Luke Ginger, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, recaps a tough summer for water quality monitoring at LA County’s freshwater recreation areas, and outlines the urgent need for equitable, climate-resilient communities in the face of a health pandemic, extreme heat, unprecedented wildfires, and beyond.
Heal the Bay concludes another summer of freshwater sampling and monitoring with the River Report Card. Over the course of the summer of 2020, we provided inland water-goers with water quality grades for 27 freshwater recreation sites across Los Angeles County, California. This included 5 sites in Malibu Creek State Park and the LA River, where Heal the Bay staff collected water quality samples. We updated grades on a weekly basis and posted them online to be viewed by the public.
Summer 2020 was filled with many challenges that impacted our program. Due to COVID-19, Heal the Bay was unable to hire local college students to monitor water quality at recreation sites and storm drains like in previousyears. Instead, Heal the Bay’s permanent staff carried out water sampling. This was a major blow to our program because one of our main goals has always been to provide knowledge, skills, and career training to emerging professionals. Additionally, without a full crew, we sampled fewer recreation sites and storm drains, leaving the public with less information on how to stay safe.
We also had to take extra precautions while sampling – wearing masks at all times, driving in separate vehicles, and sporting extra protective gear (face shields and extra-long gloves) to reduce exposure to potentially contaminated water. These were necessary precautions because the research on the risk of contracting COVID-19 from recreational waters is still ongoing.
Photo by Alice Dison
There were also major changes in accessibility and use this summer at the sites Heal the Bay monitored. Malibu Creek State Park was open all summer, but the swimming holes (Rock Pool and Las Virgenes Creek) remained closed due to concerns over the ability to maintain proper physical distancing. However, this closure was not clearly enforced as we saw many swimmers throughout the summer. The official LA River recreation zones were open from Memorial Day until the end of September, but kayaking was not allowed due to safety concerns around COVID-19.
Monitoring efforts by LA Sanitation, Council for Watershed Health, and San Gabriel Regional Watershed Monitoring Program were impacted this summer as well. There were weeks where certain recreation sites in the Upper LA River Watershed and San Gabriel River Watershed were not monitored due to park closures or overcrowding concerns. According to LA Sanitation officials, Hermit Falls was not monitored this summer because it is a particularly crowded area that posed a health risk to the water quality monitors. Worker safety is incredibly important, as is the health of all Angelenos and visitors. Unfortunately, these tough decisions resulted in critical water quality information not being available at a very popular location all summer. LA Sanitation instead sampled the Vogel Flats picnic area, which is a new addition to the River Report Card. Toward the end of the summer, monitoring in the San Gabriel River Watershed and some of the Upper LA River Watershed was cut short due to the Bobcat Fire and the subsequent closure of Angeles National Forest.
This summer, the pandemic, a record setting wildfire season, and extreme heat culminated into one even larger public health crisis. The pandemic forced people to stay local and opt for close-by areas to take a swim. Because of this, as well as the reduced risk of contracting COVID-19 outdoors, people flocked in unusually high numbers to ocean beaches and freshwater recreation sites to stay active and cool. Unfortunately, if outdoor crowds become too big and dense, there is an increased risk of COVID-19 spread. The fact that so many people sought respite outside made clear the importance of open space for physical and mental health. But, the benefits of open space are not equally experienced by all. Black and Latinx communities have been systemically denied access to parks and nature, and there is a lot of work to do to provide justice for these communities. LA City and County must work hard to meet their target of 65% of Angelenos living within half a mile of a park or open space by 2025 (and 75% by 2035).
Photo by Alice Dison
The summer’s extreme heat waves coincided with the largest wildfires in California’s history, which created harmful air quality across the entire west coast. Many people endured hazardous outdoor air quality in order to cool off at rivers, streams, and beaches. Tragically, exposure to wildfire-induced poor air quality exacerbates the harmful health effects of COVID-19. So for low-income households without air conditioning, it was impossible to escape harm; people were either subject to extreme heat at home or subject to harmful air quality outside. We must acknowledge that in the United States, the communities facing the brunt of climate change impacts like extreme heat and wildfire are disproportionately Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian people.
