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Heal the Bay Blog

Author: Annelisa Moe

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board chose to delay clean water progress last February by extending the deadlines polluters have to reduce their stormwater pollution, up to 6.5 years in some cases. Their decision allows the continued discharge of pollutants from across LA to drain through our communities and into the Pacific Ocean.


UPDATE: During the February hearing on TMDL deadline extensions, the LA Regional Water Board voted to approve extensions for nine TMDLs ranging from 1.5-6.5 years, allowing for the continued discharge of pollutants from across LA to drain through our communities and into the Pacific Ocean. But this decision must be approved by the State Water Resources Control Board before it is made official.

The State Board will be discussing and voting on this issue at 1:00 PM on Tuesday 9/21. Learn how you can participate in this critical meeting, or email our Water Quality Scientist Annelisa Moe if you have a statement that you would like read into the record on your behalf.

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On March 11, the LA Regional Water Board voted to extend nine water quality deadlines, which were set decades ago to improve water quality and protect the health of our communities and our ecosystems. This sends a dangerous message that it is ok to continue contaminating our neighborhoods, rivers, and ocean even after long-standing deadlines have passed us by.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 protects our rivers and oceans by limiting the amount of pollution that can be discharged into them. Under the Clean Water Act, a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) refers to the maximum amount of pollution that a waterbody can handle before people get sick or aquatic life is harmed. Environmental groups fought hard to make the Regional Water Boards start paying attention to TMDLs starting in the 1990s. 

There are 59 TMDLs in the Los Angeles Region for various contaminants (trash, bacteria, etc) polluting our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. Some have deadlines as late as 2038, so there is still time to meet those limits. Others are due this year, and some have already passed. These TMDL deadlines were set decades ago with lengthy timelines that gave dischargers (called “permittees”) many years, in some cases nearly 20 years, to achieve these pollution limits. The deadlines were developed through extensive negotiations with all stakeholders. Heal the Bay and concerned community members from all over the County showed up at Regional Water Board hearings to demand pollution limits and clean water. At that time, we celebrated these TMDLs and believed our regulators would finally hold polluters accountable for meeting them.

Unfortunately, permittees are far behind schedule in reducing polluted discharges, as Heal the Bay reported back in 2019 in our Stormwater Report. Last year, the LA Regional Water Board confirmed this trend of very slow progress, reporting that only 6.6% of required pollution reduction projects were completed in the areas that received deadline extensions. The lack of measurability and accountability within the Stormwater Permit allowed this slow progress to go unnoticed for years. When it was finally daylighted, the LA Regional Water Board did nothing to correct it. 

As a result, there are several TMDLs with imminent deadlines that will not be met, and others that are well past due. Because of the extremely slow progress over the last 20 years, permittees are complaining that these ~20-year deadlines are now unrealistic, and have requested 10+ years of extra time! It seems they feel no urgency to clean up our community’s waterways.

Meanwhile, water quality suffers. You can see that by checking California’s List of Impaired Waters, where 208 waterbodies in the LA Region are listed as polluted by multiple contaminants. You can see it in UCLA’s 2019 Water Report Card, which assigned LA surface waters a dismal grade of D/Incomplete. You can see it in Heal the Bay’s River Report Card when bacteria still plagues our rivers even during dry weather, and in our Beach Report Card when grades across the board plummet during wet weather. There are other reports that tell a similar story, and we have yet to see any report that tells a different one. LA’s water is contaminated, stormwater is the primary source of that pollution, and no one is being held accountable for cleaning it up.

The recent hearing on TMDL deadline extensions was contentious. After much discussion, three of the seven Board Members voted to provide the 10 year extensions requested by permittees. But the majority of Board Members favored shorter extensions, and spoke powerfully in favor of clean water protection and environmental justice. In the end, they voted to approve extensions for nine TMDLs ranging from 1.5-6.5 years, rather than 10 or more years. While any extension delays progress towards achieving clean water, shorter extensions at least reign in further delays to achieving clean water.

Four of the Board Members also asked for better accountability from permittees, so we don’t end up right back here two decades from now, with poor water quality, wishing more had been done. Clear accountability can only be achieved through a strong Stormwater Permit. Unfortunately, our analysis of the Stormwater Permit clearly shows that the kind of accountability requested by the Board Members does not currently exist. 

One bright spot: the Stormwater Permit is up for renewal later this year, meaning we have a chance to make it better. We are asking Regional Water Board staff and Board Members to support clear, numeric pollution limits so we can hold permittees accountable to actually meet the new deadlines, because everyone in LA County deserves safe, clean water. 

Together we can Take LA By Storm to demand clear, measurable, and enforceable goals in the 2021 MS4 Permit. Sign up for emails to stay informed of the process and how you can take part!

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The Los Angeles Regional Board has neglected their mission – to protect and enhance our water resources – by making polluting easier for dischargers rather than requiring action. The job of holding polluters accountable will once again fall on us.

