This week the Natural Resources Defense Council released their 19th annual summary of the nations’ most polluted beaches, titled "Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches". It’s a 453 page nation-wide summary of coastal pollution and it was Vaughn’s Launch at the edge of Newport Back Bay that took home top honors.
The state of California establishes daily maximum bacterial standards for beaches and, according to this report, Vaughn’s Landing exceeded those standards on 50% of its samples.
According to a 2005 County of Orange report, the principal cause of this pollution headache is from contaminated runoff going into the bay. In the report, the source of polluted runoff was described as follows, “There are few data on the exact sources of the coliform in this runoff. Coliform has diverse origins, including: manure fertilizers which may be applied to agricultural crops and to commercial and residential landscaping; the fecal wastes of humans, household pets and wildlife; and other sources.”
The byproduct of residential and commercial landscaping is certainly a primary contributor to the polluted condition of Newport Bay and many of our other local coastal waters.
Home gardeners and homeowners associations need to change their ways. Bacterial pollution is only one of the unfortunate results of homeowners and gardeners who aren’t paying attention; who aren’t adapting; who aren’t educating themselves and assuming responsibility for their decisions. Improper use of fertilizers and pest products, over-irrigation, and landscape runoff are not difficult problems to fix.
Our gardening activities should leave a positive impact on our communities. A garden that is thoughtfully designed and properly cared for should be an asset, not an obstacle; improving our individual emotional health as well as our neighborhood appearance. Gardens and landscapes should offer opportunities for birds and wildlife, absorb pollutants, balance temperature extremes and provide oxygen.
Vaughn’s Launch is a small, unsigned turnout along Back Bay Drive. It lies at the base of Big Canyon, on the east side of the bay. Above it, lie the communities of East Bluff, Big Canyon, The Bluffs and others. These are terrific communities and desirable places to live, with excellent schools, great weather and strong communities.
These communities are filled with great gardens and with great gardeners. They are gardeners who want to do the right thing. I know they do; I talk to them every day. None of them want to pollute the bay. They’re gardeners – good gardeners. Good gardeners enjoy nature and they always have a strong connection and sensitivity to their environment.
So let’s make some changes. Let’s water only when needed; and when we do, let’s keep it out of the storm drains. Let’s clean up our dog and cat feces. Let’s feed our gardens intelligently; and when we do feed them, let’s use a product that has the least likelihood of ending up in the bay. Let’s put this fertilizer onto our gardens and onto our plants carefully, not with an applicator that throws it onto the walkways and driveways. When we need to use a pesticide, fungicide or snail control, let’s ask for one that is sensitive to the environment and then let’s carefully follow the label directions.
For our professional gardeners that we hire, let’s have them do what we want. Let’s tell them what to use. Let’s not allow them to apply fertilizer inappropriately, wash down the sidewalks or apply any product into ours gardens that we don’t approve of. If they can’t do this, or won’t do this, let’s get a new gardener.
Let’s get involved in the landscape committees of our HOA’s. Let’s go to a meeting and make our expectations known. Let’s take back control from the companies that maintain our common areas. Let’s expect changes. If status quo is the response, let’s start interviewing for a new maintenance company.
Let’s not just ‘want’ to do the right thing – let’s do the right thing. We’re gardeners. Let me know how I can help.
Questions from Readers August 2, 2009
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens , Corona del Mar.