The Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club hosted a discussion in Marina del Rey June 16th about environmental conditions in the marina, Santa Monica Bay and Ballona Creek.

Speakers included Deputy John Rochford of the county Sheriff’s Department Marina del Rey Station; Brad Gross, Dana Point Harbor director; Nan Singhasemanon, staff environmental scientist with the California Department of Pesticides Regulation, Environmental Monitoring Branch; and Vivian Matuk of the California Department of Boating and Waterways (DBAW) and California Coastal Commission Environmental Boating Program coordinator.

Grace Lee, Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation Boater Program manager, also referenced a quarterly newsletter, The Changing Tide, a publication for the California Clean Boating Network which included articles such as one about biodegradable fishing line.


Matuk distributed “Boating Clean and Green” recyclable bags containing a boaters guide to keeping pollutants out of the water, a boater education and safety tips card and a spiral-bound Clean Boating Habits booklet. Boaters were asked to complete a short questionnaire and pledge to “Keep Our Waters Clean.”

According to the Clean Boating Habits booklet, 90 percent of oil in marine waters comes from small, chronic sources such as bilges, outboard motors, poor fueling procedures, urban run-off and improper disposal of used oil products.

Boating Clean and Green is a statewide program designed to reduce pollution from boating and marine businesses by educating boaters and marina operators about environmentally sound boating practices.

Matuk discussed the dock walker program that consists of volunteers who train boaters about environmentally sound boating. Dock walkers distribute boater kits with educational information while visiting marinas, boat launch ramps, boat shows and events.

There are over 500 dock walkers statewide and they’ve distributed over 60,000 boater kits since 2000, said Matuk. To volunteer as a dock walker, (415) 904-6905 or

Information about Clean and Green, click on “Boating Clean and Green at:

Carole Walsh, in charge of boater education at the yacht club, told the audience that boaters should put a bilge sponge underneath the gas or diesel engine so that anything that leaks into the bilge is caught before it goes into the bilge.

“Before you pump out the bilge, put your bilge sponge in the bilge where the liquid is, and only the oils and fuel will be absorbed because it doesn’t absorb water. Then take the sponge over to the fuel dock and exchange it,” she said.


Rochford said he received a call from Walsh a few months ago asking if it’s acceptable to put bleach in the water and noting that a lot of boaters are doing just that.

“First of all, bleach should absolutely not go into the water and it would be a violation of the Clean Water Act,” Rochford said in response.

He emphasized that in addition to not putting bleach in the water, no loose powders should be used in an attempt to soak up spills, and no dishwashing liquid should be used to try to disperse the oil.

“We respond to calls about pollution. When you tell us there’s a spill, we need your help with gas spills because when we get the call, the spill is already pretty wide inside the basin,” he said.

“The first thing to do is to take care of your own boat. Keep your engine in good repair. Use non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning products. Place an absorbent pad in the engine room bilge. Have a bilge filter to guard against accidental discharge.

“Secondly, if you see something, say something. The sooner we’re alerted to a spill, the better,” Rochford said.

A spill could affect five to 10 fingers or perhaps the whole basin, he noted. Locating the point of origin may be done by finding the more solid part of the spill, but it depends on how much time has passed and what the tides and wind are doing, said Rochford.

He explained that when a boat engine has a leak, it goes into the bilge. The automatic bilge pump will kick on after it gets to a certain level and discharges the contaminant into the water.

“This could go on for days and weeks. It’s very disheartening to get that call day after day, ‘It’s happening again.’ We rush out there with the boat, call the US Coast Guard out, and it’s very frustrating,” the deputy said.

“The people we actually catch isn’t the result of our keen police sense, it’s the result of you boaters catching who it is and saying, ‘I saw it, it came out of that particular boat.’”

He told the audience that if a spill can be singled out to a particular area of several boats, the sheriff’s department has the authority to board any vessel and look at the bilge of boats that it deems unsafe in the harbor and is a danger to other boaters or to marine life

“The National Response Center is a number we are required to call by law, and you can call it as well regarding a spill. The call activates a chain of events that begins with the Coast Guard, the Department of Fish and Game, the Marina Sheriff’s Department, and the call goes into a database to track violations,” Rochford stated.

Spills that happen repeatedly can be traced through this database to narrow it down to a certain area and identify a particular basin where the spills keep occurring.

“How we treat violations is somewhat at our discretion. It depends on the type of spill, the boater’s attitude — was it an accident and is the boater trying to do the right thing — or is it someone doing it intentionally?” said Rochford.

“If an individual knows that their boat has a problem and they keep letting it go, that person needs to be dealt with on a federal level,” he said.

Rochford said the Federal Code of Regulations Title 33 includes a civil penalty of up to $125,000. Pollution penalties become more severe as they progress from local to state to federal levels.