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The discharge of polluted stormwater in Los Angeles is regulated by the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board through the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit. The Regional Board had an opportunity this month to improve the MS4 Permit during its decadal update, but in a disappointing decision the Board instead greenlit the continued degradation of waterbodies in our communities by adopting a MS4 Permit with the same loopholes as the ineffective 2012 Permit. This decision continues a pattern of insufficient accountability for stormwater dischargers and will only further delay progress, resulting in stagnant or even declining surface water quality. 

Permittees asked for a weaker permit with fewer requirements and a longer timeframe

The four-day hearing (see our Twitter updates) began with testimony from public officials who once again lamented their limited access to competitive funding sources for stormwater projects. Elected officials represent cities, which are permittees under the MS4 Permit. They are not community voices – they are the voice of the dischargers asking for a weaker permit with fewer requirements and a longer timeframe. 

We understand that completing projects is difficult, particularly for cities with smaller budgets. However, the MS4 Permit has been around for 30 years, and we have yet to see a significant reduction in stormwater pollution. We cannot afford to wait another 30 years before we start to see improvements. Luckily, there are funding opportunities available right now through localstate, and even federal programs. Additional resources include opportunities for collaboration between the cities, supplemental work from non-profits and community groups looking to build projects in their neighborhoods, support from Regional Board staff, and information from LA County’s WHAM Taskforce and Watershed Coordinators who are all assigned to identify and leverage funding sources.  

Most importantly, the benefits of compliance far outweigh the costs. Achieving clean water is not just a respectable goal, but a federally mandated law to protect communities and ecosystems from polluted water. Unfortunately, water quality has stagnated, even gotten worse in some areas, as our City and County governments have fallen behind schedule. Yet, there are no penalties for their inaction. 

Members of the public asked for clean water, better regulation, and more transparency

The Board also heard from dozens of community members asking for clean water, better regulation of stormwater pollution, and more transparency in the regulatory process. We heard from Eva Pagaling, whose tribes (Samala Chumash and Yakama) have historically gathered materials, medicines, and food in the Santa Clara River watershed and coastline. Eva reminded us that these tribes shoulder the burden of MS4 pollution, and urged the Regional Board to hold accountable those responsible for polluted discharges. We heard from Itzel Flores Castillo Wang, a community member and organizer from Boyle Heights in East LA, supporting a transparent permit that holds permittees accountable to implement multi-benefit and nature-based projects where they are needed most. We heard from so many folks demanding action now, in the form of a SMMART Permit that holds polluters accountable and that allows the public to follow progress and engage in the process. 

Heal the Bay gave a presentation alongside partners at LA Waterkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council outlining the strengths and flaws of the proposed 2021 Regional MS4 Permit. We supported the watershed approach because water flows throughout watershed boundaries; therefore, the approach to reducing pollution must be watershed-wide without stopping at city limits. The optional watershed management program within the permit framework allows for that watershed approach. However, we did not support the “deemed in compliance” language (also known as the “safe harbor”), which shields polluters from enforcement. A SMMART permit can invest in our communities through multi-benefit projects, but only if it is actionable, with enforceable deadlines so that those benefits can become a reality in our communities and not just a hope for the future. 

“The small list of projects presented by permittees are happening because there are TMDLs with deadlines and consequences built in. There is no justification for maintaining the safe harbors in this permit. Board staff has already allowed plenty of flexibility…” – Dr. Shelley Luce. 

The Water Board is supposed to preserve and enhance water quality for present and future generations; instead, they chose to excuse permittees, once again, for their lack of action. 

The Regional Board voted to allow continued degradation of our waterways

As final deliberations began on July 23, it became apparent that Board members were more concerned about the complaints of the permittees than about the demands of community members. Some Board members went even further to bow to dischargers by proposing motions to extend deadlines (which thankfully failed, but with a narrow 4-3 vote against) and completely remove numeric water quality requirements (which failed with a 5-2 vote against). Finally, the Board voted to approve a 2021 Regional MS4 Permit that includes the same safe harbors that made the 2012 MS4 Permit so ineffective, even after dozens of community members asked them directly for clean water and more accountability. 

Some improvements were made to increase transparency, including a final direction to Regional Board staff to create a single online portal for all annual reports; however, without even the possibility of enforcement by the Board, there is no accountability for polluters. 

It is up to all of us to Take LA by Storm and push for progress together

One board member claimed that “the safe harbors are an expression of trust and confidence in permittees.” But knowing the permittee’s record of inaction, we do not share that trust. By keeping the safe harbors, the Board has effectively decided not to enforce this critical permit. So now, the job of holding permittees accountable will once again fall on us, the concerned residents and nonprofit groups of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. We can take inspiration from Margaret Mead and know that, together, our actions can make a difference. 

Sign up to Take LA by Storm to receive updates as the permittees submit their semi-annual reports. We will continue to search for ways to hold polluters accountable while we track progress. If implementation continues to lag, we will demand action together. 

