For years, one of the most problematic beaches in terms of water quality has been what South County locals call "Baby Beach." This small Orange County “beach” lies within the backwaters of Dana Point Harbor. It sits behind the jetty, due east of the pier next to the Ocean Institute, in the northeast corner of the harbor.
Given that no waves break upon its shore, it known as a perfect place for very young children to swim. But its gentle waters helped create major problems, as Baby Beach has consistently been rated one of the dirtiest bodies of water in Orange County.
All that changed after Sanford Edward, the owner and developer of The Strand at Headlands, a luxury real estate development near Baby Beach, agreed to construct a regional water quality filtration system. “We knew The Strand at Headlands would improve the quality of life in Dana Point,” Edward said. “We built four public coastal paths to Strand beach, five public parks, an incredible three mile coastal trail system with tremendous ocean views, and a nature center.”
Great additions; and the list goes on, as the bronze Veteran’s Memorial in Strand Vista Park remains an exceedingly popular attraction. Edward noted, however, that “we are most proud of the regional water quality improvements we built.”
There was a lot to improve: Several public and private agencies issue report cards for water quality at beaches throughout the Orange County. For Baby Beach, let’s just say: There were too many F’s and not enough A’s. Remember, not long ago the industry standard for storm water discharge was: The solution to pollution is dilution. Not anymore.
But it took a long time to get it right at Baby Beach. Even the professional engineers were stumped. In a 2009 article, Stormwater magazine reported “over the past several years, Baby beach has been closed more than it has been open.”
The Orange County Register called it one of the area’s “notoriously dirty beaches.” The Los Angeles Times reported “record closures” and “widespread peril.” That changed after Sanford Edward worked with the South Coast Water District to design a state of the art water filtration system for Baby Beach. And soon after the $820,000 facility was built, all the “F” grades turned into “A” grades.
“We knew we were not legally responsible to clean up Baby Beach,” said Edward. “The City Council had no way to require us to clean up the beach. But that’s not how we looked at it. We saw it as an opportunity to be leaders and contribute to the greater good. So we did it.”
A simple, straightforward decision, but expensive. The filters were constructed of huge, concrete box culverts that measure 144 square feet (12’ x12’) that contain an internal filtration system and wastewater treatment components. These huge facilities were lowered into the ground at the Ocean Institute Harbor parking lot, where it could gather 98% of the storm water runoff that enters Baby Beach.
In the winter, the system has a large enough capacity to treat residual pollution from large rain fall. The results have been a win-win for all parties. In an age when environmentalists and builders rarely agree, the environmental group Heal the Bay endorsed the new system. “We support the efforts that have been taken, and we hope this year’s grades will be the start of a long upward trend in water quality,” said Mark Gold, its Executive Director.