The source of pollution remained elusive even after federal and state
agencies joined the hunt last week, leading the city briefly to consider
declaring Huntington Beach a local disaster area.
With frustration growing on Aug. 26, Mayor Peter Green blamed the state's
water quality laws for setting unreasonably high standards that prevented
beaches from opening sooner.
"It may be a political issue rather than a health issue," he said.
But swimmers exposed to the pollutants, including a bacteria known as
enterococcus, could suffer from a range of health problems ranging from
nausea and vomiting to eye infections, said Larry Honeybourne, program
chief for the water quality section of the Orange County Health Care
Justin Davis, 19, of Seal Beach, said he surfed the north side of the
pier two days before its closure. He was out in the water only 20 minutes
before he started having temporary vision problems, he said.
"I was practically almost blinded," he said.
To help see beneath the ground and in the deep ocean water, officials
marshaled high-tech sonar and radar equipment. But with no ready answers,
decidedly low-tech grapefruit and oranges were brought out Monday.
Dumping the fruit in the Talbert Channel allowed sanitation workers to
track where runoff from storm drains ends up, said Michele Tuchman, an
Orange County Sanitation District spokeswoman.
"They act like these little buoys that follow along the currents," she
City-owned pumping stations deliver the runoff from the channel, through
the Talbert marsh and out into the ocean, she said.
"Lo and behold, the fruit started hugging the coast and landed on the
beach where we initially saw the highest bacteria counts [by Newland
Street and Pacific Coast Highway]," she said.
The city's aging network of sewers, leaking waste water from broken or
severely cracked pipelines, were suspected at one point but were ruled
out after inspection, Deputy City Administrator Rich Barnard said.
"We can't see where there's any relationship," he said.
After trying and failing with so many theories, some wonder whether the
pollution source will ever be found.
"It would be nice to find it before [the pollution] goes away because
then we'd know what we're dealing with," the city's public works director
Robert Beardsley said.