Opinion: The Aliso Creek Beach Berm-A False Narrative

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By Roger Butow

“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” Philip K. Dick

Reading the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Investigative Order (IO) R9-2020-0265, it’s obvious that they like many have been manipulated, bought into and drank the local NGO’s “estuary” allegation Kool-aid regarding this lowest segment of Aliso Creek.

Describing the portion of the Creek from the Ben Brown’s Golf Course lower gate down to the point of discharge (POD) where the sand berm backs up water as an estuary meriting regulatory protection is a classic example of a public disinformation campaign.

Why? Because this drainage channel has zero naturally formed creek characteristics, doesn’t fit the definition of, nor have the acknowledged biological elements of an estuary, a lagoon or a wetland for that matter.

Yes, what little dirt is there gets wet, but that’s not a true wetland worthy of public trust agency protection let alone regulatory over-reach.

Estuaries, lagoons, tidal wetlands have mud, peat, coarse and fine sediment, woody pulp, thriving plant communities like reeds and adapted indigenous fauna. California Department of Fish and Wildlife have listed native flora and fauna species of concern, ditto regarding U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service threatened and/or endangered species. None are in residence from the Golf Course’s gate down to the POD.

Go down to Aliso Canyon just after a moderate but not particularly heavy rainy event like recently, walk upstream a third of a mile to that gate? The riparian banks top to bottom are armored with steel plates, rocks and concrete slurry, erosion and flood control devices where nothing alive nothing survives high rapid flows. Aliso’s been scoured clean, an hypoxic dead zone.

Due to downcutting, the bottom is basically hardened rubble, no mud, no indigenous plant seedlings, no aquatics, no riparian inhabitants, no living organisms in residence. Literally a biological desert, devoid of life. It’s a candidate for historical recreation, but not an extant estuary per se.

“Estuary” status is then a canard, when the only thing exhibited is a fresh/oceanic saltwater mixing zone at high tide if and when the berm is breached allowing the Pacific to move upstream. If assessed as a multiple characteristic biota checklist, it doesn’t qualify scientifically as a wetland, lagoon or estuary.

Thus when skim-boarders physically open the berm up at POD, they’re NOT draining high value native habitat because that is non-existent.

The NGOs claiming they’re protecting the beach visitors from life-threatening urban runoff? That the 2 to 3 million gallons per day that County stream gage monitored flows past the Coastal Waste Treatment Plant (about 1.4 miles above POD) are composed entirely of residential or commercial over-watering?

These reps go to the same meetings, and have access to the same databases that I do: The County’s experts (Southern California Coastal Water Research Project) recently declared in their Flow Ecologies Study late last year that only third is imported/foreign, the rest is naturally emerging residual drainage. So perhaps only 1 mgd is urban drool. Another fake fact, another mythology by NGOs unmasked by credentialed, unbiased scientists.

For eight weeks in July through August 2019, the South Orange County Wastewater Authority’s took samples of the berm zone, revealing no AB 411 bacterial compliance exceedances, not even close. Lab results showed negligible differences between concentrations above the berm or POD, ankle deep surf zone.

To Clean Water Now, it’s a binary question and we have challenged the SDRWQCB: If the pooled water constitutes a clear and present danger, an imminent health hazard threat, then shouldn’t state health and safety laws be enforced, declare this County-owned pond a nuisance? OC Parks officers, not our Marine Safety Department should post enforcement personnel there from dawn until dusk, 365 days per year to prohibit wading or swimming.

Contemporaneously, the SDRWQCB should issue either a Cleanup and Abatement or Cease and Desist Order to both OC Public Works and OC Parks. If not, then obviously those that open the berm must not be doing anything wrong.

Roger is a Laguna Beach resident and land use consultant and environmental compliance advisor specializing in water-related issues.

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  1. While I agree that the term “estuary” maybe misleading in that the creek is more of a flood control channel at the mouth than a natural estuary, what do you suggest as the best approach for cleaning up the creek?


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