Pollution Keeps Key Beach Closed : Marina del Rey Windsurfers, Bathers Lose Public Site

Times Staff Writer

Marina del Rey's only public beach will remain closed this month, and possibly through the summer, because of persistent high levels of fecal bacteria, said Larry Charness, planning chief for the county beaches and harbors department.

The presence of fecal coliform bacteria indicates that the water is contaminated by feces from warm-blooded animals, said Richard Kebabjiam, chief sanitary specialist for the county health department's recreational health program.

Problem Persists

The beach, at the western end of Basin D, has remained off-limits to swimmers and windsurfers since a sewage spill last October at the nearby Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant.

The spill contaminated beaches up and down the Santa Monica Bay coast. Bacteria levels returned to safe levels several days after the spill everywhere except at the marina's beach.

The beach will remain closed because the county has had only limited success at tracing the source of the pollution and treating the beach's waters to reduce the amount of bacteria, Charness said.

A report released last week by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board points to shore birds as at least one source of the pollution. The report's author also said testing at boat slips near the beach has ruled out illegal sewage-dumping by boat owners as the cause of the problem.

"It does seem that the highest bacteria count is at the beach, especially at the point where 20 to 40 birds are roosting," said Shirley Birosik, the report's author and an environmental specialist.

"Fecal coliform bacteria are linked to warm-blooded animals," she said. "But there is no way to tell if it is solely from birds or whether there are other things involved," she said.

Charness said officials will continue searching for sources of the pollution.

Officials had hoped a $60,000 water-circulation pump installed off the beach in early April would reduce bacteria levels and allow the beach to open by the end of April.

But the problem-plagued pump has only functioned for about 10 days since it was installed, Charness said.

The pump's motor has had to be replaced three times. And workers had to shut down the pump while they fashioned a screen to filter out debris that clogged the machine.

"It is frustrating, and we are going to give it one more try to get it set up and working correctly," Charness said.

The pump is designed to mix water with air to create an environment that will retard the growth of bacteria. Once it is working properly, it may take several weeks of continuous operation to lower bacteria levels. When the levels have dropped below federal safety limits, officials plan to wait at least three weeks before declaring the waters safe for humans.

The longer the beach is closed, the more it hurts two businesses that have county permits to conduct windsurfing classes there.

'It's Killing Me'

The owners of Windsurfing West and La Planche say that much of their equipment sales were to new windsurfers who enrolled in classes they conducted in the beach's placid waters.

"It's killing me," La Planche owner Jeff Lengyel said. "We make a profit from the lessons. But what we really try to do is establish a relationship with the students and sell them equipment.

"We're barely making it."

Windsurfing West owner Tara Schweitzer concurred, saying: "We're having one of the worst seasons that we've ever had."

Both store owners declined to put a dollar amount on their business losses.

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