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ENVIRONMENT WATCH : Beach Patrol

Some may have laughed when the Surfrider Foundation took to the waves almost 10 years ago: Was it possible, really, that happy-go-lucky surfers could do much to clean up California’s coastal waters? Happily, the answer is yes; surfers aren’t just beach bums with boards.

The San Clemente-based foundation claims 27,000 members in seven states, many of them surfers whose sun-bleached hair is turning gray. Its environmental-issues team has testified before Congress, and it has launched a program to recruit high school students to test ocean waters for bacteria.

One of the group’s major successes came when it joined with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to win a settlement against two pulp mills in Humboldt County. The mills were ordered to spend $50 million to reduce toxic discharges into water near Eureka and were fined $5.8 million. Unfortunately, that victory led to internal quarrels over the division of $500,000 in legal fees awarded to the foundation.

Under the settlement, $350,000 is marked for Surf- rider to make environmental improvements in Humboldt. The foundation, which appears to have put its in-house difficulties behind it, should make those improvements soon. Its members, who know well the dangers facing one of the state’s major resources, have proven to be a key asset in helping to make coastal waters a bit bluer.

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The Surfrider Foundation began as an attempt to spruce up the image of surfers. It has done that and more, and should keep up the good work while catching the curl.


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