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Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist, Annelisa Moe, shares how we can save a precious water resource, hold polluters accountable, and stay updated on all things stormwater.

Each year, Los Angeles County wastes 100 billion gallons of stormwater as it flows through our streets, into our rivers, and out to the ocean.  But it gets worse. The pollution that is swept up by this stormwater contaminates our waterways, floods our neighborhoods, and even exacerbates the negative effects of climate change: worsening ocean acidification and triggering new growth of harmful algal blooms.

As we look to the future, we can turn this hazard into a resource by capturing, cleaning, and reusing local stormwater. Properly rebuilding our stormwater infrastructure will protect the environment from stormwater pollution while also providing an affordable water supply, equitably stimulating our economy, and creating healthier communities that are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

In order to ensure that we responsibly recycle stormwater across Los Angeles County, we need a carrot-and-stick approach. The carrot: an incentive for those who discharge polluted water to take action against their pollution. The stick: accountability for dischargers who continue to contaminate our environment with polluted stormwater.

THE CARROT: Measure W

Los Angeles County voters already gave dischargers their carrot when they passed the Safe, Clean Water Program (Measure W) back in 2018. The measure provides a dedicated and reliable source of funding to build the kinds of projects that capture, clean, and reuse stormwater.

THE STICK: The MS4 Permit

The discharge of polluted stormwater is regulated by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board through the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit. Cities and counties are permittees under an MS4 Permit and are each responsible for their polluted stormwater runoff.

The LA County MS4 Permit has been around since 1990, and yet stormwater is still a major source of pollution in LA’s waterways. The last update to the permit occurred in 2012 and, to our dismay, the Los Angeles Regional Board voted to approve a 2012 MS4 Permit that was nearly impossible to enforce. Because of this lack of accountability, permittees are woefully behind schedule to meet federal Clean Water Act requirements.

The MS4 Permit is up for renewal again this year, which provides an opportunity to advocate for a strong permit that has simple and straightforward requirements, measurable goals with transparent reporting, and enforceable deadlines. This type of simple, measurable, and enforceable permit is more accessible to all stakeholders, including members of the public. It ensures everyone knows what needs to be done and informs people how quickly progress is being made towards achieving water quality goals. A strong MS4 Permit holds permittees accountable to their requirement to reduce stormwater pollution.MS4

LET’S TAKE LA BY STORM

2020 is our year to fight for justice and for the protection of public health. A strong MS4 Permit can help to ensure that our tax dollars are immediately put to good use to equitably invest in our communities and in our water future.

We need more community representation as this new MS4 Permit is finalized so that the terms of the permit are not decided solely by its permittees, but rather by all stakeholders, including YOU, who deserve a healthy environment with access to safe and clean water. The draft permit is expected to be released in mid-August 2020, followed by public workshops and a 60-day public comment period. This is our chance to advocate for a strong permit that holds permittees accountable so we can finally reduce stormwater pollution.

Join Heal the Bay to Take LA By Storm and demand a strong MS4 Permit!

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You will receive:

  • MS4 Permit information
  • Public workshop notifications
  • Public comment opportunities
  • Instructions and guidance for submitting public comment
  • And more!

 



Annelisa Moe, our Water Quality Scientist, explains the potential of LA’s rainfall, and how every individual can take part in voicing which stormwater capture projects should get Measure W funding.

Like all those across the country who can, I have been practicing responsible physical distancing and staying #SaferAtHome, only leaving the house to buy food or go for a walk. It is getting hot now, but throughout March there were days when I had to carefully time my neighborhood walks to avoid getting caught in the rain – something I am not used to having to do here in sunny Los Angeles.

Although we experienced a very dry winter this year, we have also gotten an unusually wet spring. In fact, we got 4.35 inches of rain in March alone, far exceeding the historical average for that month. But let’s be honest, when it comes to rainfall in LA, “average” does not happen all that often. In 2017, we received only 5 inches of rain. In 2018, we got a whopping 19 inches of rain. And in the 5 years that I have lived in LA, I have been caught off guard by more than one mid-summer downpour.

That’s why this is the time – right now – to figure out how to capture, clean, and reuse more of our stormwater, even from the most unexpected showers, so that we can prepare for a warmer and drier future with a dwindling snowpack.

Stormwater is the number one source of pollution in our rivers, lakes, and ocean. But it could instead become a new source of water for beneficial use. We now have the opportunity to fund new multi-benefit and nature-based stormwater capture projects because LA County voters approved The Safe, Clean Water Program (Measure W) back in 2018. Dozens of projects were proposed across Los Angeles County, 53 of which qualify for funding through the Safe, Clean Water Program this year! Funding and completion of the best of these projects – the ones that truly exemplify the goals of the Safe, Clean Water Program – will improve water quality at beaches and in rivers to protect public health, and green our communities and promote local water to make LA County more resilient to climate change.


