months during the peak tourist season before recommending swimmers
return, said Mike Ali, owner of Zack's Pier Plaza and two other beach
"They took their sweet time," he said.
But that attitude is nothing more than Monday morning quarterbacking,
said Jack Clapp, owner of Dwight's concession stand.
"That's easy for them to say now," he said. "Everybody was trying to do
the best they could."
The panel of oceanographers, microbiologists and hydrologists concluded
that officials should have tested earlier whether the high bacteria
levels were due to animal or human waste, said Phyllis Grifman, who runs
USC's Sea Grant Program, which sponsored the event.
By assuming the cause of contamination was human waste, they spent too
much time searching for sewage leaks, ignoring urban runoff, she said.
Zeroing in on runoff from the start would have led officials to the
Talbert Marsh, which collects some of the untreated waste water that
flows from streets and lawns before spilling out into the ocean, she
said. A recent study, performed by UCI, showed the marsh might be largely
responsible for the pollution problem.
But during the summer, when bacteria levels soared as much as 10 times
above normal, "nobody looked at the marsh," she said.
One of the officials in charge of monitoring the beach during that period
agreed that more could have been done sooner. Ever since the runoff was
diverted into treatment plants, the levels of bacteria have not come
close to their peak levels, said Larry Honeybourne, chief of the Orange
County Health Care Agency's water-quality section.
But Honeybourne points out that the precise cause of the contamination
remains a mystery even now.
"I'm still scratching my head," he said. "So are a lot of people."