Monday, April 20, 2009

Growing Population Threatens Southland Coast

In the next 30 years, southern California is expected to grow to a population of nearly 24 million. That will likely put increased pressure on the environment. Over 70 percent of Californians already live in coastal counties. The result has been a flood of pollution and trash flowing into the ocean. A couple years ago, in a story for KPCC-FM, I looked at how population growth might make it harder to protect the Pacific. (This is a transcript of the broadcast.)

SETZIOL: A few weeks ago, scientists and policy makers gathered in Long Beach to discuss the growing crisis in the oceans: overfishing, invasive species, power plants that kill fish larvae, and bacteria, nutrients and trash that wash off of streets. The list was long, and it all traced back to human activity.

UCLA ecologist Rich Ambrose studies southern California’s rocky inter-tidal habitat. He worries more people will mean more damage to tidepools.

AMBROSE: People are loving the rocky inter-tidal to death. Basically, there are so many people—already—with the population we have coming to visit the intertidal, walking through, turning over rocks. To see animals, picking up rocks, taking home as souvenirs having a major impact. It’s effecting sea slugs, star fish. It would effect abalone if we had any abalone left. …It’s affecting sea anemones, crabs, probably urchins, algae.

SETZIOL: Peter Douglas of the California Coastal Commission told the audience the environmental impact of future growth will depend largely on the type of development that occurs.

DOUGLAS: For the coast, it really turns on whether we will have the strength in terms of our laws and programs to require the concentration of development in areas that have the infrastructure to be able to accommodate it…I think the notion of a detached single family home, out in rural lands has got to be moved into our past, and not our future.

SETZIOL: It’s a bit of a counter-intuitive argument. Most of coastal southern California is already developed, and future growth is projected mostly for less developed areas in inland counties. But UCLA environmental economist Linwood Pendleton says that’s part of the problem.

PENDLETON: The watersheds for LA County and Southern California go all the way up to the mountains. So these people that are moving inland may be far from the beach, but the impacts of the things they do, the way they treat the land, things they drop on the ground. All affect the coasts, and beaches.

SETZIOL: And if people continue to commute long distances, that could create more pollution that washes off roads into storm drains or creeks, including heavy metals from break pads, and rubber from tires. Long commutes would also unleash additional carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that’s warming the oceans, and turning them more acidic.

Linwood Pendleton eats a crab cake dinner at King’s Fish House in Long Beach. He slurps down an appetizer. (sound of: slurp)

PENDLETON: That’s fabulous. We just had an oyster sampler plate. It includes oysters from New Zealand, Canada, and even Baja. But doesn’t include any oysters from southern California. Because water quality on the coast of California is just not up to growing oysters.

SETZIOL: Pendleton says people who live near a natural area tend to care more about protecting it.

PENDLETON: So the concern is as we have more and more people moving farther from the coast, but still in the watershed, there becomes a disconnect between their behavior and the impacts their behaviors have.

SETZIOL: Water quality officials have passed a fleet of regulations aimed at cleaning up the coast. Some cities—especially inland cities—have fought the regulations in court.

PENDLETON: We’re going to have to convince those people that they have to clean up their water quality because it affects these standards that are measured sometimes hundreds of miles away.

SETZIOL: Linwood Pendleton says that won’t be easy. Officials will have to educate more people about how their behavior affects the ocean.

In Long Beach, Ilsa Setziol, 89.3, KPCC

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