Safe Clean Water Program GIS Reference Map. Each Watershed Area is shown in its own unique color. The colored dots represent all of the projects that applied for Safe, Clean Water Program funding this year. Explore the interactive map for more information.

As members of the nine Watershed Area Steering Committees (WASCs) decide which projects to fund, they must consider the commitments made to the greater LA community under this Program, including the goals to improve water quality, prioritize nature-based solutions, foster community engagement, ensure the equitable distribution of funds, and provide local quality jobs.

Fifty-three stormwater capture projects to choose from for Measure W funding! 

OurWaterLA, a diverse coalition working to reinvest in our water future, believes that the following projects best exemplify the goals of the Safe, Clean Water Program, out of the 53 proposed:

In response to COVID-19, WASCs will now convene through virtual online meetings, which are open to the public. The nine WASCs will be making their final decisions on which projects to fund starting Tuesday, April 28, and continuing through May. These funding decisions must be made with consideration given to community input. OurWaterLA will be advocating for the projects listed above, and providing additional input on other proposed projects.

Join Heal the Bay and OurWaterLA to become a Water Warrior:

Search your address to find out which WASC area is yours. Click on your WASC link below to learn all about your watershed area and your committee representatives, and then scroll down to sign up for e-mail updates. You can also check out the OurWaterLA Events calendar to see upcoming committee meeting dates, and find links to join your virtual online meeting.

Take a look at the PowerPoint presentations for the projects proposed in your WASC area, and contact your WASC representatives about which projects you would like to see funded this year.

Check out OurWaterLA Water Leader Resources. Don’t forget to share these electronic resources with your community. We may be physically distancing right now, but we can band together online and in spirit to secure our water future!

Contact Annelisa at Heal the Bay with any questions, or to learn more about how to get involved.


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In part two of this two-part blog post, our Heal the Bay team dives into the causes and impacts of climate change. Check out part one.

Why is it critical for us to make a strong commitment to climate action now? Well, to start, we are emitting 152 million tons of green-house-gas (GHG) pollution into our atmosphere every single day. Oceans have been our buffer for decades, absorbing much of this air pollution and heat, not to mention all of the stormwater pollution, plastic, and other contaminants that end up washing out to the coast.

Our persistent and destructive actions have altered the oceans’ natural processes. Absorption of GHGs has changed the pH of our oceans causing ocean acidification, which negatively impacts the entire marine ecosystem. Rising ocean temperatures affect ocean circulation, which not only prevents efficient transport of nutrients but also makes it harder for the ocean to continue to naturally absorb our GHGs. 

As we continue to dump pollution into our environment, we have begun to feel the impacts of this climate crisis here on dry land, as well, with longer droughts, more intense storms, erosion along our shorelines from sea level rise, air pollution, more devastating fire seasons, and an increase in record breaking temperatures contributing to the impact of widespread heat islands (urban areas that are much hotter than their rural or natural surroundings because of human activity). As a result, we are facing heat and flood related deaths, food shortages, and an increased spread of disease. 

Professor Hugh Montgomery acknowledged climate change as a medical emergency back in June 2015, but the fact is we have been experiencing a climate induced emergency worldwide for decades. We are all impacted by climate change; however, the burden of these negative impacts is not distributed equally across communities. 

A history of racially discriminatory land and environmental policies has caused an unjust and disproportionate impact on overburdened communities. We are seeing this disparity in the current pandemic and it continues to be felt in the climate crisis.

Low-income communities of color have significantly less access to parks and green space, which exacerbates the heat island effect. And despite the fact that higher-income households have a larger carbon footprint, the highest concentration of oil wells in Los Angeles are in low-income neighborhoods whose residents face higher rates of health-related problems as a result. These disproportionate and location-specific rates of health-related problems like asthma and upper respiratory illness are direct consequences of systemic environmental racism, and the reason low-income communities of color are at a higher risk to contract and die from COVID-19. To amplify this burden, the same communities also bear significant socioeconomic impacts as a result of the response to this pandemic.  

Additionally, a lack of community representation in local government and decision-making processes makes adequate access to resources to prepare for and combat the impacts of climate change even more difficult. The compounding social, economic, and environmental impacts of climate change make just, sustainable, and immediate climate action vital. 

How is Heal the Bay Fighting for Systemic Climate Action?

In addition to calling for individual actions, Heal the Bay is taking our own climate action now by demanding systemic changes. 

We push for climate resilient policies within local city and county offices as well as many state agencies like the State Water Resources Control Board, the Fish and Game Commission, the Coastal Commission, and the Ocean Protection Council. We track the activities of each agency so that we can advocate for science-based climate actions such as creating sustainability plans, setting aggressive goals to address ocean acidification and deoxygenation, and approving a strong MS4 Permit to reduce the pollution that exacerbates those issues.

We also advocate for the restoration of our ecosystems that have the ability to buffer against climate change by sequestering carbon, reducing the heat island effect, and protecting us from flooding. Our work on Los Angeles River ecological health, Ballona Wetlands restoration, and Marine Protected Areas all serve to create healthy watersheds and a thriving ocean, natural climate buffers, and important natural resources on which we depend.