The Los Angeles County Code infractions include discharge of refuse, sewage or other waste, and discharge of petroleum, coal or paint products.The Department of Fish and Game code includes a civil penalty up to $25,000 for discharging petroleum, refuse, sawdust, and substances deleterious to fish, plants, mammals or birds, said Rochford.

Boaters can help out by being prepared and vigilant. Many boaters call the sheriff’s department when they have a spill, and have absorbent pads out and are trying to contain it, he said. Rochford asked that boaters call the dock master about any spills.

Even if a boater is not on the boat at the time of the spill, they are still legally responsible, Rochford pointed out.

He said that the Marina del Rey fuel dock has a trade-in program for the absorbent pads and will provide a free pad for a used one. Bilge filters are available at the local marine supply store, said Rochford.


Gross said that as director of the Dana Point Harbor — 276 acres and 2,500 boats in water and a number of others on land — he works with partners on 50 steps to improve water quality.

He said the harbor has been successful in reducing trash, recycling, and the extensive use of catch basins and storm drains.

Netting under the pier has reduced birds nesting and droppings and a smoker’s outpost has resulted in a reduction of cigarette butts dropped on the ground, he said. Bird-proof trash containers with covers; an available supply of bags to pick up after dogs; and picking up bird droppings all contribute to better water quality, he said.

Water conservation, a skimmer to pick up debris; cleaning sidewalks with a machine that sucks up the water and debris; waterless urinals; recycling oil, oil filters, batteries; and sharing of pump-out facilities available on a 24-hour basis are other efforts that have made improvements, said Gross.

Water timers and “bubblers’ are used rather than conventional sprinklers to conserve water, while large industrial scrubbers are used to clean areas behind the restaurants, and grease interceptors are used as well.


Singhasemanon said an anti-fouling paint pollution (AFP) statewide study was performed at 23 marinas in three months during the dry season, sampling each three times. Samples were taken halfway down the fairway and docks.

The goal was to assess the geographical distribution and magnitude of copper pollution from anti-fouling paint use in California to facilitate the evaluation of mitigation options by DPR and the Water Boards, he said.

Study objectives included determining occurrences and concentrations of AFP active ingredients (copper, zinc and Irgarol) in water and sediment at a number of marina areas.

The agency wanted to determine if concentrations of AFPs in marinas are significantly higher than those in local reference sites and if there are differences in AFP levels among fresh, brackish and saltwater marshes. Areas in Northern, Central and Southern California, including Marina del Rey, were chosen for samplings.

The results were that Marina del Rey had the highest dissolved copper level at 18 ppb (parts per billion) in the back basins, and two were at 18.4 ppb, he said. Of the 600 samples taken, the top 20 results for higher copper levels were in Marina del Rey, Singhasemanon noted.

The fact that the back basins are not flushed as well, and the use of boat paint in the Marina probably exacerbated the problem, he said.

He added that there is concern regarding anti-fouling paints because they are actually registered as pesticides with his department. More than 200 of these products are registered with the state, and over 90 percent use copper oxide or a copper base, said Singhasemanon.

Tri-butyl tin was banned in the late 1980s, and the use of copper “went through the roof,” he said.

In the late 1990s, in the San Diego Bay Shelter Islands, an issue surfaced with copper in the marinas where it was determined that leaching of paint was occurring.

Water quality regulations — total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) exist — and for Marina del Rey it’s based on sediment content of metals, copper and zinc, he said. Broad investigations were initiated to see if there were larger problems around the state.

Secondary objectives were water quality standards, thresholds, and if guidelines were exceeded, as well as to see if there was a difference inside the marina versus outside. He said they also looked for differences in the anti-fouling paint, and use indicators in freshwater, brackish or salt water, to find out if toxicity was exhibited from these locations.

More than half of the samples from brackish and saltwater marinas were at higher levels than freshwater marinas. “Since Marina del Rey is so large and has a concentration of boats at docks, it’s not surprising the levels were high,” he said.

A risk to aquatic organisms is likely when the water quality standard is exceeded, he noted.

The state board that represents water quality has started to draft marina permits, and Singhasemanon said the project is currently on hold. He is working with that group to find solutions.

The paint manufacturers are being contacted regarding the exceedance of certain limits and the toxicity of the paint, which is also a violation of the state water board’s regulations, he said.

Singhasemanon said it’s easier to work with the manufacturers to resolve these paint issues rather than hitting the marinas. Copper is a pesticide, and if the label instructions are being followed, it’s not illegal, but all of this use does cause concern, he explained.

Information on the National Response Center, (800) 424-8802.

Marina Sheriff Marine Patrol information, (310) 482-6033 (Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Calls for service should go to the main line, (310) 482-6000.