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Heal the Bay Blog

Author: Annelisa Moe

Are you ready to advocate for your community? Your region? Your planet? Share your passion with decision-makers using this “how-to” on crafting and delivering written and oral comments. Annelisa Moe, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay (who’s given her fair share of public testimony on local environmental issues) shares tips on how to make public comments and advocate for clean water.

Have you ever wanted to make a real impact on an issue you care about? Maybe you want to discuss getting safer bike lanes, smaller trash bins, or clean water for your community.

One great way to connect with policymakers and officials is by submitting public comments. Heal the Bay regularly submits written and oral comments and over the years, we have seen the direct positive impacts of our advocacy on decision making organizations like the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, LA City Council, CA Coastal Commission, CA Fish & Game Commission, LA County Board of Supervisors, and many more.

Here is Heal the Bay’s Step-by-Step guide on how you can write up and deliver your public comments to advocate for the change you want to see in the world. You have valuable experiences and information to provide to decision-makers and you have everything it takes to become a powerful advocate for the changes you want to see in your community. Let’s get started.

Annelisa Moe, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay and advocate for water quality regulation, shares her thoughts at MS4 Permit hearing last summer. Before joining Heal the Bay, Moe worked with the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Step I: Identify Your Influencer

The first step toward constructing the perfect public comment is identifying the right decision-maker to engage. This could include influencers from a wide variety of public offices, from Neighborhood Council Members to Senators. These decision-makers want to hear from the public, especially from constituents like you, and oftentimes this input informs their initiatives.

Step II: Gather Information

Every decision-maker (State Board, Committee, Senator, Council Member, etc.) will have their preferred way for you to sign up to speak or send in written comments, and it can be pretty confusing – even for professionals who give public comments for a living! Once you identify who you want to communicate with, look online for the following:

  1. A meeting agenda for the Council or Committee you are interested in
  2. Detailed information on how to submit written or oral comments
  3. Deadlines on written comments and time limits for oral comments
  4. Contact information for an elected official or decision-making body.
  5. Reach out to Heal the Bay for research help if you get stuck.

Step III: Create Your Comment

Providing Written Comments

Written comments could be a more formal written letter, or something a little less formal like an email or online submission. No matter what the format is, these seven basic elements provide a good place to start:

  1. Address the decision-maker, and introduce yourself
  2. State what you are commenting on and why (provide an agenda # if applicable)
  3. Provide a personal story or anecdote
  4. Add in stats, facts, and figures (if you have them)
  5. End stating your position again and thanking the decision-maker(s) for the opportunity to comment
  6. Ask a peer to proofread your comment and edit for spelling, grammar, consistent spacing, and font type
  7. Emphasize importance by repeating certain phrases, or by adding bold, italics, or underline effects to your text (sparingly)

Keep in mind that you do not have to write a novel. A comment of any length can have an impact, especially if you write in your voice and get creative. It doesn’t matter if there is a small error or something that you missed; the important part is that you are sharing your opinion and your passion with people and organizations who can influence big decisions.

To see a (rather exceptional) example, take a look at this comment letter by a college student (and former Heal the Bay intern) Aminah Grant, sent to the Regional Water Board in 2020 concerning their decision on the regional stormwater permit.

Read Aminah Grant’s Comment Letter

Providing Oral Comments at a Public Meeting 

Perhaps you’d rather show up in person (or virtually, as is common these days) to a meeting and speak directly to the decision-makers. A little bit of prep work can help here, too.

The public comment period at most meetings is usually time-limited, and that time can range anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes. To make sure you do not run out of time, or leave out some important information, we recommend writing out your comments to reference while you speak.

Write out a full script and read your comment word for word or use bullet points to guide your comments more naturally. In either case, your oral comment should include the same seven basic elements as a written comment (review in the written comments section above).

