LocalNews Briefs

Public comment period closes for Newport Bay TMDL plan

State water board seeks to establish new plan to regulate water quality standards in Central Orange County.

NEWPORT BEACH — An open public comment period on a state plan to address water quality issues in Newport Bay officially closed on Sept. 7, allowing the State Water Resources Control Board (or State Water Board) to finalize its review on an updated Water Quality Control Plan for the Newport Bay watershed.

The State Water Board specifically seeks to prevent the discharge of toxic substances into the water that would be harmful to human health and adverse to beneficial water uses. Board members will consider the plan’s amendment, with the submitted comments, at a future meeting.

Newport Beach’s upper and lower bay areas, in general, are both being considered for Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, restrictions. Excess nutrients flowing into Newport Bay has previously resulted in algae blooms. A TMDL was established for Newport Bay in 1998 in hopes of decreasing the amount of excess nutrients flowing into the waterway.

Implementing TMDL regulations in Newport Beach Harbor has been work in progress for several years now. A plan was announced in 2015 to reduce copper levels in the harbor area, which is frequented by anglers, boaters and personal watercraft users, by 83 percent within a 15-year period.

The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board claimed copper levels in Newport Beach Harbor’s water are excessively high – particularly at the Turning Basin and local marinas.

Regional board members and city officials, however, were at odds over data used to claim Newport Beach’s Lower Bay had excessively high levels of copper. Water board officials claimed nearly 36,000 pounds of copper was discharged into the harbor annually and proposed an annual TMDL mandate of 6,060 pounds. City officials responded the mandate was unreasonable and based upon inaccurate data.

The Upper Newport Bay, meanwhile, functions as an estuary and nature preserve. The quieter half of the Newport Beach bay area is home to hundreds of acres of open space. Little to no boating activity occurs in the Upper Bay – its lower, southeastern edge is home to the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort, which features a small marina.

San Diego Creek feeds into the top half of Newport Beach’s largest waterway (which later feeds into the Pacific Ocean via Newport Beach Harbor/Lower Bay). Some of the TMDL plan aims to manage the nutrients and other elements feeding into the bay from San Diego Creek.

The State Water Board has made the Basin Plan for Newport Bay available to the public; the plan can be obtained by reaching out to Felipa Montes (felipa.montes@waterboards.ca.gov) or Terri Reeder (terri.reeder@waterboards.ca.gov).

Water board members will be considering an amendment to the TMDL plan for freshwater selenium in the Newport Bay Watershed.

TMDL restrictions are already in play for recreational boaters in Marina del Rey and San Diego’s Shelter Island Basin. Regulating copper at these and other waterways has been a controversial activity. The copper regulations have forced recreational boaters to alter how they paint their boat bottoms, for example. Boat bottom paints on recreational boats have consistently been cited as a major source of copper pollution in marinas and harbor. Boaters, however, either question whether copper is truly harming local waters or provide pushback on a lack of viable alternative boat bottom paint products.

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