The plan, which was reviewed by city officials April 25, has already designated 14 beaches throughout La Jolla, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach that require cleanup to meet state requirements under the Clean Water Act, according to Christina Arias, the regional water quality board's water resource control engineer.
"The project is designed to protect recreational swimmers and people shellfishing, since they could ingest shellfish or water that could be contaminated," said Arias, who helped author the plan. "All water bodies included have been identified by the state as impaired, and this is by looking at water quality data and using water quality standards."
Individual beaches along La Jolla Shores and Windansea, as well as Whispering Sands Beach, Casa Beach, Tourmaline Surfing Park, Pacific Beach at Grand Avenue and Dog Beach, have been identified as sites needing bacterial reduction.
The bacteria reduction plan, which has been four years in the making, still requires approval from the state's Water Resources Control Board and the Office of Administrative Law as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), Arias said.
If approved, the plan would likely be implemented via regional storm water permits and carried out by the city, which would be mandated to meet the total maximum daily load (TMDL) requirements for bacteria at each beach or creek, according to Arias.
The plan uses criteria developed by the USEPA and adopted by the state to ensure that three types of indicator bacteria levels fall below the maximum amount allowed.
Fecal coliform, or the bacteria found in waste products of warm-blooded mammals, is one of the components being measured.
It is designated to stay under 400 most probable numbers per 100 milliliters of ocean water in a single sample, according to Arias.
Although the criteria is mandated by USEPA, the regional board's plan also incorporates provisions to account for natural sources of bacteria and would not require city officials to clean up impairments that are wildlife-generated, Arias said.
Developed by the regional board, the TDML process is used to measure the percentage of bacteria that should be reduced and determine the actions necessary to protect aquatic life, drinking water and other water uses, according to the regional board's Web site.
Although details for implementing the plan will not be determined until the regional board receives approval from the appropriate agencies, the city has still voiced several concerns, according to Chris Zirkle, deputy director of the city's Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program.
Overseen by Mayor Jerry Sanders' office, officials from the city's department have participated in the development and review of the plan since March 2004, according to a letter on the city's Web site.
"The mayor is a strong supporter of clean water, but we do have some questions about some of the aspects of the plan," Zirkle said.
Zirkle said the city has questioned where the treatment will occur, the volume of storm water that must be treated in order to comply with state requirements and how the city's compliance will be measured. He added that the plan could require officials to treat the water before it exits storm drains.
City officials would have approximately 12 years to meet the bacteria reduction load percentage at beaches where shellfishing occurs and 17 years to meet requirements at nonfishing sites, according to Arias.
The plan would be regulated in accordance with the state's 2002 Clean Water Act, Section 303(d), which established that beach and creek water be assessed every two years by the state and that existing impairments be cited, Arias said.
The city generated a list of impaired beaches more than four years ago, before the bacterial reduction plan was even conceived. As a result, San Diego has implemented several bacteria management measures that have been successful, specifically targeting dry weather diversions at several locations in La Jolla, according to Arias.
"In La Jolla, dry weather urban runoff seems to be taken care of, but in other areas that may not be the case," Arias said. "So, in that sense, La Jolla is ahead of the game because that is when most people are using the beach anyway."
Casa Beach, or Children's Pool, was identified as impaired but city officials will not be asked to meet bacteria reduction requirements because contaminants are generated by a natural source, Arias said in reference to the harbor seal rookery that frequents the site.
"Part of our mission at our office is to protect recreational swimmers at the same time as protecting wildlife habitat," Arias said. "We see no conflict there [at Casa Beach] because it is a good wildlife habitat."
Dog Beach, located at the mouth of the San Diego River, has also experienced some improvement over the past several years but still needs work, according to Arias, who said the beach is not as far ahead as it should be.
San Diego CoastKeeper, an environmental group also involved in the bacteria reduction plan process since inception, believes the TDML process will achieve its goal of protecting the public's health and safety, according to Gabriel Solmer, legal director for San Diego CoastKeeper.
In terms of water quality, La Jolla's beaches have proven to be some of the best, Solmer said. The community's water resources are also highly valued because they are the city's only two areas of special biological significance, according to Solmer.
Beaches spanning from La Jolla south to Ocean Beach require about a 21 percent bacteria reduction compared to other bodies of water, such as Chollas Creek, which requires between a 50 and 60 percent reduction, she said. Impairments in Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach and especially La Jolla, however, have a more significant public impact because of the number of people who frequent the sites, Solmer said.
Surveys administered by San Diego CoastKeeper indicate that people spending large amounts of time in the ocean along these beaches, such as surfers, are prone to headaches, sinus infections and even hepatitis, according to Solmer.
"We want to make sure no one gets sick," Solmer said. "We are committed to educating all beach-goers. We are taxpayers too, and we want to see this program used wisely."
For more information about the TDML bacteria reduction plan, visit www.waterboards.ca.gov/sandiego/tmdls/tmdl.