Be sure to practice saying your comment aloud with a timer to get comfortable and ensure you are under the time limit. It can be helpful to do this with a friend who is willing to listen and provide feedback. Try to make sure you are familiar with the platform on which the meeting will be hosted (e.g. Zoom, WebEx), how to give public comments at your specific meeting, and if and when you might need to register for that meeting. When it comes time to give your comment at the meeting, remember to be clear and concise, take your time and breathe, annunciate, and speak more slowly than you think you need to (we all tend to speed up when we are nervous).

To hear a (rather exceptional) example, listen to this comment by a high school student (and former Club Heal the Bay member) Bella Wash at a Regional Water Board meeting, concerning their decision on the regional stormwater permit.

Step IV: Submit Your Comment

When you use your voice to advocate for change our policymakers listen, and you don’t have to do it alone. You can inspire others in your community to use their voices and public comments to improve the world around you and as always Heal the Bay is here to help empower you! Contact Heal the Bay when you need help and jumpstart your journey as an advocate today.

Raise your Voice This July

The Regional Board is currently updating their regulation of toxic pollution (including DDT) in Dominguez Channel, Los Angeles Harbor, and Long Beach Harbor. Public comments will be accepted until July 26. Heal the Bay is wading through all of the details now–so stay tuned for more information in the next few weeks!



UPDATE 3/1/2022

Another ocean water desalination plant has been proposed for construction in Huntington Beach. This project has also been opposed by the environmental community and by the public for years. Poseidon will be applying for a coastal development permit to build their ocean water desalination plant with the CA Coastal Commission. This meeting was originally scheduled for Thursday, March 17, 2022. However, the meeting has been postponed, and no new date has been announced yet. Keep an eye out – we’ll let you know when it gets rescheduled.

UPDATE 2/10/2022

Two critical decisions were made in 2021 to protect LA’s coastal waters from the negative impacts of large-scale ocean water pumping. All too often, we see exemptions, extensions, and approvals for projects that threaten our coastal waters, but the tides may be turning!

Previous extension approvals allowed the Redondo Beach Once Through Cooling Facility to avoid fees associated with years of water quality violations; a trend that ended with this Regional Board Vote. And, LA County’s West Basin Board of Directors voted to terminate a massive ocean desalination project proposed for El Segundo in a shocking step forward for protecting coastal waters.

Are these victories signs of systemic change? And what can Californians do to keep this trend of transformation going while combating large-scale industrial interests that are dangerous to our environment and public health?

Let’s jump into what we mean by ‘ocean water pumping’ and how these two coastal project decisions uphold the Clean Water Act, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.

Protecting the Santa Monica Bay from Harmful Industrial Water Pumping

Industrial water use includes the large-scale pumping (or “intake”) of ocean water and it has severe negative impacts on the health of our coastal waters. The intake of ocean water threatens sea life with impingement (being sucked up against an intake pipe) and entrainment (being sucked up into an intake pipe), both of which can cause serious injury or death. The Clean Water Act of 1972, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, requires the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate this pumping to minimize those negative impacts.

At the end of 2021, two critical decisions were made right here in Los Angeles, that support these Clean Water Act regulations by limiting industrial ocean water intake and holding those who continue to use it accountable.

Rejection of Extension Request from the Redondo Beach AES Power Plant and Once-Through Cooling Facility


Seabirds and Pinnipeds are just a few species that can be affected by the Once-Through Cooling process used in locations like Redondo Beach (King Harbor / Dana Murry )

Once-Through Cooling (OTC) is a process used by power generating facilities to cool down generators using water. Most of these facilities, especially in California, are located along the coast, positioned to use ocean water. But this kind of large-scale ocean water intake is what threatens sea life with impingement and entrainment. After the water is used, it is usually released back into the ocean, but oftentimes at a higher temperature and with pollutants from the equipment, causing possible water quality violations and concerns for coastal wildlife.

OTC was first recognized as a threat to California’s fisheries, estuaries, bays, and coastal waters in 2005, leading to the approval of a Statewide OTC Policy in 2010. Heal the Bay was one of many stakeholders that worked together to craft the requirements of the OTC Policy. One major compromise was the long time schedule, giving all OTC facilities 10+ years to either shut down or transition away from OTC operations. Now that we are finally approaching those deadlines, we are seeing many of these OTC facilities asking for extensions beyond the original 10+ year grace period.

Over the last two years, the Redondo Beach OTC Facility has requested two separate extensions for operation. Despite opposition from environmental groups and Redondo Beach Mayor Brand, the State Board approved both, allowing the Redondo Beach OTC Facility to continue operations through December 31, 2023. The Redondo Beach Facility then requested an extension (referred to as a Time Schedule Order) from the Regional Water Quality Control Board to essentially waive any fees for water quality violations of the OTC wastewater they release during this time.

On December 9, 2021, the Regional Water Board voted 3-1 to deny this request after hearing clear opposition from NGOs like Heal the Bay, as well as from representatives from the City of Redondo Beach. This was the first time in years that the Regional Board has denied any Time Schedule Order request. The Redondo Beach Facility is still allowed to operate, but they are no longer exempt from fines associated with their contaminated OTC wastewater discharges. If the vote had gone the other way, it would have provided a clear and easy path for additional operational extensions. This critical decision by the Regional Water Board will help to protect water quality by putting pressure on the Redondo Beach Facility to shut down their OTC operations by the new December 31, 2023 deadline.

Termination of the West Basin Ocean Water Desalination Project

Desalination, or the process of sucking in seawater and removing the salt to convert it to freshwater, might initially seem like a logical way to get more freshwater for Southern California. But ocean water desalination has many negative impacts on the environment, and the truth is that we do not need it. Although Southern California does face consistent drought conditions, we can source enough water locally to support all of our water needs without ocean water desalination by focusing on smart water practices like water conservation, recycling efforts, and stormwater capture. One of the myriad problems with desalination is the ocean water intake process, which poses the same impingement and entrainment threat as OTC operations.

The West Basin Municipal Water District had proposed an ocean water desalination plant in El Segundo, intending to reuse decommissioned OTC piping to intake ocean water. This project has been hotly contested for decades, with strong opposition from the environmental community (including Heal the Bay) as well as from the public, because it is the most expensive and energy-intensive way to obtain fresh water and simply does not make sense for Southern California.

At a meeting of the West Basin Board of Directors on December 23, 2021, the Board voted 3-2 to terminate the ocean water desalination project, after hearing from 25 members of the public speaking in opposition to the project. Many factors contributed to this decision including a report from West Basin proving that ocean water desalination is not needed to meet water supply demands for LA. But a final vote from Board Member Houston, quoting the fact that there is no longer public support for the project, broke the tie.

Upholding the Clean Water Act to protect our water, ecosystems, and communities

West Basin’s decision to terminate its ocean water desalination project stopped new industrial intake from affecting our coastal waters and stopped an unnecessary, expensive, and energy-intensive system from being built. The Regional Water Board’s decision to deny the Redondo Beach Facility Time Schedule Order provides extra incentive for the Facility to stop intake operations and to shut down the inefficient, fossil fuel burning Redondo Beach Facility altogether. Both decisions protect coastal waters, ecosystems, and communities in Santa Monica Bay and uphold the Clean Water Act by minimizing the negative impacts of industrial intakes.

Save the Date to Advocate Against Ocean Water Desalination

Public interest and intervention played a big part in both outcomes, just as this huge turnout did for the decision on a desalination plant proposal for Huntington Beach at Coastal Commission meeting in 2013.

Both decisions were swayed by public demand for safe and clean water, but we cannot stop here. To shift the tides so that public and environmental protection becomes the standard, we need more decisions like these. You can help to advocate against ocean water desalination and demand safe and clean water for all.

Another ocean water desalination plant has been proposed for construction in Huntington Beach. This project has also been opposed by the environmental community and by the public for years. Poseidon will be applying for a coastal development permit to build their ocean water desalination plant with the CA Coastal Commission on Thursday, March 17, 2022. Check out this Fact Sheet from the CA Coastal Commission for more information or engage with our partners at Orange County Coastkeeper to advocate against ocean water desalination.