Summer 2020 was a tough time for many, and it underscores the need for immediate and equitable action to address the climate crisis and environmental justice.
Looking forward, Heal the Bay will continue to advocate for water quality improvements across LA County, so everyone is protected from waterborne illness. And, we will continue to push for nature-based policies that stem the impacts of climate change and make our communities climate resilient.
Summer 2020 Results
Here are the water quality results from the sites Heal the Bay monitored during summer 2020.
Malibu Creek State Park
Rock Pool – did slightly better than last year
Las Virgenes Creek – worse than last year
Los Angeles River
Sepulveda Basin at Burbank Ave. – slightly better than last year
When I first visited Los Angeles in 2015, I was not interested in seeing the Hollywood Walk of Fame or the Hollywood Sign. Instead, I asked my local friends to take me directly to the L.A. River. I wanted to see the hallmark concrete embankments where so many movie car chases happened and the thin ribbon of water I watched my favorite skateboarders jump over (with mixed success).
The L.A. River has A-List status far outside of the Los Angeles area, and is recognized by people all over the globe. Its notoriety is mostly due to its unique appearance. It doesn’t look like a typical river at all, instead it looks like – and functions as – a storm drain channel.
The L.A. River begins in Canoga Park where Bell Creek and Arroyo Calabasas converge, and it runs 51 miles through the City of Los Angeles and over 17 other cities, draining over 800 square miles of land, before it flows into the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach.
The History of the L.A. River
In pre-colonial Los Angeles County, water from rivers and streams naturally flowed and supported Tongva, Tataviam, and Chumash Peoples in the area. Later, the L.A. River and its tributaries supported the colonial settlements that were violently and coercively established on local Indigenous territories.
1800’s Before Colonial Settlement. Source: Seaver Central For Western History Research / Natural History Museum Los Angeles County, riverlareports.riverla.org
A population boom in the early 1900’s meant the L.A. River and its tributaries could no longer support the water demand for the area. Cities began sourcing water from the Colorado River and Northern California, and the L.A. River gradually went from being a vital local water source to being seen as a nuisance.
From 1900-1940 there were multiple floods of the L.A. River that destroyed neighborhoods and resulted in fatalities. The colonial cities along the river failed to respect the L.A. River as the Indigenous People had, and instead built homes and buildings within the River’s floodplain.
In response to the floods, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to pour concrete over the sides and bottom of the L.A. River channel and its tributaries to create a network of concrete storm drain channels. The concretization of the river led to a reduction in flood risk because it forced water to flow much more quickly down the river and out to the ocean. But, the concrete completely decimated the river ecosystem and the services it once provided, including cultural value, habitat for wildlife, and greenspace for recreation.
After the river was concretized, Indigenous People, activists, and environmental organizations demanded the restoration of the L.A. River and its tributaries back into a functioning natural river ecosystem.
Now with the climate crisis, we can no longer afford to have a concretized river system that solely provides flood control. We need a river system that will help cool communities as temperatures rise, provide habitat for diverse wildlife, increase local water resiliency, and serve as a greenspace where communities can recreate and reconnect with nature and culture.
Government agencies have identified the need to re-establish all of the lost ecosystem services as well, and have implemented six major plans with the goal of transforming the L.A. River and its tributaries into a multi-benefit system that will serve the surrounding communities.
Here we summarize these plans and let you know how to get involved.
Los Angeles River Master Plan Update (LARMPU)
The LARMPU is a plan created by L.A. County with the goal of transforming the L.A. River. The original Master Plan was drafted in 1996, and its main goal was to beautify the river while maintaining its functionality as a stormwater conveyance system. The 2020 update of the Master Plan was set into motion to ensure the L.A. River has spaces that provide more benefits in addition to flood abatement and beautification. As stated in the plan, projects will reduce flood risk; improve parks and open space; improve river access; support the ecosystem; provide cultural and educational opportunities; address housing affordability and homelessness; improve local water resilience; and promote water quality.
Heal the Bay was selected to serve as a Steering Committee member for the update and has been attending meetings and offering feedback over the last two years. The updated Master Plan for the entire River is expected to be released to the public in the next few weeks as a draft open for public comments – stay tuned for updates on that and be ready to share your thoughts on the River and the Master Plan.
The ULART Working Group (formed by Assembly Bill 466 & Senate Bill 1126) developed this plan so low income communities with limited access to greenspace in the L.A. River Watershed have the opportunity to implement projects such as parks and paths along the river. The ULART Plan was developed to revitalize the L.A. River from Canoga Park to Vernon as well as Aliso Canyon Wash, Pacoima Wash, Tujunga Wash, Burbank Western Channel, Verdugo Wash, and the Arroyo Seco. This plan has identified areas along the L.A. River and its tributaries where multi-benefit projects will be implemented. This is the only plan discussed here that addresses tributaries, which have largely been ignored by revitalization efforts in the past.
As stated by the ULART Plan, the goals are to enhance the ecosystem; maintain and enhance flood management; increase opportunities for culture, arts, and recreation; and increase connectivity and green space along the river system. This plan has identified areas along the L.A. River and its tributaries where projects such as parks and bike paths can be designed and implemented. And, community members are encouraged to collaboratively develop project ideas and get them constructed. The plan was finalized and adopted in April 2020 and can be found on the ULART website.
Lower L.A. River Revitalization Plan
The Lower L.A. River Revitalization Plan was set forth in Assembly Bill 530, and unlike the other plans discussed, has been in the implementation phase since 2018. This plan covers revitalization efforts in the lower 19 miles of the L.A. River from Vernon to Long Beach. Communities in this section of the river have lower than average incomes in L.A. County, are predominantly People of Color, and have been historically underserved by economic, educational, and environmental services. Local residents are disproportionately exposed to pollution and have little access to green space among other environmental injustices. Therefore, it is crucial the Lower L.A. River Revitalization Plan works to create benefits that will address systemic issues. As stated by the plan, the goals are:
Create diverse, vibrant public spaces along and connected to the Lower Los Angeles River resulting in safe, inviting, healthy green spaces that support diverse local communities, allowing equitable access to nature and a variety of recreation entertainment, multi-modal transportation and socio-economic opportunities that enhances quality of life and sustains watershed health.
Conserve and restore natural river and watershed functions while managing flood risk, enhancing the long-term ecosystem services provided to surrounding communities and mitigating climate changes and environmental impacts of urbanizing on the Lower L.A. River, floodplains, and associated habitats.
Heal the Bay was on the Working Group to help develop and offer feedback on the Plan and currently attends the Implementation Advisory Group meetings, where specific projects are brought forward for discussion and feedback in context of the Master Plan.
Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan (LARRMP)
This LARRMP was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in 2005, and it aims to revitalize the 32 miles of the L.A. River within L.A. City limits. The plan is intended to serve as a blueprint for transforming the river over the next 25-50 years, and the four “core principles” of the plan are as follows:
Revitalize the river by creating a continuous stretch of riparian habitat throughout the 32 mile section of the river in the city boundaries. The plan states that concrete removal will be considered as long as flood abatement ability of the river channel is not compromised.
Creating a continuous “River Greenway” that would consist of a network of bikeways, pedestrian paths, “green connections,” and open space.
Create a river that is safe, accessible, healthy, sustainable, and celebrated. The LARRMP states that it will address environmental justice issues by redeveloping polluted areas and providing natural spaces in neighborhoods that lack them.
Create value by encouraging participation and consensus-building, creating opportunities for sustainable, economic reinvestment, and adding value and providing an equitable distribution of opportunities to underserved neighborhoods along the River.
Projects under this plan are still ongoing, but some projects like Albion Riverside Park, have already been completed. Check the LARRMP website for updates.
Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study
Adopted by the Los Angeles City Council in 2016, this proposed plan would transform 11 miles of the Elysian Valley in the Los Angeles River. The restoration would include the creation of riparian and marsh habitat, enhancing habitat connectivity to other natural areas such as the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains. The plan will also include a natural hydrologic regime with the goal of restoring historic floodplains and connections to Los Angeles River tributaries. Ecological restoration under this plan will also allow for certain passive recreation opportunities like nature walks. There are some preliminary projects that must be completed before this plan is implemented, but the project is expected to be completed by 2029.
Los Angeles River Flows Project
Historically, the water in the L.A. River came from rainfall and groundwater upwelling in the Glendale Narrows. While that remains the case today, wastewater is now the dominant source of water in the main channel of the river during dry weather. The Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys and the Los Angeles-Glendale Water Reclamation Plant near Griffith Park both discharge treated wastewater into the L.A. River on a daily basis. Although this water originated from toilets, sinks, and drains, it is relatively free of contaminants like fecal matter.
In light of the recent long-term drought conditions in California and the looming threat of climate change, wastewater managers in L.A. are rethinking the practice of discharging treated wastewater into the L.A. River. That wastewater can be recycled, which would result in improved water resilience in times of drought and sustainable local water. However, the reduction of wastewater discharges into the river poses a potential problem for the river ecosystem that has come to rely on that water source. The State Water Board and other stakeholders have created the Los Angeles River Flows Project to evaluate the environmental and recreational impacts of reducing wastewater discharge into the L.A. River. The goal is to identify a water flow regime that will support a healthy river ecosystem, allow for recreation opportunities, and recycle enough water to be drought resilient.
Right now, the L.A. River Flows Project has been conducting analyses to identify the optimal flow regime, and research and meetings are planned to continue through the end of 2020. After that, a plan will be drafted and there will ideally be an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the plan.
Heal the Bay is a member of the Technical Advisory Committee as well as part of the Stakeholder Working Group. We will keep you updated on the progress of this and if there are opportunities for the public to voice their comments.
What’s with all these plans for the L.A. River?
Revitalizing the L.A. River is a monumental task so it makes sense to break the revitalization effort into different pieces. However, the main reason for this patchwork of plans is that they are all being led by different agencies. The LARMPU was created by L.A. County and ULART and the Lower L.A. River Revitalization Plan were created by legislation at the state level. The L.A. River Flow Plan was mandated by the State Water Resource Control Board. The LARRMP and L.A. River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study are both overseen by the City of Los Angeles. Each plan states that it will work in conjunction with all the other plans; however, it is unclear what that collaboration will look like as three of the plans are not in the implementation phase yet.
What will these plans do exactly?
The L.A. River Master Plan, ULART, LARRMP, and Lower L.A. River Revitalization Plan will all identify areas along the L.A. River watershed where there is space for a project. A project can take the shape of many different things such as a park, retail space, housing, bike path, nature trail, and habitat among other things. The spaces where these projects will be placed are government owned or easily obtainable by a government agency. The Flows Project will not consist of any projects, instead, it will make recommendations on the amount of water in the river. This might change the habitat characteristics of the river as well as the recreational opportunities. We will know more as the plan continues to take shape. The L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan has already identified the locations of proposed projects.
A day at the beach should not make anyone sick. That’s why health officials across the state sample water at the beach weekly during the summer. And when officials detect high levels of bacteria, they issue a public health advisory.
The good news: by measuring the amount of bacteria in the water and sharing information with the public in real time, we can help you decide when and where it’s safest to go to the beach. Plus, it raises awareness about ocean pollution and brings much-needed attention to solving systemic waste and runoff issues.
The bad news: weekly samples aren’t enough. Water quality can fluctuate drastically from day to day, with real implications for people’s health. Heal the Bay believes that we need daily samples in order to better protect public health. In 2015, we launched our NowCast program within the Beach Report Card. NowCast supplements the weekly grades provided by public health officials by bringing accurate daily predictions to the public.
NowCast is able to predict concentrations of bacteria in the water on a daily basis, filling in the time gap of weekly bacteria sampling. NowCast consists of computer models that examine correlations between environmental conditions (such as temperature and tide) and historical bacteria concentrations. Our models then predict how much bacteria could be present in the water given the current local conditions at the beach.
NowCast predictions appear on the Beach Report Card with the symbols seen below. A Blue “W+” symbol indicates that there is a low risk of illness by coming in contact with the water, and a Red “W-” symbol indicates that there is a high risk of illness by coming in contact with the water.
Good Water Quality
Poor Water Quality
Head to beachreportcard.org to find daily predictions for over 25 beaches across California. Or download the free app on your iOS or Android device to get daily predictions on-the-go.
List of Beaches With Daily NowCast Water Quality Predictions
Ocean Beach (Balboa St.), San Francisco
Ocean Beach (Lincoln Way), San Francisco
Candlestick Point (Windsurfer Circle), San Francisco – NEW
Main Beach (Boardwalk), Santa Cruz County
Leo Carrillo, Los Angeles County – NEW
Will Rogers (Temescal Canyon), Los Angeles County
Will Rogers (Santa Monica Canyon), Los Angeles County
Santa Monica (Pico Ave.), Los Angeles County – NEW
Venice Beach Pier, Los Angeles County
Dockweiler/Toes Beach, Los Angeles County
El Porto, Los Angeles County – NEW
Manhattan Beach (28th St.), Los Angeles County
Hermosa Beach Pier, Los Angeles County – NEW
Redondo Breakwater, Los Angeles County
Redondo Beach Pier, Los Angeles County
Torrance Beach (Avenue I), Los Angeles County – NEW
Long Beach (72nd Place), Los Angeles County
Seal Beach (1st), Orange County – NEW
Seal Beach Pier, Orange County
Huntington Beach (Brookhurst St.), Orange County
Newport Beach (52nd), Orange County – NEW
Newport Beach (38th), Orange County
Aliso Creek Outlet, Orange County – NEW
Monarch Beach (Salt Creek Outlet), Orange County – NEW
Doheny State Beach, Orange County
San Clemente Pier (Lifeguard Tower), Orange County
Don’t see your beach on the map? We’re working on it! Predicting water quality is complex and we want to make sure we get it right. This means we need access to a myriad of data sources in order to make accurate predictions, and when data are not readily available, we can’t make the prediction.
If you’re looking to help monitor and improve the water quality at your favorite beach spots, here’s a few things you can do:
Advocate at town halls and city council meetings for increased funding toward ocean and environmental data observation, collection, standardization, and analysis programs.
Support Heal the Bay’s staff scientists efforts to expand monitoring programs and directly fund our work.
Stay informed about your local water quality and reach out to your representatives in California demanding improvements be made to protect public health and our natural environment.
If you can’t find daily NowCast predictions in your area, you can still see the latest water quality grades issued to over 500 beaches on the Beach Report Card Website. In the meantime, we are working to improve and expand the NowCast system so check back frequently to see if your favorite beach has water quality predictions.
Luke Ginger, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, discusses our disappearing Los Angeles County beaches due to climate change, and what we can all learn from the COVID-19 pandemic as local beaches begin to reopen. Luke fights for the environment’s rights by advocating for water quality regulation and enforcement. But he’s also looking out for the humans who go to the beaches, rivers, and streams by managing the Beach Report Card with NowCast and the River Report Card.
The beach has always provided me with happiness, fun, comfort, and adventure. As a kid, my parents had to pry me and my siblings away from the beach every time we went – we would have gladly tried our luck sleeping on the cold damp sand rather than get into our minivan. Two decades later, most of my beach days end with me reluctantly walking back to my Prius clutching my beach accoutrements with pruney fingers and purple lips from staying in the water too long. Only now I don’t have to convince anyone to stop for ice cream on the way home!
The ocean always has and always will be a fixture in my life. And, the same is true for many people living in SoCal. Beaches are where families gather, where people go to relax and have fun, and where anglers provide food for their families. The beach is a priceless resource woven into our lives providing us with happiness, memories, and sustenance. This makes it hard to accept the bitter reality that we will lose many of our beaches due to impacts from climate change and coastal development.
Climate change is causing our oceans to warm up. When water warms up it expands, leading to sea level rise. The melting of glaciers and ice sheets also contributes to sea level rise. This puts our local beaches at risk because the ocean will gradually get bigger and eat up more sand and land.
Our coastline is also shrinking because coastal development exacerbates beach loss by acting as a barrier to the natural movement of beaches inland as well as by cutting off natural sources of sand that would have nourished our beaches.
Depending on our response to sea level rise and our approach to coastal development, Southern California is predicted to lose between 31% and 67% of its beaches. What’s even more devastating is the fact that we cannot make that figure 0% because there has not been enough done to stem climate change both locally and globally. The hard truth is losing beaches is an inevitability due to humanity’s inaction to properly safeguard them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given us a dire glimpse into what our future holds. It is telling that many beaches in California had to be shut down during the pandemic because too many people were drawn to them. The beach gives us opportunities to exercise and offers moments of mental peace and relaxation, especially during difficult times. While beaches in Los Angeles County start to reopen this week for active recreation activities only, we still face the reality that soon there will be less beach for all of us to enjoy.
These facts are hard to live with. But, we need to harness our emotions and use them for action. Our actions now can ensure we give our disappearing beaches a fair chance at being saved.
Here’s what you can do right now to help save our remaining beaches:
Become civically engaged! Support policies that reduce pollution and wane our dependence on oil and fossil fuels. Heal the Bay supports California Senate Bill 54/Assembly Bill 1080, which requires companies to reduce their single-use plastic packaging (derived from oil) by 75%. We also support the end of drilling in neighborhoods as well as on the coast. If there are no climate action policies to vote on, or if you can’t vote, become an activist and participate in local events like Fire Drill Fridays or volunteer with organizations like STANDLA.
Change your behavior! Consider personal lifestyle changes such as eating more plant-based meals and reducing your dependence on single-use plastics. See our list of climate action tips to help you. If we all take steps to reduce our individual climate impacts, we can have a huge impact. But we can’t rely solely on our individual actions; we need policies at all levels of government that will reign in polluting industries. Learn more about why we need to make systemic changes along with personal changes.
Volunteer with Heal the Bay! We offer many opportunities for individuals and groups to help make an impact on protecting the environment. Register for a virtual volunteer orientation. Once we are back up and running, you can join us for a beach cleanup, help educate the public at Heal the Bay Aquarium, and participate in our community science programs.
Enjoy the beach safely! Tackling climate change requires widespread public support and for all of us to adapt to new realities. Whenever you visit the beach, make sure you are following all signage posted in the area as well as health and safety guidelines. And before you go in the water, make sure you check the Beach Report Card for the latest water quality grades and information.
Increase coastal access! Heal the Bay supports coastal access for all, and it concerns us that many local communities in California have no access to open space. Nature heals us, and everyone should be able to enjoy the outdoors. As we continue to prioritize the COVID-19 response, and look toward the gradual reopening of outdoor spaces and related services, it is crucial for our state to work with diverse stakeholders to set clear health and safety guidelines so our outdoor spaces can reopen to all people and for a variety of activities. You can take action by urging your local and state government to prioritize safety, equity, and access when creating reopening plans for our beaches, parks, and trails.
Our team at Frogspot in Elysian Valley. The LA River’s soft, mud-bottom sections are capable of supporting vegetation and wildlife.
In the summer of 2019, Heal the Bay’s team of water quality monitors spent many sunny days gathering freshwater samples from Malibu Creek State Park and the LA River, and testing them for bacterial-pollution in the lab. (Dive deeper into the findings.)
We’re thankful to partner with Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC) who allowed us to work out of one of their labs, managed by Manuel Robles. As always, our team included local students eager to learn about water quality and public health. Along with sampling, this group also took part in outreach, educating and encouraging more people to be invested in improving the health of the LA River Watershed.
Read on for some of our team’s favorite highlights from the summer
Erik Solis My favorite part about the summer program was not only the job itself, but the outreach to younger students who show interest in environmental science. I was able to tell them about what I do for Heal the Bay, why it matters, and how they can contribute themselves. It all comes together to make a positive impact in the community and encourage young minds to promote a cleaner L.A. watershed. I enjoyed the work I’ve done this summer, as I know I have done a huge service to the L.A. river area. I can recall this one time a couple of fishermen and women said, “Hey, the Bay healers are here!” Another favorite part was participating in the Coastal Cleanup day on September 21st, as not only was I able to meet a lot of people, talk to students, and clean up a river, but I was also able to bring my family out to participate and enjoy doing their part in doing a service to the Greater Los Angeles Area. I have also enjoyed the lab work, but it was a little overshadowed by the field work.
