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EDITORIAL: Don’t believe naysayers

Once again some folks are griping about Laguna Beach having clean beaches. The Natural Resources Defense Council, for the second consecutive year now, has designated Laguna as having the cleanest swimming waters on the West Coast.

The group, which tallies water quality reports nationwide from the Environmental Protection Agency, gave five beaches in Laguna five-star ratings, the highest.

Last year, the organization — a watchdog on the environment — named Laguna Beach a “beach buddy” for all the city has done to keep sewage from reaching the beaches. Laguna was the only “beach buddy” named on the entire Pacific coastline.

Of course there are occasional spills, including one in April that closed the city’s beaches for days and required an expensive fix, after 58,000 gallons of sewage leaked from a South Coast Highway line.

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Overall, however, Laguna Beach has had a remarkable turnaround from years ago, when the Environmental Protection Agency threatened to fine the city for allowing sewer backups to foul the beaches repeatedly.

The city budgeted around $30 million to refurbish its aging sewer system and police what goes into the sewers. A lot of the problem apparently stemmed from restaurants dumping old grease down the drain, a practice which is now outlawed.

City officials also outlawed food grinders, another source of clogs.

In August 2000, the state Regional Water Quality Control board fined the city $60,000 for eight sewage spills between January 1, 1999, and June 30, 2000.

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Between July 1, 1997, and June 30, 2002, there were 64 sewage spills reported in the city sewer system, according to the EPA. In the years 2000 and 2001, 16 spills occurred.

In that five-year period, the sewer system averaged 13 spills a year, ranging in volume from 100 gallons to 200,000 gallons, which occurred during the El Niño winter of 1998, which brought heavy rains to the area.

Since then, the city has really cleaned up its act, and it shows.

The 17 miles of sewer lines are cleaned every couple of years, and a robotic camera explores the sewers for cracks.

In short, the city has become a model of what any city can do to make its sewer system leak-proof.

But back to the griping. Last year, critics who believe the beaches could be even cleaner went so far as to manufacture a press statement purportedly from the Natural Resources Defense Council claiming the city’s beaches were unclean, in direct opposition to the group’s actual findings. Talk about dirty tricks.

This year, the griping is coming from clean water advocates who are apparently afraid they will lose their platform if the beaches are seen as models of cleanliness.

These folks like to play fast and loose with facts, and the facts in this case are that Laguna Beach is demonstrably the safest and healthiest place to swim on the West Coast.

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Those who are determined to tarnish this image are simply not to be believed.



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