Seaside’s runoff fouls the beach.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
The sandbar in front of Best Western Beach Resort Monterey makes fun waves, according to surfer Joseph McCarthy. But when he went to surf Seaside State Beach early this month, McCarthy was shocked by the foul runoff flowing into the ocean.
“This is very gross and disrespectful of all the hard work that goes into conservation here in Monterey Bay,” he writes by e-mail.
A visit to the site on Nov. 12 confirms the grossness: Rafts of chunky yellow foam float in a pool next to the culvert, which drains down the trench and into the bay.
But much to McCarthy’s frustration, the pollution appears to be legal.
The runoff from Seaside’s streets flows through stormwater drains into Laguna Grande and Roberts lakes. The city regulates the lake levels by routing excess water through a culvert under Highway 1, onto the beach and into the bay– as allowed by its stormwater permit.
“We try to keep a constant flow going out to the ocean,” explains city engineer Tim O’Halloran.
Charles Lester, senior deputy director of the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, acknowledges the often-mucky results. “There is obviously a water-flow issue there,” he says. “They need to drain it to take care of flooding potential if it backs up. [But] we have to do whatever we can to protect water quality.”
In 2006, the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network sampled water from a stormwater pipe at Hilby Avenue, which goes to Laguna Grande Lake and eventually to the hotel outfall. The sample– taken after the first fall rains, when pollution levels are highest– exceeded water quality limits for copper, lead, orthophosphate, E. coli and enterococcus bacteria.
The hotel’s ongoing construction complicates matters. Best Western– whose property line delineates the cities of Seaside and Monterey– is building a second seawall to hold back the advancing waves. On Nov. 12, contractors removed a concrete section near the hotel’s parking lot, which is practically on top of the stormwater culvert. Bulldozers dumped earth right onto the trench’s banks.
Monterey officials say the hotel construction has nothing to do with the foul runoff. “It doesn’t appear to be our issue at this point,” Deputy City Manager Bill Reichsmuth says.
But O’Halloran says the trench is the hotel’s doing. “That was completely a part of the construction project,” he says. “They’re piling sand up on the beach, blocking the flow of the natural water, and it pooled up there. So they released it. They didn’t coordinate it with us.”
The contactor claims to have contained and cleaned up all of its construction waste, as its permits require. “None of that water is contaminated with construction equipment or material,” says Joe Patterson of Morro Bay-based Associated Pacific Constructors Inc.
The contractors did, however, divert the Seaside outfall path slightly in order to drill, according to Monterey Building Official John Kuehl. “They told me they did not divert it in an unnatural path,” he adds.
Lester also absolves the hotel contractors from blame. “We wanted to make sure the re-do of the wall did not adversely affect the drain functioning, but they aren’t responsible for the drain,” he says.
By Nov. 18, the bulldozers and construction scraps are gone from Seaside State Beach, and the trench is filled in with sand. Seagulls forage in the stagnant pool around the culvert, while skimmer Jonathan Benavente gets ready to hit the waves.
The surf can be good here, he says, but first he scopes the water. “It gets pretty nasty here sometimes,” he says, grabbing his board. “Sometimes it’s so disgusting I go to another beach.”