By Jim Shilander
Members of the San Clemente Coastal Advisory Commission, along with Mayor Bob Baker, provided insight into the effects of development on Poche Beach and other areas of the city as part of a tour of the Prima Deshecha Watershed Saturday.
The watershed, which includes much of the city, includes 1,200 acres from the Prima Deshecha landfill, as well as 2,580 acres of developed land, and is channelized from the northern city limits at the end of Camino de los Mares near Forester Ranch out to Poche Beach.
Committee chairman Bill Hart said portions of the landfill are lined with plastic to prevent harmful leaching into groundwater and into the watershed. Wells at the landfill site are monitored for pollution. During most of the year, the opening of the channel, located near Avenida Diamante, is dry, and largely only has flow during the rainy portions of the year. Since there wasn’t much flow for most of the year at the start, Hart noted, it meant that nearly everything coming out into Poche Beach during the dry times of the year was coming from development and urban runoff, from people watering lawns or any number of other sources.
“Poche Beach has been a problem for the city for years and years,” Hart said. “The only way to assess what’s happening is to look upstream.”
Just a short distance away from the dry channel opening, about 100,000 gallons of water a day pass through the channel at the corner of Calle Nuevo and Camino de los Mares, said CAC member Don Brown.
“It’s a pretty dramatic change in just one mile,” Brown said.
That 100,000 gallons (the number comes from a monitoring program undertaken in September 2011), includes flow from 17 storm drains located throughout Forester Ranch and other nearby developments. The channel is often green with biofilm, bacteria and algae, which get fed by nutrients from groundwater sources nearby. Nutrients also come from fertilizer and other human sources.
Closer to Shorecliffs Golf Course, at Calle Grende Vista, near Avenida Vaquero, the flow increases to 300,000, Assistant City Engineer Tom Bonigut said. While this channel passes under Shorecliffs Golf Course, the golf course is not able to use the water to irrigate the course. The channel, Bonigut said, carries approximately 450,000 gallons per day, and is located approximately 1.5 miles from the Calle Nuevo channel site. The city will be reconstructing portions of the channel this summer.
Poche Beach is the bottom of the watershed. The county beach utilizes a treatment system to lessen the effect of bacteria before it reaches the ocean, which includes filtering and ultraviolet treatment of water to kill bacteria. Hart said the system is ultimately capable of handling up to one million gallons of water, but has never had to filter that much, including during rainy periods. Bonigut said the water quality of the beach had improved dramatically in recent months after years of failing grades from monitoring organizations and water quality warnings from the county. Improvement, he said, is due in part to improvements in the treatment system and also due to the installation of an ultra-sonic system to keep away the gulls that often congregated in the hundreds in the waters just off Poche.
“The problem is not gone, but we continue to make progress,” Bonigut said. “Hopefully we’ve turned the corner.”
In addition to improvements close to the ocean, the landfill has hired a falconer to help keep gulls away. Gulls often fed at the landfill in the morning, Hart said, and then came down to Poche to take in water from the pond in the afternoon.
Resident Al Cullen has been concerned about the state of Poche Beach for a long time. He said he wanted to attend the watershed tour to see what the Coastal Advisory Commission had to say about the state of the beach.
“I learned some new things, and it created some new questions,” Cullen said. Of particular interest, he said, was just how much pollution was ultimately coming from the landfill.
Hart said he was very pleased by the way things had gone and hopes people take into account just how much their own use of water, as well as fertilizers and other items effected things downstream.
“What we saw was the accumulation of urban runoff,” Hart said. “It’s not just this one watershed. The entire city drains into the ocean. When we overwater, over fertilize or dump things into the street, it’s all going into the ocean.”
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