In addition, we engage in programs to implement environmentally friendly and sustainable projects like wastewater recycling and stormwater capture that provide multiple benefits (improving our water quality, increasing our water supply, restoring our watersheds, etc.). These projects not only help us prepare for the impacts of the climate crisis, but they also restore natural processes that can help us to fight climate change. In addition, we actively oppose expensive and environmentally harmful projects like ocean water desalination, so we can put our limited resources toward more sustainable multi-benefit projects.

And we work to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels by forcefully opposing offshore drilling in the Santa Monica Bay and in neighborhoods, negotiating with the City of LA for a just transition to renewable energy, and banning single-use plastic (a product of fossil fuel).

Of course, the greatest asset we have is YOU: people who read our blogs, people who volunteer at cleanups, people who come by our table at public events or visit Heal the Bay Aquarium, people who invite us to speak at schools and events, people who take the time to learn and then share their knowledge with others.

To overcome the climate crisis in a way that is just and sustainable, we need both individual action and systemic change. But, most importantly, we all must acknowledge how injustices in our communities affect the impact of, and our responses to, climate change in order to create a resilient future for all.



In part one of this two-part blog post, our Heal the Bay team encourages you to take climate action on Earth Day and every day. Check out part two.

We have all been impacted by COVID-19. Thousands have lost their lives and millions more have lost their livelihoods. During these devastating times, something has happened that many thought wasn’t possible: coordinated collective action around the world to defeat a common threat. As we tackle the climate crisis, we want to carry over that same momentum of collective action, while ensuring that health and safety does not come at the cost of frontline communities.

As we continue to band together to save lives through our individual actions across state lines and international borders—physically distancing ourselves and wearing protective gear to slow the spread of COVID-19—we must also make a commitment to take climate action.

Greenhouse gas emissions by humans have thrown Earth’s natural processes off track, causing longer droughts, more intense storms, sea level rise, air pollution, hotter temperatures, devastating fire seasons, and more. Underserved communities bear the brunt of these negative impacts, which are now linked to higher COVID-19 death rates

Heal the Bay has committed to taking climate action by educating thousands of volunteers about the climate crisis, advocating for climate resilient policies, and engaging in the restoration of our ecosystems (natural climate buffers). Can you make the commitment too? Here is how you can take the climate challenge to lower your carbon footprint and advocate for the systemic changes necessary to tackle the climate crisis.

Take the Climate Challenge

Just as our personal actions during the ongoing COVID-19 response have helped flatten the curve, so too could our individual actions help slow down the onslaught of the climate crisis. However, wider systemic changes are also required to make the sweeping revolution our planet needs. And you have an important role in that transformation, too! 

The current pandemic places limitations on what we can do. It is a privilege to have the time, energy, and financial resources to make environmentally conscious choices and take action against climate change. Yet for many communities the decision to take climate action now or later can mean the difference between life and death. 

So let’s do our best to get creative and be intentional with our actions and resources. Whether you have money, time, creativity, passion, or something else entirely your own, we all have a unique contribution to make in the fight against climate change. Start by picking one action you can take today to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Use #fightclimatechangefromhome and let us know how you are fighting climate change for Earth Day!

Don’t stop there! Consider the skills, experiences, and resources you have to offer and create a personal list of climate actions. And because every day is Earth Day, take this list with you and do what you can when you can with what you have. 

Here are some ideas to get started…

Where We Live

  • Pick up trash around your neighborhood 
  • Ditch single-use plastic and switch to reusables at home
  • Remove any hardscape or lawn on your property and replace it with a vegetable garden or drought tolerant native vegetation 
  • Start or join a community garden
  • Sign up for Green Power or install solar panels
  • Reduce your energy needs 
    • Turn off lights, unplug unused electronics, and swap out old lights with LEDs (once the bulbs burn out)
    • Bring in a professional to insulate your home, or find simple swaps around the house like adding thick curtains around your windows  
    • Set your thermostat for maximum energy savings, or regulate temperature without a thermostat by opening/closing windows and using those thick curtains
    • Wash clothes in cold water, and hang dry rather than using the dryer
  • Decrease your water usage

How We Commute

  • Telecommute if it is an option
  • Choose public transportation
  • Walk or skateboard for shorter distances
  • Ride a bicycle
  • If you must drive
    • Carpool
    • Invest in a hybrid or electric vehicle
    • Use car sharing services with electric vehicles
    • Make sure your vehicle is in tip top shape for optimal efficiency (secure gas cap, inflate tires, etc.)

What We Eat

What We Learn

How We Vote

  • Vote in local, statewide and national elections!
  • Support just and equitable environmental policies in support of:  
    • Climate resiliency
    • A tax on carbon
    • The end of fossil fuels
    • Regenerative agriculture
    • Renewable energy
    • A reduction in plastic waste
  • Be an advocate
    • Attend local City Council meetings and town halls
    • Send a letter to your local representatives so they know climate action is important to you
    • Participate in public demonstrations and rallies
    • Sign petitions
    • Give public comments
    • Take part in the Census 2020
    • Create climate inspired art and share it with the world
  • Join existing efforts by Heal the Bay and partner groups to demand climate action now 

We hope you are feeling inspired to take climate action today. Take a deeper look at the climate crisis and see how Heal the Bay is pushing for systemic changes in California.

And while many of our usual activities have been put on hold until the threat of COVID-19 has subsided, we are still here with new virtual presentations, online events, blogs, and much more to help keep you informed and engaged.



Sign Petition

On March 26, in response to lobbying from the oil and gas industry, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced rollbacks on enforcement of regulations during the COVID-19 response. These rollbacks put public health at risk by letting industries off the hook for their legal requirements to control their pollution. Communities that are already disproportionately burdened by pollution, including the unsheltered and low-income communities of color, are the ones who will be hit hardest. The government’s response to a pandemic should not upend its commitment to address other, longstanding threats to public health.

It is clear that COVID-19 is having major impacts on all sectors, from individuals to small mom-and-pop businesses to large factories. There may be cases when a relaxation in requirements is acceptable to help those businesses, but to cease oversight altogether is not the answer. Blanket exemptions cannot be tolerated, because doing so puts people’s health further at risk, particularly those who are most vulnerable and most likely to be impacted by COVID-19. Any regulatory flexibility must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Now is not the time for blanket rollbacks of environmental regulations. The administration’s recent actions to rollback regulations on car fuel standards as well as water and air pollution are unconscionable and only take advantage of this terrible pandemic at the expense of public health.

What do the EPA rollbacks mean?

We have seen dozens of piecemeal rollbacks during this current administration. Now the EPA has released a memorandum announcing across-the-board rollbacks on enforcement of regulations that protect public health and natural resources, including clean water. It applies to any facility regulated by the EPA including private industries that discharge polluted water, as well as essential services including drinking water or wastewater treatment facilities.

The memorandum states that COVID-19 “may affect the ability of an operation to meet enforceable limitations on air emissions and water discharges, requirements for the management of hazardous waste, or requirements to ensure and provide safe drinking water.” The memorandum encourages facilities to report instances of non-compliance that may create an acute risk to human health or the environment. But encouragement is not enough – these occurrences must be reported immediately and publicly so that people are aware of the increased risks to their health.

Additionally, the EPA will no longer penalize violations of routine monitoring and other obligations. Monitoring and record keeping are fundamental to addressing pollution – knowing which contaminants (and how much) are discharged into our waterways allows us to prioritize public health issues and demand plans to address the pollution.

Here in California, state laws like the Porter-Cologne Act protect public health and the environment by creating a strong backstop to prevent environmental rollbacks; however, this federal non-compliance policy creates enormous pressure for state agencies to follow suit.

The California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) announced back on March 20 that the “timely compliance by the regulated community with all Water Board orders and other requirements… is generally considered to be an essential function during the COVID-19 response.” However, they are reviewing requests to roll back protective measures related to water here in California, on a case-by-case basis. We are counting on the State Water Board to uphold environmental and public health protections, and provide leniency only when it is in the public interest.

What are people doing about these rollbacks?

As we all know, WATER IS LIFE. Particularly now, as we respond to COVID-19, we must ensure reliable access to safe and clean water, to protect the health of people and the natural resources on which we depend. Therefore, advocacy groups across the country have been fighting these rollbacks since they were first announced.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and a coalition of environmental justice, climate justice, and public interest advocacy groups filed a Petition for Emergency Rulemaking in response to this reckless non-enforcement policy, stating that any facility that stops monitoring and reporting their pollution must notify the EPA, to be publicly posted within one day.

Dozens of California based environmental groups (including Heal the Bay) sent a letter to Governor Newsom and many other state officials, urging them to remain committed to prioritizing public health and the availability of safe and clean water for all Californians.

Heal the Bay is urging the EPA and the State Water Board to uphold environmental regulations that protect public and environmental health, and to give leniency only when it is truly necessary and does not jeopardize public health. We also demand transparency so that any requests approved by the State Water Board are publicly noticed so the public can protect themselves and groups like Heal the Bay can continue to watchdog the decision-making process.

How you can help!

Sign Heal the Bay’s petition to tell our State Water Board to:

  • uphold environmental regulations to protect public and environmental health,
  • only give leniency when it is necessary and does not jeopardize public health, and
  • ensure transparency so the public can know when any leniency is given.

Join the Center for Biological Diversity to fight the federal rollback by sending in your own comment letter directly to Andrew Wheeler (The Administrator of the EPA), or submit a letter to the editor of your local paper.

