Thursday, September 20, 2007

Blue whale buried on beach

Last weekend a blue whale washed ashore near Hobson County Beach up the coast from Ventura. It attracted crowds of onlookers as scientists dissected the 70 foot carcass. (Necropsy determined that the whale was hit and killed by a ship large enough to crush its huge bones.)

Because it was close to the campground, and perhaps due to the lack of beach in front of the seawalls, the remains were towed 2 miles down the coast and buried in 4 feet of sand, just upcoast of Faria Beach.

Whale blubber and the strong odor of rotting flesh were evident in the surf zone as far downcoast as Surfers' Point on Sunday, during the C-St Longboard Contest and Aloha Beach Festival. This week portions of the whale were exposed by wave action, and downcoast impacts continued. Past experience in southern California has shown that white sharks will be attracted to the coastal zone, potentially creating an increased risk of shark attacks.

There have been record numbers of blue whales in the Santa Barbara Channel this year, and apparently there is another dead whale floating toward the coast. Concerned citizens are petitioning authorities to determine appropriate protocol and not repeat this in the future.

It is interesting to think that in the past, marine mammals provided carrion for the California Condor, now an endangered species. These huge birds would fly along the coast and feed upon beached seals, dolphins, and whales. Indeed, this ecosystem once supported coyotes, bears, vultures, and a full spectrum of life. However, with the construction of a freeway and residences on the beach, this biodiversity has been lost. Increased population and conflicting human interests turn a beached mammal of this scale into a significant management issue. (Just be glad the authorities did not decide to do this!)

As illustrated by this case, the loss of natural ecosystem processes generate complicated public policy questions. Other examples include dams and flood control structures designed for a single purpose, but with unforseen side effects. There is now consensus that Matilija Dam should be decommissioned to begin to restore watershed function. And with pending new regulations, discussion has begun relating to impacts of urbanization to the health of the coastal ecosystem.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Testimony to BOS on Stormwater Permit

September 11, 2007 Comments to Ventura County Board of Supervisors

RE: Study Session to Discuss Implications from Future Stormwater and Total Maximum Daily Load Requirements on Ventura County

My name is Paul Jenkin and I represent the Ventura County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. My comments today are on behalf of the approximately 1000 members in the county, and all the other thousands of residents and visitors that use our county’s beaches.

Since 1991, our members have participated in volunteer programs such as the “Blue Water Task Force,” “Stream Team,” and storm drain stenciling. This participation is largely because many people get sick every year from surfing or swimming at our county’s beaches.

Recent reports such as from the Joint Oceans Commission led to the California Ocean Plan, West Coast Governors Agreement, and other initiatives that have identified Urban Runoff as a significant threat to the health of our oceans. All of these agree that a new approach is required to solve this problem, with recommendations to implement what is now known as “Ecosystem Based Management.”

The root cause of this problem is traditional urban infrastructure. Our society has implemented a conveyance approach to flood control, resulting in impervious urban areas and hydromodification of our watersheds. It is clear that this approach is not working, with concrete leading to more concrete, and as you heard from some of the cities today, their flooding problems are getting worse. This is because stormwater has been treated as a threat, rather than the resource that it should be.

Quite frankly I am disappointed by the resistance to regulation that I am hearing today. The stormwater permit has been around for over a decade, but nothing has changed. So called “environmental groups” like Surfrider comment on individual projects one at a time, but the CEQA process does not adequately account for cumulative impacts.

Major changes are needed. But this permit may be seen as a threat to traditional flood control and the development permit process. Regional planning is desperately needed on a watershed basis, rather than the current piecemeal permitting of development.

In addition, major retrofitting is needed to the existing infrastructure in order to implement what I call “reverse hydromodification.” The solution to urban runoff lies in integrated solutions and what is known as “green infrastructure.” This approach should integrate flood control with water supply, parks, bikeways, and more. This is a necessary response to climate change as we experience longer droughts and greater flooding in the future.

As others have said today, pollution is waste, and we are wasting our stormwater, and in the process polluting our oceans.

On a positive note, the Surfrider Foundation is launching a new program called “Ocean Friendly Gardens.” This is intended to educate residents about the urban runoff problem, and demonstrate how they can re-landscape their own property to retain and infiltrate stormwater.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment today.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Our Ventura River

Last week I spent a day working with local photographer Rich Reid on a video project about the watershed. We visited several people working to protect and restore the Ventura River ecosystem:

see also: