When it comes to Aliso Creek, Tex Haines often looks below the water's surface.
Haines, 61, who remembers coming to Aliso Beach Park when he was 6, is concerned about the amount of sand that workers shovel into the ocean to open up the creek's entrance into the Pacific.
Haines, founder of the Victoria Skimboards World Championships of Skimboarding, held every year at Aliso Beach Park, said the ocean's current already takes sand south along the South Laguna coastline where it settles atop tidepools. The shoveling by county workers only adds to the problem, he said.
He said moving the sand from the mouth of the creek can be beneficial to the public's health in the short term by keeping bacteria levels low, but the activity could be doing a lot of harm down the coast.
"Imagine someone bringing a Dumpster to load sand into the ocean," Haines said. "How many cubic yards of sand would that be?"
Haines' concern touches on one of several issues surrounding the Aliso Creek Watershed, a 35-mile area that begins in the Cleveland National Forest and meanders through portions of seven cities and county land before emptying into the ocean at Aliso Beach Park.
Orange County Conservation Corps workers are in the midst of removing 25 acres of arundo, a spiky weed-like, non-native plant along a 3.7-mile stretch of the watershed.
And this week, officials with the County of Orange and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will talk about how to address a creek that is cutting deeper into the hillside.
But it's the sand at the shoreline that has Haines worried.
Shoveling the Shore
"High tide seals the mouth of the creek," Haines said in a phone interview. "Water backs up into a big pool on the beach. As the tide drops, the creek creates a new path in the sand. When the water rushes out [as in a rainstorm] it takes all the sand."
County parks department workers shovel sand to keep the creek mouth clear at the ocean's edge, said Susan Brodeur, county parks' senior coastal engineer.
If the creek backs up, it can flow laterally — parallel to the coastline — north or south, Brodeur said.
"The moving water means better water quality for people using the beach," Brodeur said.
Crews used a bulldozer once so far this year — in April — to move sand aside to clear the mouth of the creek, according to Brodeur.
In addition, workers with shovels clear the creek mouth three times per week at most, she said.
"We have found that these minor shoveling events help keep the creek flowing straight," Brodeur said in a follow-up email. "If it is left for too long, then more intensive labor is required with heavy equipment and a larger crew to move around sand."
Haines would like to see cities take more responsibility for runoff before it heads into Aliso Creek and suggests a rock jetty that would let the stream spread out.
"Put in very low-height rock dams to retain the water and let it back up to a pool so it can be treated by a plant before it heads to the ocean," Haines said.