City should not stop Malibu Lagoon project

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You can go through the stacks of legal briefs and the piles of scientific studies that litter City Hall, but the best way to explain the Malibu Lagoon is by a children’s story – “Everyone Poops.” Birds do it. Bees do it. In fact, it turns out even dirt does it.

Malibu Lagoon has to be the most intensively studied body of water for its size in the world. As the product of those studies continues to come in, it is increasingly evident that the major contributor to water quality problems in the lagoon and surf zone is the lagoon itself.

State Parks created the artificial lagoon in 1983. They called it a “restoration” but that was political eyewash. Convinced that a wetland, even an artificially created one, couldn’t possibly do any harm, the state dug shallow channels running west off the main creek. Turns out, the state was wrong. These channels have become traps for fine sediments – dirt — washed down from the upper watershed. Because of poor circulation the sediments cannot be discharged to the ocean in normal storm events or through intertidal action. They contain high concentrations of nutrients and bacteria which are released into the surface waters in the dry season and contribute to the algal blooms and resultant oxygen deficiencies.

Over the past 10 years and stretching on into the future, the City of Malibu and its residents have spent, and will continue to spend, enormous sums in an effort to ensure that nothing from the city, whether storm water or waste water, reaches the lagoon without being purified to essentially drinking water standards. But if the goal of that effort is to solve the water quality problems in the lagoon, it’s a waste of time and money. The lagoon’s water quality problems cannot be solved so long as it continues to act as a plugged toilet.

Are bulldozers required to correct the problems? Will it disrupt summer beach traffic? Will the critters who have taken up residence in the lagoon in the 30 years since its creation be disrupted or killed? Regrettably, the answers are Yes, Yes and Yes. Is the proposed project the perfect solution? Probably not. Malibu Lagoon Version 2.0 still has the potential to trap fine sediments, and, as often happens when we try to fiddle with nature, it may cause other problems yet unimagined. The best that can be hoped is that it will be an improvement over Version 1.0.

The City of Malibu has served as the whipping boy for all of the water quality issues in the lagoon and surf zone for years. GOs and NGOs know that from publicity and funding standpoints, you can’t go wrong pillorying Malibu. As new TMDL requirements appear on the horizon, the lawsuits against us are lining up like planes in the LAX landing pattern.

But State Parks is also subject to Federal and State Clean Water Act regulations and just like the City of Malibu it has a legal obligation to address the problems to which it has, however inadvertently, contributed. Finally, it appears that is beginning to happen. It is not in the best interests of the city to interfere with or attempt to block that favorable development.

Jeff Jennings

Former City Councilman, mayor