By Michael Collins

Ventura County Reporter – January 30, 2003

Kiddie Beach in Channel Islands Harbor -  photo by Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board
Kiddie Beach in Channel Islands Harbor – photo by Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board

“WARNING! Runoff/Stormdrain water may cause illness – Avoid contact with ponded or flowing runoff and the area where runoff enters the ocean” reads the sign at Kiddie Beach in the Channel Islands Harbor. Since 1998, Kiddie Beach has had the unenvious distinction of being in the top ten most polluted beaches in Southern California. The environmental group, Heal the Bay, ranked it as the most foul beach in 1999. By 2000, the quaint tiny playa came in third in polluted ocean spots and ranked sixth in 2002. The Ventura County Flood Control District has posted bilingual emergency signs warning people to stay out of the water sixty percent of the time since 1999.

Regardless, families still flock to the picturesque swath of beach and ply its waters. “I think that with most people, the water pollution just doesn’t compute with what they are seeing,” said Lee Quaintance of the Beacon Foundation. Quaintance is also a member of the Kiddie Beach Task Force which is charged with finding a solution to the tiny beach’s woes. To date, the County-controlled task force, including the County’s Environmental Health Agency and Public Health Care Agency have not yet supported in-depth analysis of the source of the pollution, according to Quaintance who says that they think it’s “voodoo science that’s just not proven.”

But that may soon change. Jim Estomo is Supervisor John Flynn’s lead man on cleaning up Kiddie Beach. Estomo says that the County is entertaining performing DNA tests on the beach’s polluted waters to determine just how the $1.5 million that the State will spend to clean up the spot. DNA testing will show what kind of animal, including human, that the pollution emanated from. The idea came from other agencies doing this kind of analysis including the Rincon Watershed Study in Santa Barbara and another study done regarding the polluted ocean water in Morro Bay.

Samples of the tainted water from Santa Barbara and Morro Bay were sent to the University of Washington which has a library of DNA specimens to compare them with. Less costly viral analysis tests have been done to determine the source of pollution at Avalon at Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles where it was determined that leaking sewage pipes were causing the bacterial spikes in the bay there. But viral tests only gauge whether the cause of the pollution is animal or human. DNA analysis will actually figure out which animal sources the bacteria is the result of. The testing at Kiddie Beach is expected to begin in 2004.

“So that’s what we hope to do at Kiddy Beach,” Estomo told the Reporter. “We’re setting up a program to see how we would do it, how much it would cost, the basic information.”