13-32.
Environmental Protection Agency (2012) An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska Executive Summary (EPA Publication No. 910-R-12-004d) Rockville, MD: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved July 31, 2012 from: http://www.epa.gov/ncea/pdfs/bristolbay/bristol_bay_assessment_erd_2012_exec_summary.pdf
Frontline. (2012, July 30). Tailings Dams: Where Mining Waste is Stored Forever | Alaska Gold | FRONTLINE | PBS. PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved July 31, 2012, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/environment/alaska-gold/tailings-dams-where-mining-waste-is-stored-forever/
Johnson, A., E. Carew, et al. (2007). “The effects of copper on the morphological and functional development of zebrafish embryos.” Aquatic Toxicology 84(4): 431-438.
Lewis, K. (prod.) (2012, July 24th). Alaska Gold [Television series episode]. In Frontline. WGBH Boston: PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/alaska-gold/
Rosenthal, A. (ed.) (2012, June 4). A Threat to Bristol Bay. The New York Times. Retrieved July 31, 2012, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/05/opinion/a-threat-to-bristol-bay.html
About the Author: Will Getz is a junior working toward dual degrees, a BS in Chemistry, and a BA in East Asian Languages in Cultures with a minor in Environmental Studies in the Dornsife School of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.
By Lauren Stoneburner
Sometimes, it’s hard to let go. Sometimes, it’s not easy to embrace change; to take a risk. Fortunately, in the case of restoring Malibu Lagoon, we do not have to be afraid. The plan has endured more than a decade’s worth of scrutiny, having been developed and reviewed by many wetland experts and assessed for compliance with all California Environmental Quality Act requirements. Therefore, the plans to restore the lagoon are absolutely qualified to move forward and be implemented this summer.
Some stakeholders fear that this plan has underestimated the immensity of the restoration. Opponents assert that the plan is not prepared to handle the vast amount of water needed to be stored after the dewatering of the lagoon. They also worry that experts have underestimated the project’s costs and that changes will ultimately degrade public health and the native ecosystem. To their disadvantage, the opponents ground their argument in generalized claims, failing to use specific evidence in most cases. Such ungrounded claims should not so easily uproot the credibility of the project. The plans to restore the lagoon could not have been any more carefully put together and examined for accuracy.
Now that the project has been thoroughly reviewed, it is imperative that the city implement the project. The Malibu Lagoon is fed by polluted sources of water with high levels of nutrients, bacteria, and sedimentation. The excess nutrients have led to eutrophication, which depletes the water’s dissolved oxygen (DO) and threatens the entire marine ecosystem, and sedimentation degrades the overall habitat quality for marine organisms. The project would redirect the water in such a way that would restore the lagoon’s tidal influence and circulation, and thereby improve the water’s DO levels.
The restoration of the water’s DO levels is critical for several reasons. Firstly, the lagoon’s poor conditions have drastically limited the ecosystem’s species richness and biodiversity, thus enabling exotic and invasive plant species to out-compete the native wetland species. By restoring the lagoon, native species populations will no longer be limited by the diminished DO levels. This will enable them to better compete with exotic species, reestablish high biodiversity levels, and restore a balanced ecosystem.
The lagoon also provides critical habitat for several federally endangered species, such as the tidewater goby and southern steelhead trout, and it plays an essential role in the migratory path of many bird species. Restoring the lagoon supports the recovery of endangered species and protects migratory bird species, whose habitat has been drastically reduced due to human development, especially along the coast. In fact, California has lost about half of all of its wetlands and 95 percent of its historic wetlands.
As comparable estuarial habitats have been lost in the wake of human development, it has become increasingly important to maintain Malibu Lagoon’s integrity. The lagoon is vital because of its importance to both native and migratory species. Thus, restoring Malibu Lagoon is more than a local issue, for it effects populations far beyond the city limits. Most importantly, however, it concerns the survival not only of individual species, but of a unique and increasingly threatened ecosystem.
Sikich, Sarah Abramson, and Mark Gold. Letter to California Coastal Commission. 2010. Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project. SuperOxygen, Inc.. Web. 02 Aug. 2012. <http://www.restoremalibulagoon.com/downloads/Ltr_HealtheBay.pdf>.
Paul Preibisius. “Stop Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project.” June 10, 2012. Force Change. Web. 02 Aug. 2012. <http://forcechange.com/22655/stop-malibu-lagoon-restoration-project/>.
About the author: Lauren Stoneburner is a sophomore undergraduate majoring in Environmental Studies and Biological Anthropology at the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
April 22, 2012
The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000 (BEACH Act) is a Federal Act by the Environmental Protection Agency, which aims to increase the quality of recreational waters by testing for pathogens. This Act has been very helpful to improve the quality of waters in many states especially in states such as Oregon and Washington, which did not have any legislation of this manner. The BEACH Act amended the Clean Water Act and called for testing of coastal waters by appropriate indicators and in a manner that is “appropriate, accurate, expeditious, and cost-effective.” While the implementation of this act has improved coastal water quality, there are still improvements to be made, and with recent budget problems, the funding to beach testing could possibly be cut.
Due to the uncertainty of our economy, the EPA has said that they will cut the $10 million they give to states for testing recreational waters. They are cutting these funds and allowing local governments to take over testing because they now have the technology and expertise. However, these funds are vital for local monitoring because they allocate important funds to the state for local testing, and without these funds, “states will decrease the number of beaches they monitor, the frequency or cut back on resources they use to notify the public about conditions at the beach.” California’s budget problems have led to a scaling back of beach testing, but a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown provided $1.8 million for testing. So, unless California and other beach states can find their own funding for recreational water testing, the future of beachgoers health may be in jeopardy.
However, the federal government insists that local governments are capable of handling beach testing. Because the EPA has been providing guidance and support for fifteen years, they argue that by know local governments should have developed efficient programs for beach testing. Indeed, any local governments assert that they have become self-sufficient in their beach water quality management. As Santa Cruz director John Ricker stated, “We’ve been doing beach water quality testing since the 70s, long before it was mandated or funded by the state. We kind of just go ahead and do our program, and were happy to get revenue wherever we can.” This independence reveals how local governments are capable of maintaining beach testing if they take initiative without such extreme handholding from the EPA.
Furthermore, the amount of funding received from the federal government varies state by state to begin with. For example, although California has an immense amount of coastlines and beaches, it receives a smaller portion when the EPA decides to divert funding other states that need encouragement to begin beach testing to begin with. States and local governments should be able to conduct testing independent of federal support since it can be inconsistent and is not always guaranteed, as shown through the recent cuts. Counties such as Santa Cruz actually cover half of the cost of beach testing in that area, with the federal government contributing only one fourth. Beyond funding, because of the local variability of fecal indicator bacteria concentrations based on region, it may be beneficial to deal with beach testing on a smaller, local scale. One U,S, Geological Survey showed that the current water quality testing in the Great Lakes was too broad and resulted in many unnecessary beach closures, decreasing revenue made from those beaches. Local approaches to beach cleanups can yield more accurate results of bacteria concentration so that beaches are only closed when truly dangerous to human health.
Although federal support of beach testing has been very crucial in many states, the recent EPA cuts do not mean that beach water testing must cease or decrease in quality. As long as states take responsibility of beach testing, the process can develop strongly and efficiently. Without federal enforcement and encouragement, it will be up to the public to fight for beach testing to maintain human health. If people make beach water quality a priority, they can influence and pressure local officials to make it one as well.
Juliana Duran and Judy Fong are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.