UPDATED NOTE: As of February 28, 2022 the March 17, 2022 meeting has been postponed and no new date has been announced. 



Thank you to all who rushed to the beaches of Southern California on December 4-5, 2021 and January 2-3, 2022 to help us document the King Tide. Your observations were vital to preparing Los Angeles for a future affected by climate change.

The culminating point of the King Tide gave us a glimpse of what California’s sea-level rise may look like, while the low tide during this phenomenon showed us the gravity of a shifting ocean.

This allowed scientists and the public to observe first-hand the intertidal habitats that are threatened by rapid sea-level rise. These habitats can be observed during normal low tides, but the extra low tide experienced during the event allowed for even more opportunities to observe and explore. During the King Tide, images were captured of threatened sea life, and people getting up close to observe it.

Although the low tide revealed a new view of ecosystems most people don’t get to see, capturing the high tide was just as important. The USGS has noted that “as beaches decrease in height and width with rising seas, the already narrow intertidal zones—supporting invertebrates that help cycle nutrients by breaking down organic matter—shrink further.” (How Rising Seas Push Coastal Systems Beyond Tipping Points | U.S. Geological Survey (usgs.gov)).

Images collected during these past King Tide events will not only help illuminate what the future impact of climate change will have on our California communities, but they also bring to light what ecosystems are threatened as climate change moves past the tipping point.

Photos of Santa Monica Pier at the low point during King Tide. Taken by Michelle Zentgraf.



Join community scientists in California to observe and document the King Tides on January 2-3, 2021. This extreme high tide event provides a glimpse of what we face with climate-driven sea level rise. Your images will contribute to a better understanding of how to adapt to and combat the climate crisis. UPDATE: Get a glimpse of the King Tide this winter.

The King Tide is back for 2022

Thank you to all who rushed to the beaches of Southern California on December 4-5, 2021 to help us document the King Tide. Your observations were vital to prepare Los Angeles for a future affected by climate change and we need your help once more. This tidal phenomenon is predicted to return on  January 2-3, 2022 and we are calling all of those who love the California coast, once again, to help capture the King Tide.

Sea Level Rise

Before we get into the details of this year’s King Tides event, let’s begin with the larger context of sea level rise. Humans are polluting Earth’s atmosphere with greenhouse gases (GHGs) like CO2, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels, driving average global temperatures up at an unprecedented rate.

Oceans have helped to buffer this steady pollution stream by absorbing 90% of our excess heat and 25% of our CO2 emissions. This, among myriad impacts, has increased sea temperatures, causing ocean water to expand. The combination of ocean water expansion and new water input from the melting of landlocked glaciers results in rapid sea level rise.

Take a look at images from the NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer. Light blue shows areas expected to flood consistently as sea levels rise. Bright green shows low-lying areas vulnerable to flooding from groundwater upwelling as seawater intrusion increases. 

According to the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, sea level will rise 2 feet by 2100 even if efforts are made to lower GHG emissions, and possibly as much as 7 feet by 2100 if we continue with “business as usual” (i.e., burning fossil fuels at the current unsustainable rate). Rapid sea level rise threatens beach loss, coastal and intertidal habitat loss, seawater intrusion into our groundwater supply (which could contaminate our drinking water supply and cause inland flooding from groundwater upwelling), as well as impacts from flooding or cliff erosion on coastal infrastructures like roads, homes, businesses, power plants and sewage treatment plants—not to mention nearby toxic sites.

King Tides: A Glimpse of Future Sea Levels

Ocean tides on Earth are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon (and the sun, to a lesser extent) on our oceans. When the moon is closest to Earth along its elliptical orbit, and when the moon, earth, and sun are aligned, gravitational pull compounds, causing extreme high and low tides called Perigean-Spring Tides or King Tides. These extreme tides provide a glimpse of future sea level rise.

Image courtesy of NOAA National Ocean Service.

