Environmental issues are California’s political bread-and-butter. Los Angeles is rightly famous for its smog, though the San Francisco Bay Area is rapidly catching up in this unattractive race. If you’re sensitive to airborne pollution, take special precautions on days that local air quality officials designate “Spare the Air.” These are days, mostly in the summer, when pollution levels are especially high. Stay indoors or, when going out, use public transportation.
Water pollution is also an issue in California; plenty of sensational news stories crucify the state’s drinking water, while others laud it. Most tap water is safe to drink, but swimming in California’s plentiful rivers and ocean requires more caution. Sadly, water pollution from dumping into the ocean affects beach goers. Dirt and pollution are common in the waters and on the beaches of Los Angeles and Orange Counties, while fishing is no longer permitted in the San Francisco Bay due to the long-standing pollution problems and high mercury levels in the bay’s fish.
There are major restrictions on the types of power boats you can launch at Lake Tahoe, due to protections instituted to keep the azure-blue waters of this huge alpine lake pristine. Similar restrictions can also be found for waterways across the state; check the regulations for any lake or river before planning a boating trip.
The good news is that environmental conservation and protection are taken very seriously in California. Recycling, public transit growth, and water cleanup programs proliferate throughout the state. Even as a short-time visitor, you can help California’s efforts to get and stay clean: Use any recycling bins you see on the street; minimize your use of plastic bags; and don’t leave litter on the beach or out in wilderness areas—either throw it away or pack it out with you.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition