Harbor Director shares efforts and goals for continually improving environmental practices at one of the area’s most popular recreation destinations

Many strategies are employed by the Dana Point Harbor Department in an effort to create a more environmentally sound facility. Photo by Andrea Swayne
Many strategies are employed by the Dana Point Harbor Department in an effort to create a more environmentally sound facility. Photo by Andrea Swayne

By Brad Gross

In 2005 the Orange County Board of Supervisors created the Dana Point Harbor Department, now called OC Dana Point Harbor, with the goal of having an independent department with the resources to concentrate their efforts on the Dana Point Harbor Revitalization Plan.

One of the unexpected but now welcomed consequences has been OC Dana Point Harbor’s attention to water quality and facility improvements through the Harbor’s Water Quality Improvement Program. Since 2007—with program goals of source control, diverting runoff, treating runoff, conservation, outreach and education—the department has effectively improved water quality throughout the Harbor.

It should be noted that we are not alone in our efforts and the great work of the city of Dana Point, OC Parks, OC Watersheds, Health Care Agency, South Coast Water District, Dana Point Earth/Ocean Society, Headlands Reserve, San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Ocean Institute, Harbor operators and numerous community cleanup volunteers combine for our water quality improvement efforts.

Our successes were accomplished by first taking over and improving some already established programs. For example, the Earth/Ocean Society started a “smoker’s outpost” program at some key locations in the Harbor before the establishment of the Harbor Department. There are now more than 30 outposts ringing the walkways of the Harbor. And in early 2008, the Harbor voluntarily participated in the Metropolitan Water District’s Public Sector Water Efficiency Program where a Harbor-wide audit of water usage and procedures resulted in numerous measures implemented to conserve water and reduce runoff.

Following the audit, several adjustments were made to landscape, such as lowering soil levels in many planter areas and replacing spray irrigation systems with bubblers. Irrigation systems are frequently inspected and repaired. Low maintenance, yet visually appealing, plants have been chosen for the common areas and landscaping is now trimmed more frequently to minimize the amount of leaves falling into the water. All street and parking lot cleaning is performed using surface cleaners with built-in wash water recovery to eliminate runoff.

Daily trash collection is mandated and bird-proof lids have been installed on trash receptacles to prevent birds from scattering the contents. Pet waste bag dispensers are conveniently located throughout the Harbor and continually checked for supply.

Fishing line recycling collection stations have been purchased and installed at several locations. There are also provisions for the disposal of oil, oil filters, automatic transmission fluid, engine anti-freeze and coolant, batteries and bilge pads which were not previously available. Also available for boaters are free oil absorbing bilge pads, which can be obtained by visiting any of the marina operators. These pads are placed in the bilges of boats to absorb oil, fuel, etc. as opposed to discharging these items overboard through bilge pumps. Once saturated, the pads are easily recycled via one of our stations.

In coordination with the South Coast Water District, storm drains and sewer lines are inspected routinely for debris, obstructions and line integrity. Catch basin inserts have been installed in all drains leading into the harbor to stop debris and trash before it enters. In an effort to prevent line blockages that can lead to sewer spills, quarterly lateral and main line cleaning and maintenance takes place.

During construction of the launch ramp in 2006, a trench drain was installed to collect and filter runoff. Grease interceptors have also been installed in several restaurants to collect material instead of letting it flow to the sewer system.

Brad Gross, director of OC Dana Point Harbor
Brad Gross, director of OC Dana Point Harbor

In 2006 both the East and the West Marinas were designated Clean Marinas by the Clean Marinas California Program. The Launch Ramp was certified in 2009 and the OC Sailing & Events Center along with the Dana Point Yacht Club in 2011. The Shipyard received one of the first certifications as a Clean Maritime Facility last year.

All these operations continue to exceed the program’s requirements which include solid and liquid waste management, clean boating policies, clean operational practices, emergency action procedures, a recycling program and employee and boater training. The Harbor now strictly enforces the Best Management Practices and has increased education and awareness efforts in order to encourage boaters to take an active role in safeguarding water quality.

Other projects include the Headland’s installation of a storm water diversion system, timers on wash down water supply at the launch ramp, installation of waterless urinals in the new public restroom and the recent installation of four new boat holding tank pump out stations. The Shipyard will soon be installing a water clarifying system for their facility and the fuel dock is also in the process of upgrades.

In 2009, the Harbor started to conduct biannual underwater cleanups with local volunteer divers removing more than 27,000 pounds of debris from the Harbor’s bottom.

And, as a result of a grant from the Orange County Transportation Authority, one of our proudest accomplishments is the recent installation of six new debris skimmers. The skimmers are strategically placed throughout the Harbor working 24/7 collecting surface debris from the water.  Each skimmer collects on average about 7,400 pounds of debris annually.

Ongoing efforts to improve the water quality at Baby Beach have also been successful. Part of the problem in the past was found to be caused by the water coming from outfall out of the Headlands and bird waste. The installation of the Headlands diversion and filter system has taken care of that for the most part. As for the bird droppings, bird proof netting has been installed under the pier and staff members are sent out each day to manually remove droppings off the beach.

Also, since the area was dredged in 2008 and the top two feet of sand on the beach removed and replaced with clean fresh sand, documented improvements have been made and can be reviewed in the Heal the Bay annual Beach Report Card. The reports are posted online at www.healthebay.org.

As we look ahead we recognize that we are quickly approaching what will prove to be a challenging but exciting time full of opportunities to execute new and innovated approaches to environmental controls for construction activity during the implementation of the Revitalization Plan. But more importantly, the project will finally allow us to upgrade such items and water supply, electrical supply, sewer capacities, grease interceptors for the restaurants and to lay the foundation for reclaimed water to be used for irrigation.

As you can see, we are never done when working to improve water quality. Please come and enjoy your Harbor. Take a walk, sit on the beach, cruise on your boat, have a meal or go to sea to see a whale.  On your way out, if you see a piece of trash on the ground, pick it up. I am sure you will find a trash can with a bird-proof lid close by.

In an effort to provide our readers with a wide variety of opinions from our community, the DP Times provides Guest Opinion opportunities in which selected columnists’ opinions are shared. The opinions expressed in these columns are entirely those of the columnist alone and do not reflect those of the DP Times or Picket Fence Media. If you would like to respond to this column, please email us at editor@danapointtimes.com.

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