“We sample numerous beaches routinely, including this particular beach (Cove), and the sample came back high with respect to bacteria levels, and that’s what has caused us to post signs out there,” said Keith Kezer with the county Department of Environmental Health. “The signs are basically telling people there is an increased risk to illness. What we’re doing is educating people on what the water quality is, so they can make a decision for themselves and their families.”
Kezer said the recent Cove sample was above state standards for two different kinds of bacteria — enterococcus from the intestines of humans and animals, and coliform, a bacteria universally found in the feces of warm-blooded animals and commonly used as an indicator of the sanitary quality of foods and water.
“The state standard for enterococcus is 104,” said Kezer, noting the sample level for the bacteria is typically in the 10 to 20 range for an uncontaminated body of water. The sample taken at the Cove was above 104.
A high fecal coliform count is also the same type of bacteria that has caused Children’s Pool with its harbor seal colony to be posted for years warning of possible ill effects from water contamination.
Kezer said a number of factors could be responsible for high bacteria counts in Cove waters.
“We don’t know the reasons why the levels go up,” he said. “It could be currents. It could be waves. It could be runoff. It could be marine mammals.”
Meanwhile, numerous sources within the community, including the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA), are saying public proclamations by the city that recent spraying of microbial foam has eradicated the foul smell from bird droppings there was premature.
“Very erroneously, the City Council and others have been saying that the spraying was highly successful and that it worked beautifully,” said Phil Coller, LJVMA president at the group’s October meeting. “Go out there and smell it. It’s at least as bad as it was before.”
The Cove’s cliffs were sprayed, in two separate applications, at the beginning and end of summer. Blue Eagle Cleaning Distribution, Inc. did the spraying using an all-natural bacteria blend that reportedly eats away at the fecal waste material.
Lance Rodgers, head of Blue Eagle, said it’s inaccurate to say the Cove cliff spraying was unsuccessful.
“The intensity of the smell is significantly better, significantly reduced in ammonia levels from the bird guano buildup,” Rodgers said. “That’s been a very big success.”
But Rodgers said the recent spraying was meant to address “the immediate intensity of the smell,” and was not intended as a long-term solution.
Though the bird guano buildup issue has been addressed at least in part, nothing has yet been done to tackle another odor source, which may be significantly adding to the problem: the Cove’s growing sea lion colony.
“You have both factors happening at the same time,” Rodgers said, adding the combination of smells from bird and pinniped waste is creating “new and changing issues” to be dealt with.
The growing sea lion colony at the Cove may cause the city to rethink — or expand — its long-term strategy for dealing with foul smells coming from the area.
“It seems pretty obvious that when animals are gathering in such concentrations, it would be logical that waste is going to occur,” said Ken Hunrichs, a member of La Jolla Parks and Beaches, Inc., an advisory group making recommendations to the city on coastal parks. “The sea lions have been moving in greater numbers from around the corner right to the mouth of the Cove, creating a conflict with people.”
District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner said her office will be getting a full report from city staff on the Cove issue the week of Oct. 28.
“The cleanup efforts to date seem to have helped, but there may be a need for a third application or alternative actions,” Lightner said. “In addition to the bird poop, there is some concern that the sea lions may be adding to the smell.”