In fact, King Tides in Southern California this December and January are expected to be 2-3 feet higher than normal high tides (and lower than normal low tides), providing a clear snapshot of what the regular daily high tides will likely be by 2100.

 

What is being done

Many coastal cities in California have developed Local Coastal Programs in coordination with the CA Coastal Commission to address sea level rise. The Coastal Commission is also developing new sea level rise guidance for critical infrastructure, recently released for public review. Unfortunately, if we continue with “business as usual,” the rate of sea level rise will occur much more quickly than we can adapt to it, which is why we need bold global action now to combat the climate crisis and limit sea level rise as much as possible.

What you can do

Motivated people like you can become community scientists by submitting King Tides photographs the weekend of January 2-3 to contribute to the digital storytelling of sea level rise. These photos are used to better understand the climate crisis, to educate people about the impacts, to catalog at-risk communities and infrastructure, and plan for mitigation and adaptation. Join the Coastal Commission in their CA King Tides Project!

Get involved in the January 2-3 #KingTides event

Instructions from the CA Coastal Commission:
1) Find your local high tide time for one of the King Tides dates.
2) Visit the shoreline on the coast, bay, or delta.
3) Be aware of your surroundings to ensure you are safe and are not disturbing any animals.
4) Make sure your phone’s location services are turned on for your camera and then take your photo. The best photos show the water level next to familiar landmarks such as cliffs, rocks, roads, buildings, bridge supports, sea walls, staircases, and piers.
5) Add your photo to the King Tides map either by uploading it via the website or by using the Survey123 app.

 

In the Los Angeles area? Here are some areas we expect will have noticeable King Tides:

In Palos Verdes, we recommend: Pelican Cove, Terrenea Beach, White Point Beach, and Point Fermin. In Malibu, we suggest: Paradise Cove, Westward Beach, Broad Beach, El Pescador State Beach, and Leo Carrillo State Beach.




An aerial view over the Scottish city of Glasgow, looking eastwards up the River Clyde.

Global leaders met in Glasgow at COP26 from Oct. 31 – Nov. 13, 2021, to discuss the climate crisis and how to address it. Failed promises and delayed action in the face of immediate impacts led many attendees and observers to protest and demand more from their leaders. Some positive steps were taken, but we need more ambitious goals, comprehensive plans, actual implementation now, and equitable support for climate mitigation and adaptation.   

The Climate Crisis 

Worldwide, we are spewing 152 million tons of human-made global warming pollution like CO2 into our atmosphere every day, causing average temperatures to rise. The largest source of this global warming pollution is the burning of fossil fuels. Earlier this year, CO2 levels passed 420 parts per million for the first time. This unfortunate milestone means we are rapidly approaching the threshold of 1.5°C temperature increase, a climate tipping point that will make it more difficult to sustain healthy natural systems. It also means that climate change is already here. We see evidence around the globe and in Los Angeles with ocean acidification, sea level rise, intense droughts and wildfires, record-breaking storm events, and more frequent deadly heatwaves. While we are all impacted by these rapid changes, a history of racially discriminatory land and environmental policies has caused an unjust and disproportionate impact on overburdened communities of color.

COP26 

The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) brought countries together this year to discuss the climate crisis and commit to action toward achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement – primarily to limit global temperature rise to 1.5° C and provide support for climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries*. But it was not only global leaders and decision makers who traveled to Glasgow for this summit. Activists from across the world turned out for this critical event, demanding action.  

“A lot of people ask me, what are my hopes for COP? And honestly, I don’t have any hopes. I have expectations and I have demands, because we are tired of hoping. We don’t need hope. We need action.” 

– Mitzi Jonelle Tan, climate activist from the Philippines 

Wealthier countries*, often the ones contributing the most global warming pollution, have failed to deliver on promises made in the original Paris Agreement to build clean energy systems and provide support to pay for climate related damages in under-resourced countries. Developing countries* are impacted most acutely by the climate crisis as are communities of color.

