March 19, 2012
Typically thought of as one of the safest regions in California, Ventura County is surprisingly home to several serious forms of environmental risk. To make matters worse, most of the county residents are not even aware of the potential dangers that surround them. Two prominent sources of environmental risk in Ventura County are the Halaco Superfund site and beach water quality.
Located in Oxnard, the Halaco superfund site has been slated as one of the worst superfund sites in the nation. With over 700,000 cubic yards of toxic metal waste remaining from Halaco Engineering’s previous smelter plant, the site has been a major threat for nearly five decades. It is known to contain smelter remnants from aluminum, magnesium, zinc, and other scrap metals on an 11-acre parcel as well as 26-acre region of deposited wastes. Bordering the Halaco site is the Ormond Beach wetlands, a vital ecosystem as it is one of the last wetlands left in Ventura County. Additionally, it is home to a number of threatened and endangered species such as the snowy plover and California least tern.
Not only does the site pose risk for surrounding wildlife, but also for local citizens. Halaco ceased utilization of the processing plant in 2004, but the future usage of the privately owned land is unknown to the EPA. Nearby neighborhoods have notoriously been known for high incidences of cancers and other diseases by locals, but no research has been done to prove links to the Halaco site. In addition, agricultural cropland neighbors the site, which may also pose potential risk if any of the toxins leach into the soil. Cleanup measures as well as efforts to keep the pollution on the site and out of Ventura have been attempted, but poorly executed.
The teeming agriculture in Ventura County is also cause for another concern: ocean water quality at the outlets of the Santa Clara River Watershed and the Ventura River Watershed. In the past, Ventura County has faced water quality problems related particularly to storm water runoff. During California’s rainy season, the water quality in Ventura County displays significant degradation, likely because “accumulated pesticides, herbicides, road runoff, bacteria and other assorted water pollutants are flushed out of watersheds and into coastal waters.” Water runoff during the wet season from the Halaco site is also a concern. In 2009, fisherman concerned over pollution in Ventura County pushed for new “no-fishing” spots to reduce the likelihood of catching fish with high levels of toxins, but their efforts were ignored.
In Heal the Bay’s 2010-2011 Annual Beach Report Card, 100% of Ventura County beaches tested received “A” grades during the dry season. However, during the wet season, that number dropped to 37%, and 42% of beaches received grades of C or D. No beaches received F grades during this past season, but Ventura County’s 7-year average indicates 13% of beaches receiving “F” grades in the rainy months. Unfortunately, as reported on March 8, $25,000 will be cut from Ventura’s $300,000 water quality testing budget if Obama’s 2013 budget proposal goes into effect. This would significantly reduce the frequency of testing in Ventura, which could put beachgoers at great risk of exposure. Several recent cleanup measures enacted by Ventura County, such as diversion of polluted water from some storm drains, were only possible because of federal funding, so without it, it’s reasonable to believe that future improvements will be more of a challenge.
Overall, Ventura County has its unique environmental risks, as any other area does. While they are certainly nothing to be ignored, they don’t make the area unlivable by any means. The best approach is to keep awareness of the problems in Ventura County at the forefront so that the citizens can take the proper measures to protect themselves, such as avoiding the beach after a rainstorm, and choosing to live or work further from Halaco. With adequate cleanup effort and prevention measures, Ventura County can ensure that it’s a welcoming place to be for years to come.
Sydney MacEwen and Dawnielle Tellez Alanna are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
October 10, 2011
Throughout the early 1990’s, the Los Angeles River was named one of the United States most endangered rivers. The Los Angeles River, which begins in the San Fernando Valley, is 51 miles in length and flows into the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach. The Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan (LARRMP) proposes the restoration of the 32 miles of river that flows through the City of Los Angeles. The LARRMP, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1996, aims to outline a series of projects that will improve access, recreational value, water quality treatment, and ecological stability of the river. Although some parts of the plan, such as water treatment, are important for human and environmental reasons, the plan is too ambiguous, costly, and ambitious.
Due to Los Angeles’s desert climate, it would be unnecessary to implement many of the proposed projects, such as increased open space for parks and vegetation. The plan does not address where additional water to support these projects would come from, so it may require water from other sources to be diverted into the Los Angeles River, which would risk harming the biodiversity surrounding those outside sources. Also, river flow is very limited in some parts of its course, and even runs dry during some parts of the year.
The LARRMP, “which itself cost $3 million — calls for spending as much as $2 billion over the next half century” to implement. But even considering these high costs, the Ad Hoc Committee has only been able to secure $3 million in funding from the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. In addition to this initial cost estimate, the project is bound to require even more money for other necessary components once the project is finished. These other components could include constantly monitoring water quality and maintaining parks. In order for the river to be a constant source of recreation for humans, the water must continually be scrupulously monitored and treated. This will cost more money, and funding is not necessarily secured yet. Considering the current economic crisis that California faces today, it is highly unlikely that the LA River Project will be considered a top priority because it does not provide the state and county with immediate benefits.
Furthermore, certain parts of this plan pose potential human health risks. The LA Times states, “the city also faces the challenge of improving the quality of the water. In summer, the river is a steady flow of mostly treated wastewater and runoff from lawn sprinklers,” revealing the poor condition of the river’s water. Today, very few people come in contact with most of the river. In fact, many stretches are fenced off. The new vision for the river is to have greater human interaction with the water (notice the children playing in the water in the imaginary scenario), and if the water were improperly cleaned, it would pose significant health risks.
It is highly likely that the river will eventually become contaminated and polluted over time due to the region’s large human population and industrial activity, thus trying to clean the river up now is unnecessary.
Within this master plan there are over 200 side projects that will require a large amount of local stewardship, time, resources, policy, and money. We believe that only the most essential parts should be carried out. Specifically, wastewater treatment is fundamental to maintaining the integrity of the river, but converting the riverbanks into a place for children to play is both impractical and unnecessary. While many of these projects in the plan address very important issues regarding the river, the City of Los Angeles should focus its efforts on developing and implementing the most crucial aspects of the plan, instead of the many frivolous and overly-ambitious details.
About the authors: Alyssa Dykman and Emily Lu are working towards their bachelor degrees in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.