There is no question that cuts and sacrifices need to be made. But we must examine the necessity of monitoring oceans and bays not just from an environmental prospective, but also from a public health standpoint as well. How can we afford not to be aware of potential toxins and/or biologically harmful substances in our frequently visited coastal waters?
First and foremost, the public’s health is at stake when there is no longer any water testing going on nor any public notification. With millions of local San Diego county residents diving into the water, how many more individuals will contract water borne illnesses? Imagine taking your children to the beach, knowing that there had been beach closures in the past and that now the water may or may not be safe.
The end of water monitoring increases the risk of beachgoers getting sick and on an even grander scale, it could potentially jeopardize one of California’s most precious resources — the ocean itself. Environmentally, monitoring the bacteria levels seems like a thermometer (albiet crude) that could alert us to detrimental changes in the ocean. In the event of an undetected sewage spill, the spill could go unnoticed until numerous people are sick and then have the ware withal to report it. Then and only then what could have been a relatively simple fix, has turned into a much larger environmental and public health issue.
So the public health and environmental benefits are an easy sell. But in these drastic economic times for our city, state and country, how do we afford this? The obvious question is, how much money does it take to run the program locally? Apparently, the whole program costs $ 300,000 a year. That’s not a lot of money to test the waters of San Diego County (from the Mexico border up to San Onofre) and notify the public when bacteria levels are high. A small price to pay for safer beaches and potentially cleaner water. That $300,000 price tag looks even smaller when you consider the billions of dollars generated by ocean and beach related industries (everything from surfboard manufacturing to a waterfront hotel boasting coastal access). Consider what a central part our beaches and bays are to tourism and life in San Diego — economically and aesthetically. Politicians, including our mayor boasted about the fewer beach closures from year to year in San Diego. The program was making San Diego look good here and abroad. Politicians were quick to claim credit for it until the governor decided to do way with state funding for the California’s Beach Water Monitoring programs.
Where do we turn now? San Diego County doesn’t seem to want make it a priority now either. So then what? If every one of the millions of beach goes paid a quarter when they went to the beach, the program could still run. If all San Diego residents contributed 15 cents, testing could continue and the water quality could be designated as safe or unsafe allowing us to know what risks we were taking by going for a swim or a surf in our oceans. As more and more Americans become aware that they are part of the solution to the environmental deterioration of our city and country, we need to move forward, not backward in protecting our precious resources. Why are we dismantling one of the country’s most respected water quality programs and turning a blind eye to our citizens’ and oceans health? Gov. Schwarzenaeger’s line-item veto was short sighted, and unfortunately, is a done deal. But now what? I ask the county to consider assisting with funding or even local non-profit environmental organizations to come together to work on an alternative plan so that our beaches and bays of San Diego are safe and clean.