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Jan-16-2010 21:42printcomments

How To Build An Environmental Activist

PART III (Conclusion)

Aliso Beach in South Laguna
Photos courtesy: Roger Butow

(LAGUNA BEACH) - As I mentioned in Part II, after attending dozens of USACE and EPA-sponsored watershed workshops from late 1998 through early 2004, after traveling to several additional restoration conferences facilitated by professionals, the experts said that Aliso was toast, hopeless, could never get restored to health, hence never get funded.

The County of Orange, the entity that broke it, wouldn’t pay to fix it.

Instead, the chronic water quality violators, the County and the inland municipalities, keep trying to squeeze restoration funds out of successive administrations with no help on the horizon.

Many of the monitored substances (impairments) are extremely difficult to reduce down to levels of safe contact let alone remove, thus immersion or inadvertent ingestion are dangerous.

Many of the known substances in Aliso are on the dreaded California Toxic Rule constituent list, heavy metals that become mixed in with sediment part of the problem[1].

Some are banned per the 1986 California Proposition 65 carcinogenic chemical listings[2].

All of them can cause cancer, mutations and/or birth defects in not only humans, but the unfortunate aquatic and riparian (stream bank) species that inhabit these watersheds and have no choice but to drink from or swim in this stream.

Today, 12 years later, absolutely no measurable water quality improvements have occurred according to Cal/EPA. Aliso is “flatlined.”

Yet the County and inland cities act like the aptly named Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) in “Apocalypse Now,” claiming Aliso is in good shape, that enviros exaggerate its hazards. When asked, these hypocrites and liars admit they or their families never go there.

So why does the creek look yellowish-brown, the color of your toilet bowl when filled, inky black with hydrocarbon particulates after rain?

The background green sometimes visible isn’t from healthy, native riparian and aquatic life forms but from algae blooms.

These blooms that rob the creek of life-giving oxygen are the result of a process called “eutrophication,” an excess of nutrients due to the over-fertilization of inland yards, golf courses and recreational facilities, and lush HOA open spaces.

When it rains, these fertilizers join the numerous pesticides and herbicides, other residual carcinogenic substances from today and years past.

The mind-boggling array of other surface runoff constituents keep this creek mouth hazardous to health with even brief exposure.

Those with undeveloped immune systems (children), the elderly with deteriorating immunity suppression abilities, or those with compromised immune systems (like AIDS) are at the highest risk levels.

Bacteria, normally at low concentration levels in the human body (fecal coli., e. coli., enterococcus), are found in very high concentrations according to water quality samples, many places sampled in Aliso Creek have levels 50 times the legal limit.

They are absorbed and ingested, catapulting the recipient into advanced, immediate flu-like symptoms or worse.

Eye, ear, nose and throat infections are quite common for aquatic recreationalists who go into the water near storm drain or stream discharges within 72 hours of these rainfall events[3].

Existing wounds can create breeding footholds or increased risks for both Staphylococcus[4] and Streptococcus Group A[5].

These evil twins can spread very quickly, cause massive external and internal infections, eat up organs, and lead to toxic shock (death).

They can leave very scarred, necrotic (dead) tissue, some of these bacteria and other mutant strains have now become resistant to the usually successful antibiotics of the past (MRSA)[6].

Weeks of hospital stays are no longer uncommon.

In many cases, by the time hospital physicians realize the invasion is antibiotic-resistant the patient has suffered incredible pain and life-threatening emergency procedures are unavoidable.

Locker rooms with communal facilities like competitive sports or those toney, heavily-trafficked health clubs are one notable vector.

Medical researchers remain uncertain whether the victims of these flesh-eating bacteria acquire them from their environs or whether their pre-existing presence is encouraged to blossom, spread by other factors or a combination thereof.

Efforts to raise awareness about the polluted waterway led
to the placement of a single sign at Aliso Creek Beach.

The beach where this creek mouth discharges has legally been a Public Nuisance for decades, it also qualifies as an Attractive Nuisance.

Under the law, these evacuation points constitute an enticement (attractive nuisance); no one is being sufficiently warned or restrained, even though OC Public Health Department water quality sampling confirms the intense concentrations of noxious contaminants.

Historically, when a naturally-formed sand berm blocks or slows drainage, a large warm pond forms that the unknowing feel compelled to explore.

On a sunny day you find children and their parents wading around and even swimming in this pool, this witch's brew.

There's a kiddy playground right next to the discharge point.

Lifeguards don’t even bother to ward people off anymore, they have swimmers and novice tourists to monitor.

Aliso Beach is potentially very dangerous due to occasional high surf and a steeply sloped beach that sucks the unwary out quickly into vicious rip-tides.

Today, the Aliso Creek Watershed and the beach are basically “F.U.B.A.R.” Only one pitifully small sign on a steel post warns of the tremendous danger and health hazards, ironically resembling a grave marker. Aliso Creek, Requiescat in pace (R.I.P.).

Informative links:

[1] EPA: Establishment of Numeric Criteria for Priority Pollutants for the State of California

[2] Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment: Proposition 65 in Plain Language

[3] Surfrider Foundation Coastal Links A-Z: Staph Infections

[4] Staph Infection (Staphylococcus aureus)

[5] Directors of Health Promotion and Education: Group A Streptococcus

[6] Mayo Clinic: Consumer health Antibiotics: Use them wisely

Roger Butow articles on



Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger von Bütow, a professional environmental consultant. Written exclusively for the Salem-News, it's intended as the next evolutionary step on the path of an eco-warrior.

Roger is a Southern California native who spent his formative years as a racial minority: A blonde-haired, blue-eyed surfer on the mean streets of the LA Harbor area. Running from gangs eventually trained him for his high school and collegiate track and cross-country career. Going to college part-time, disqualified for a student deferment, when his draft notice arrived in a fit of machisimo he joined the USMC in 1965, eventually attached to the 3rd Marine Air Wing.

Once honorably discharged, he resumed his college studies, majoring in philosophy. He dropped out in early 1972 when an opportunity to travel in Europe inexpensively for 6 months was too good to pass up. Upon returning, he and his former wife ended up in Laguna Beach, and though the marriage didn’t last his love of the place is in its 38th year.

Disgusted by chronic sewage spills and toxic urban runoff pollution that triggered constant beach closures in his area, he formed “Clean Water Now!” in 1998. Local surfers, skimmers and divers were pissed off, but there wasn’t a cohesive, unified and aggressive group response, zero leadership or activism facilitated by the Surfrider Foundation or Sierra Club regarding water quality impairment issues. You can write to Roger at:


Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Nice One; LOL January 17, 2010 3:19 pm (Pacific time)

I'm just in love with coastal California!

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