“There is an odd duality that comes with being one of few environmentalists of color in such an exclusive space. On one hand, we understand the privilege we’ve been granted to represent our people and advocate for our livelihoods. On the other hand, we have to deal with not being fully valued or actually listened to.” 

Leah Thomas, intersectional environmentalist from the United States

Yet they are underrepresented at COP26 and other similar conferences that are supposed to be coming up with global solutions. This gap in representation in the conversations and negotiations that impact them the most has a compounding negative effect for developing countries who also have a lack of access to resources to adapt to the changing climate.

“I am tired of applauding my people’s resilience. True resilience is not just defined by a nation’s grit but by our access to financial resources.”  

Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji 

There have been a number of exciting announcements to come out of COP26. World leaders have committed to end deforestation by 2030. The US joined the pledge to reduce methane emissions (another critical greenhouse gas), backed by new EPA regulations. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a global coalition of cities committed to cutting emissions in half by 2030 and achieving net-zero emission by 2050. And recent pledges from wealthier counties* have narrowed the gap in achieving the $100 billion funding commitment made in the Paris Agreement to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries*.  

The COP26 report also claims that the goal to stay below a temperature increase of 1.5° C remains in sight, but evidence shows that our current trajectory is way off course. The most recent IPCC report proves that this goal is still possible, but it will require immediate and drastic action. Countries will need to commit to much more stringent goals, develop comprehensive and transparent plans to get there, and (most importantly) follow through on those promises. Considering the lack of progress, it is no wonder that activists turned out en masse to demand more from their world leaders.   

“They are pledging for the future, yet we are experiencing the crisis right now. We want them to act now. We want solutions, not promises. We want implementations, not pledges. Their negotiations are running on how not to top 1.5, but 1.2 is already hell to us.” 

 – Patience Nabukalu, climate activist from Uganda

Demand Climate Action Now 

Heal the Bay is committed to climate action, and believes we need bold global action now to combat the climate crisis, and for us, this starts at home. The United States has made plans and has entered agreements, yet our leaders continue to approve new oil drilling leases. LA is home to the largest urban oil field in the US. There are so many groups in Los Angeles and California fighting for climate action and environmental justice. One of those groups is VISION (Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods). You can join VISION and submit your own comment letter today to fight against fossil fuels. Tell California Officials: No Drilling Where We’re Living! 

Join VISION to call for: 

  1. A 3,200-foot setback for new oil and gas wells 
  2. No redrilling of existing wells within the 3,200-foot setback 
  3. Ban all new permits within the 3,200-foot setback until the final rule is in effect 

For more climate action tips and information, check out Heal the Bay’s Climate Challenge blog.  

 

*The phrases ‘wealthier countries’ and ‘developing countries’ are used in the COP26 report and the Paris Agreement without definition. The lack of specificity in these classifications further highlights inequities in the global approach to solving climate change. 



The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board chose to delay clean water progress 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 9/30/2021

On September 21, 2021, the State Water Resources Control Board approved the LA Regional Water Board’s extensions for nine water quality deadlines 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.

This decision was made without evidence of good faith efforts towards achieving the requirements, without justifying the need for those extensions, and without putting in place sufficient oversight requirements to ensure progress is made. This is a terrible precedent to set considering how important these deadlines are.

However, comments from Heal the Bay along with our partners at LA Waterkeeper in opposition to these deadline extensions, did at least give pause to Board Members before their final decision. During Board deliberations, the lack of progress (only 6% complete) was highlighted, the need for accountability was raised, and a clear statement was made that the COVID-19 pandemic is not a reason to weaken water quality standards (which would further threaten public health). Board members also stated that this approval does not mean that deadlines can be delayed indefinitely.

If permittees return to once again request extensions, we will remind the State Board members of these declarations. Together we can Take LA By Storm to keep permittees accountable to these new deadlines and to their Clean Water Act requirements. Sign up for emails to stay informed, receive implementation updated, and find out how you can engage in the process!

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UPDATE 9/15/2021

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.


On March 11, 2021 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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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.