 

Sign Petition

 



Winter rains in Los Angeles County flush an enormous amount of pollution into our storm drains from our streets, sidewalks, and neighborhoods. Where does this pollution end up? Who is responsible for monitoring and regulating it? And what’s next in the efforts to reduce it? Join Annelisa Moe, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, as she dives into the underworld of LA rain.


So, we know that stormwater is a huge source of pollution for LA’s rivers, lakes, and ocean. But have you ever wondered why? Or wondered how we track and manage this pollution? Well, let’s get into it…

In Los Angeles County, we have a storm drain system and a sewage system which are completely separate. The storm drain system is called the municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4). Separating these systems reduces the risk of sewage spills when storms might flood our sewage system, and attempts to get stormwater out of our streets before they flood. However, this separated system is also the reason why stormwater flows directly into our rivers, lakes, and ocean without being filtered or treated, leading to serious water quality issues throughout LA County that threaten public and environmental health.

Two main types of water flows through the storm drain system: (1) Stormwater, which is rainwater that cannot infiltrate into the ground naturally and instead builds up as it flows over the ground surface, and (2) dry weather runoff, which originates when it is not raining through activities such as overwatering lawns, or washing cars.

Water quality is much worse within 72 hours of a significant rain event in LA County. Last year alone, rain in our region accounted for almost 200 billion gallons of stormwater flushing through our storm drain system and into local bodies of water.

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Under the Federal Clean Water Act, anyone who discharges water is required to limit the concentration of pollution in that water. This requirement is regulated under a permit to discharge water. The discharge of polluted stormwater and dry weather runoff through the storm drain system is regulated by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board through an MS4 Permit. Cities and counties are permittees under an MS4 Permit, and are each responsible for their polluted stormwater and dry weather runoff.

The LA County MS4 Permit has been around since 1990, but in 2012 water quality had not improved much at all since then. The last update to the permit occurred in 2012, and, to our dismay, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board unanimously voted to approve a 2012 MS4 Permit that was even worse than before – essentially setting up a scheme of self-regulation (meaning no regulation).

By no longer forcing cities that discharge millions of gallons of runoff into the storm drain system to adhere to strict numeric pollution limits, the Board took a giant step backward in protecting water quality throughout Southern California.

Under the 2012 rules, cities just had to submit a plan for reducing stormwater pollution (called a Watershed Management Plan) to the Board and have it approved to be in compliance, rather than having to actually demonstrate they are not exceeding specific thresholds for specific pollutants, such as copper or E. coli bacteria. These plans allow each permittee to choose the types of projects to build, and the timeline on which to build them. But these plans are adjusted each year, continuously drawing out implementation, and they do not include any clear way to determine if the permittee is making good progress.

We knew that this would slow progress even more, leaving stormwater pollution unchecked at the expense of public safety and aquatic health. Seven years later, we have the numbers to prove it.

In the next few weeks, Heal the Bay will be releasing a new report assessing the progress toward managing stormwater pollution in Los Angeles County, and how we can fix the permit when it is renewed in early 2020.

In the meantime, we encourage you to safely document photos and videos of trashed waterways and beaches, clogged storm drains, and stormwater pollution in LA County after it rains. Remember, safety first! Proceed with caution, observe all posted signs, and watch out for heavy flowing water. If you do snag a good image, please tag your location, #LArain, @healthebay and #healthebay. You can also tag relevant government officials to help raise awareness.



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Image from safecleanwaterla.org

Appointed community representatives are meeting to determine the first slate of stormwater projects in LA County that will receive funding from Measure W. Annelisa Moe, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, shares how you can get involved in the decision-making process.

 

“I can’t believe it’s raining!” 

I heard a man exclaim this as I left Rock N Pies last winter, exiting the pizzeria and walking into a downpour that turned into the first significant rain event of the year.  

I know, it seems like it never rains in Los Angeles. But, it does! In fact, 18.8 inches of rain fell over Los Angeles County last year. This equates to almost 200 billion gallons of stormwater.

Where does the rain go? It flows through our streets, into our waterways and out to the ocean, picking up pollutants along the way that pose serious risks to public and environmental health. If we had captured and treated this stormwater for reuse, we could have protected our freshwater and ocean from the number one source of pollution (stormwater runoff), AND captured enough new water supply to meet the needs of up to 7 million residents of LA County this year.

Our current stormwater system, designed to move water from where we live to the ocean as quickly as possible, was built over 100 years ago. Los Angeles County made history in November 2018 when voters overwhelmingly approved Measure W (the Safe, Clean Water Program) to revamp this outdated stormwater system so that we can capture, clean and reuse this stormwater instead! 

In July, the Safe, Clean Water Program moved forward with a unanimous vote by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to approve the Safe, Clean Water Program’s Implementation Ordinance, and appoint 107 members to the Watershed Area Steering Committees (WASCs) and the Regional Oversight Committee (ROC). Shelley Luce, our CEO, will be serving on the ROC to review funding decisions across the County. 

Now that we will have nearly $300 million each year for stormwater projects, we need to figure out how to spend it.

