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Boaters Fighting Water Quality Control Board

Niki Hashemi |
February 14, 2014 | 10:59 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Marina Del Rey boaters fear the cost of upcoming habitat restoration projects (Daily Breeze).
Marina Del Rey boaters fear the cost of upcoming habitat restoration projects (Daily Breeze).
Recent quarrels between the Los Angeles Water Quality Control Board and Marina Del Ray's boat owners have cast doubts on the city's plans to undergo a massive habitat restoration project in the next decade.

Scientists have done water analyses of the marina, which show that copper concentrations in the water have far surpassed the regional board standards. As a result, the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board unanimously voted last Thursday to pass programs that would reduce copper concentrations in the water by more than 70 percent by 2024. This ruling is the beginning of a lengthy plan to restore the wildlife in the marina.

More than 4,500 boats are located in Marina Del Rey and most of these boats have copper based paint on the hull to prevent algae from sticking to and ruining the boat. Officials estimate that stripping and replacing the paint would cost up to $6,000 for a 40-foot boat. Boat owners fear that they will also have to pay for the $147 million dredging effort to remove copper from the bottom of the marina. Although some environmentalists deem the change necessary, Del Rey boaters feel that the plans are a waste of money.

Andrew Gracey, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies the effects of copper on local marinas are dangerous for their ecosystems.

"[Copper] can damage all the major constituents of the cell, those being the DNA, the proteins, and the lipids,” he said.  

Gracey believes that reducing copper concentrations is an important component in the region’s overall goal of improving water quality because marinas are important nursery grounds for fishes and invertebrates.

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Due to environmentalist efforts, San Diego has already undergone some water cleaning projects in the past few years. In fact, more than 288 boats have converted to non-copper paints in the Shelter Island Yacht Basin. In 2012, San Diego officials said they reduced copper concentrations in the basin by 17 percent and they are continuing to decrease. 

Travis Pritchard, the program director of the San Diego Coastkeeper organization, strongly believes that coastal areas need to get their copper concentrations in order.

“Copper is used as an antifouling paint specifically because it is so toxic," he said. "Other options exist, we should be using them.”

Long time boaters in Marina Del Rey tell a different story. Many of the boaters believe that the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board was too quick to vote on the issue without properly consulting the desires of the community. Del Rey Yacht Club boating couple Jack and Kerry attended the board meeting and were enraged with the discussions that took place.

“The board let many of the boat owners have their 1 minute to speak their minds, just so the it could say that it let the boat owners speak,” Jack said.

Jack and Kerry both speculate that the board had already made up its mind when it addressed the community in the meeting.

Jack also believes that the board is tackling the wrong problem.

“Ballona Creek dumps 130 square miles of watershed directly into [Marina Del Rey’s] harbor," he said. "The watershed consists of all the street drains within the area of the harbor, 10 and 405 freeways and the Santa Monica Mountains”

He thinks the board is assuming the copper is coming entirely from the boats, so the board will spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to address the wrong problem.

Stacy Sinclair, an avid boater at the marina, notes that the reason the boaters use copper based paint is keep marine life from growing on the hull and damaging it, which could possibly sink a boat.

"Even the manufacturers say [the change] is not effective, will not save the marine life, and is very expensive,” she said.

Boater Dr. Jim Whiting, who currently works at St. Jude Medical, mentions that he is a lover of the outdoors and approves reforms that help restore natural habitats. However, Whiting is hesitant to fully approve the board’s decision about dramatically reducing copper concentrations because he is unsure about how effective the plans will be. He said the marina was built to “sail a boat into the wonderful Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands, and is secondarily a wildlife habitat,” but Whiting says that if engineers come up with an effective anti-fouling paint that is not toxic to the environment, he’s all for it.

ALSO SEE: Acidizing Continues To Threaten USC-Area Residents

None of the boaters mentioned significant decreases in the wildlife at the marina in the past few years. Some even go so far to say that they have noticed an increase in wildlife and are seeing more sea lions, fish, birds and even dolphins.

This conflict boils the blood of many environmentalists and boaters, but the board seems set on pursuing their plan to clean the copper out of Marina Del Rey. The board is aiming to create a more environmentally friendly marina and hopes that the changes will inspire other coastal cities to be more conscious of the natural environment and water pollution.

Conversely, the Del Rey boating community speculates that the plans put forth by the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board will only be a waste of time and money. The boaters do care about the wildlife and hope that the board can spend that money focusing on watershed dumping instead of simply focusing on the paint the boats use.

Reach Staff Reporter Niki Hashemi here and follow her on Twitter.



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