By Pat Sherman
Workers were busy Monday morning spraying the rocks above La Jolla Cove with a microbial foam city officials believe will digest years of bird guano on the rocks, eliminating a stench that has nauseated Village residents and visitors for more than a year and a half.
Mayor Bob Filner announced on May 28 that the city had hired Blue Eagle Distribution to clean the bird waste from the rocks. At that time workers tested their product in both a liquid and a foam on a section of bird-excrement encruseted cliffs just north of La Jolla Cove — ultimately deciding that the foam was easlier to manage and less susceptible to runoff.
The Blue Eagle product contains seven, lab-cultured microbes that litterally feed on the bird waste, leaving only a chalky substance behind.
“As it goes away, part of the microbe action is it creates CO2 (carbon dioxide) and water, so we want to make sure there’s no runoff whatsoever,” said Blue Eagle’s Lance Rodgers, noting that his workers were monitoring how long it takes the foam to break down, which he said varries based on the sun and wind conditions.
Mayor Filner told the
La Jolla Light
during a brief visit to the site Monday morning that “within hours most of the smell will be gone and people can enjoy lunch again. If any of the nesting birds or seal lions get in the way, (the wokers) will be back in July.”
For about 10 days, workers will spray the rocks, coming about three feet from the edge, the closest allowed per current permits and California Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.
Keith Merkel, a consulting biologist hired by the city to oversee the work, said the remaining, three-foot-wide, guano coated- cliff edge shouldn’t be enough to sustain the stench.
“Odor is a matter of scale,” Merkel said. “If you go out to any shoreline you will smell the sea odors — the kelp rotting and the animals and the bird guano. The idea is to get it to where it smells like the ocean, and not like a septic tank.”
Workers will return at the end of July or early August to reapply the product to the same spots, and also to areas where the cormorants are now nesting, and workers are currently not allowed to spray.
The work was delayed for one week, while Blue Eagle created a batch of product without its trademark blue dye (as requested by the city).
“The contract also required them to go through safety training, working with the lifeguards to make sure they understood (how their) rope rigging worked,” said San Diego Park and Recreation Department spokesperson and Storm Water Department head, Bill Harris.
Harris said the city also spent days taking a biological inventory of the site, “taking notice of what the birds’ nesting patterns were."
Several hours into the job on Monday, Harris said the work was going well.
“We pledged not to disturb the animals,” he said. “You’re not seeing the gulls fly up and out of their nests.; you’re not hearing a lot of noise from the sea lions. They’d be upset if we were getting too close.”
Because there was almost no runoff produced by Monday’s first foam application, Harris said workers were able to apply more of the product than they had initially planned.
“It went on thick, it settled, it stayed in place and it really started to do what it was supposed to do,” Harris said. “Not only are they spreading it out, maybe getting it into a few more areas 'cause they’re not disturbing the birds as much, but they’re putting a little bit more on top of what they’ve already put it down.”
Merkel said work would cease during rain, high tides or strong winds.
“If we anticipated rain we wouldn’t work at that time because of the concern of having the material wash off before it actually had any benefit, and ultimately being a discharge,” he said, noting that the greatest share of the work would be done early in the morning, when there is less wind.
“The biggest risk that we have have in that siutation is the sea lions moving higher up on the rocks, being more of an impediment.”