Stormwater project applications will be accepted through December 2019, and then WASCs will decide which projects to fund by March of 2020. Each year, a new set of projects will be selected for Measure W funding. 

 

The stormwater project funding decisions must be made with consideration given to community input. Here’s how you can get involved:

  • BE AN ADVOCATE
    First, search your address to find out which WASC area you are in. Then, contact your WASC representatives to let them know what kinds of projects you would like to see in your area. 
  • ATTEND CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS
    Use the Public Comment period to ask your City Council to use municipal funds for nature-based and multi-benefit projects.
  • STAY IN THE KNOW
    Sign up to get updates from the county at the bottom of their website.

 

What kinds of projects will the WASCs have to choose from? 

We won’t know for sure until we see who applies this year, but there is a wide variety of projects that can address stormwater pollution. 

GREEN PROJECTS: Purely Nature-Based

Nature-based projects use soil and vegetation to allow stormwater to naturally infiltrate into the groundwater, filtering out contaminants and storing the water for later use. Nature-based projects also provide significant additional community benefits, including improvements in air quality and community health, climate resiliency and much more. 

Examples of nature-based projects include creating and restoring natural space with wetlands, rain gardens, green streets and bioswales. We can enhance these natural systems by simply planting a variety of native plants and improving soil quality through composting and mulching. 

GREY-GREEN PROJECTS: Nature-Based Solutions with Human-Made Structures

Some projects incorporate these nature-based solutions along with human-made structures to augment natural processes. Examples include parks with pretreatment infrastructure to clean water before it percolates into the ground or gets stored for later use, and infiltration galleries or dry wells built underneath natural spaces, like parks, to increase infiltration. 

GREY PROJECTS: Strictly Human-Made

The final category is purely human-made grey infrastructure, such as diverting stormwater to a wastewater treatment facility, or infiltration galleries and dry wells installed below paved surfaces such as airports, with no above ground natural features. While these projects can improve water quality, they do not provide the same community investments and benefits discussed above that you get from nature-based projects.  

View Map of  Stormwater Projects in LA County

Visit ourwaterla.org and follow the coalition on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to see the latest updates on the Safe, Clean Water Program.

View more info En Español.

 



Prioritizing water quality, nature-based solutions, sustained community engagement, equity, and good local jobs!

Los Angeles County made history last November when voters overwhelmingly approved Measure W (the Safe, Clean Water Program) to revamp our outdated stormwater system! And this vote did not come a moment too soon. In the 2018-2019 rain season, 18.8 inches of rain fell over Los Angeles County. This equates to almost 200 billion gallons of stormwater flowing through our streets, into our waterways and out to the ocean, picking up pollutants along the way that pose serious risks to public and environmental health. We can no longer stand to let stormwater pollute our waters, and we can no longer afford to let good rain years go to waste.

There is good news: Thanks to LA County voters, we now have the Safe, Clean Water Program to fund stormwater projects throughout our region to capture, clean, and reuse this water resource! Heal the Bay (a core team member of the OurWaterLA Coalition), along with our dedicated members and volunteers, played a huge roll in this victory vote in November 2018. Since then, OurWaterLA has continued to work closely with County staff to implement the Program.

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Annelisa Moe and Luke Ginger, Heal the Bay water quality scientists, converse quietly during the public comment period. (Photo by Alex Choy)

Today, the Safe, Clean Water Program moved forward with a unanimous vote by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to approve the Implementation Ordinance, reiterating the County’s commitment to improve water quality and public health, prioritize nature-based solutions, promote local jobs, and provide multiple benefits to our communities. Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis also called for a multi-agency committee to help coordinate efforts to implement multi-benefit projects, which will allow for the leveraging of funds from other sources including Measure M, Measure A, and Measure H.

However, there is still work to be done to ensure that these promises are kept as the Program rolls out. Although the Implementation Ordinance is finalized, many of the important supporting documents are still in development, and do not yet reflect the goals listed above. OurWaterLA turned out in full force to make recommendations for how these supporting documents can be strengthened to prioritize nature-based solutions, community voices, equity, and local jobs.

The Board of Supervisors also voted to appoint 107 members to the Watershed Area Steering Committees and the Regional Oversight Committee. These committees will decide how the Regional Program funds will be spent. But our work is not done! These funding decisions must be made with consideration given to community input. Search your address and find out which watershed area you are in, then see a list of your Watershed Area Steering Committee members, and get to know your committee representatives.

As you peruse the list of committee members, you will recognize one of them already! Heal the Bay President and CEO, Shelley Luce, has been appointed to the Regional Oversight Committee, which reviews the funding decisions for each of the nine Watershed Area Steering Committees.

Heal the Bay will continue to play a pivotal role as implementation moves forward. Committees will start to meet by the end of summer 2019, calling for projects in the fall, which will receive funding as soon as it is available in spring 2020. Stay tuned in the coming months to hear about exciting projects that will be funded by the Safe, Clean Water Program!