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Shining the spotlight on Mother Earth

April 17, 2004

Alicia Robinson

Since the first Earth Day was observed in 1970, a variety of

environmental problems have cropped up around the globe. But local

activists said society today is more aware of those problems, and

that's a big step toward finding solutions.

Earth Day is officially observed on Thursday, but local events

will be held today and Sunday as well as next weekend.

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"I think one of the greatest advantages of Earth Day is it creates

a heightened sense of awareness" of environmental issues," said Ken

Kramer, superintendent of Crystal Cove State Park.

Environmentalism has had surges of popularity and shifts of focus,

but the local community's interest in having a clean environment has

grown, activists said.

In the early days of organized environmentalism, activists

targeted point source pollution, which comes from an identifiable

source such as a sewage plant or a factory, said Nancy Gardner,

president of the Newport Beach chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

Neither the activists nor the water regulatory agencies knew what

to do about pollution that was harder to trace, she said.

"When [Surfrider] first started, you'd say something like urban

runoff and you'd get a blank look," Gardner said.

Newport Beach environmentalist Jack Skinner said since he and his

wife got involved in promoting water quality in 1983, people have

began understanding the harm pollutants cause in water.

"There was, at that time, no concern about health effects from

swimming in water contaminated by human waste," Skinner said.

At the time, people were focusing on how contaminants were hurting

organisms that live at the bottom of the sea, but the public at large

didn't see that as relating to them, he said.

When they realized pollution could make people sick when they used

the water, that made them want to do something about it, Skinner

said.

Now, people have made a variety of efforts to improve water

quality as well as other environmental issues, environmentalists

said.

The city of Newport Beach has made an effort to be environmentally

friendly, Assistant City Manager Dave Kiff said, citing the more than

20 natural gas or hybrid vehicles in the city fleet. The city also is

looking at new technologies to treat runoff before it reaches the

ocean, he said.

The public as a whole is also more aware, Kramer said.

"Education is an ongoing effort, but we do see a more

sophisticated and well-versed public here now on environmental

issue," Kramer said. "People seem to get that if you pollute across

the street, it ends up in the ocean, and I don't think it was that

way 20 years ago."

But big challenges still face the Newport-Mesa community and

Orange County, Gardner said, especially in terms of population growth

and people's dependence on cars. But measurable progress has been

made. In some cases, legislation has been passed that forces people

to take better care of the environment.

"I would still say if you look at what we accomplished since the

first Earth Day there's some very strong legislation that wasn't

there before and locally there's some very strong regulations that

control water quality," she said. "It doesn't matter if people get it

or not. They're going to have to go along with it."

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