By Kristina Pritchett

City officials say the water quality at Salt Creek Beach has improved since they began using a falconer to curb environmental pollution.

In response to scoring low on a water quality report over the summer, the city conducted a three-month demonstration project using a Harris’ Hawk named Shira to deter seagulls from the area and stop the gulls from contributing bacteria to the creek and the beaches with their droppings.

That report earned Salt Creek a “beach bummer” designation from Heal the Bay, a nonprofit environmental organization, and spurred the falconer program. Now, Heal the Bay’s report card, which is updated once a week, says the beach gets an “A” for water quality.

Leslie Griffin, a beach water quality scientist for Heal the Bay, agrees the area did see an improvement, but said with the return of snowy plovers—a threatened species that would potentially be compromised by falcon presence—to the area, the falconry program had to cease.

During the summer, the city said the lower grade was attributed to the fact that the testing site was moved.

The site is home to the Salt Creek Ozone Treatment Facility that treats dry weather runoff before it returns it to the ocean. Right before it reaches the ocean, it hits the scour pond, which is where the testing is now being done.

The project was funded by the county of Orange while the city was in charge of the day-to-day implementation, including monitoring and coordination with the falconer.

According to the city, since the project was successful in improving ocean water quality at the beaches, discussions will continue with the stakeholders and regulatory agencies for plans for the next year.

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