Stephanie Alvarez As someone who grew in Los Angeles I wasn’t as aware of how much nature we still have in the city, and I want to help protect it and the people who want to enjoy it. My most favorite memory was when a few of us got to speak to high school students and saw how most of them grasped the urgency of keeping our water clean. They all had their own unique ideas and all agreed that keeping our waters clean was very important. This gave me even more hope that we will be able to save our bodies of water. As someone who wants to help find ways to clean water, in an effective and cheap manner, this experience helped me see the problem in different angles. I went into this program thinking only of how to clean water to drink it, and now I am thinking about how we can make it clean enough for people to swim in and wildlife to thrive in. This program helped me gain experience in the lab and helped me dream bigger. We were so lucky to have worked alongside many amazing people, and I wanted to thank Luke for being an amazing leader! I suggest, if you are reading this and you want to help your planet, to get involved. There are so many programs and events that you can sign up for free. Change always starts with one person! Together we can save our planet and our wildlife!
Blaire Edwards I started off by trying something different and left with an abundance of information about the environment around me. My favorite part of this experience had to be learning about all the matters happening environmentally and what I can do to get more involved and help make a difference.
Christina Huggins With so many adventurers heading outdoors to enjoy the summer weather, the highlight of sampling water quality for Heal the Bay this summer was the opportunity to connect with the community and educate them about their environment. From early morning hikes through the Santa Monica Mountains to curious explorers and hikers asking questions about our yellow boots and sample bottles. Getting the opportunity to be a part of keeping the public informed about freshwater quality has given me a new direction in my career and educational path.
Michelle Allen The biggest highlight of working on the team this summer is knowing that what we do and the information we collect makes it to the general public. The fact that our samples that we test affect people’s choices to make safer decisions, is a huge part of why I love being a part of this team. Collecting samples is always something fun to me. I love the fact that we go out into nature and see how the land changes each time we go out while meeting people along the way.
Olivia Garcia My favorite part of the summer was collecting water samples for analysis. I liked being able to see, understand, and make note of the factors that could potentially contaminate the water quality in the river. I was also fascinated with the quality control protocol. I gained a lot of knowledge about the importance of consistency in documentation and testing, and a better intuitive understanding of quality control as a whole. It’s hard to pick out what the overall highlight of the summer was because it was all so amazing.
Christina and Michelle collecting samples from the popular Rock Pool in Malibu Creek State Park.
Blaire, Olivia, and Luke collecting storm drain samples along the Elysian Valley.
Luke Ginger, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, recounts the latest season of freshwater monitoring, reveals the disappointingly poor water quality grades, and explains what this means for public health and the future of the LA River.
The summer of 2019 marked Heal the Bay’s sixth summer sampling in Malibu Creek State Park and the fifth summer sampling in the LA River freshwater recreation areas. Currently, there is no federal or state mandate or funding for monitoring freshwater recreation areas as there is for ocean beaches. So local freshwater stakeholders monitor water quality in LA County with their own funds. Heal the Bay samples in various places to fill in some of the sampling gaps left by those organizations.
This season, we regularly monitored the Rock Pool and Las Virgenes Creek in Malibu Creek State Park, the LA River at Burbank Boulevard, and three sites in the LA River near Elysian Valley. We also sample the storm drains along the Elysian Valley to help us understand the origin and amount of bacteria entering the LA River. In total, our team collected 96 river and stream samples, and about 84 storm drain samples.
Disappointing Findings, Yet Encouraging Outreach
Grades in the LA River recreation zones were disappointingly poor this summer. The four sites we tested had good water quality (green grades) just 16% of the time on average. That means bacteria levels exceeded at least one standard (yellow or red grades) 84% of the time in the LA River. Malibu Creek State Park sites had similar water quality where green grades were issued 19% and bacteria exceeded standards 81% of the time. For the public, this means that water quality presents indicates a risk for human illness more than 80% of the time.
In addition to protecting public health by reporting freshwater quality grades, our mission is to conduct outreach and get more people invested in improving the health of the LA River Watershed. This summer was jam-packed with events that allowed us to spread our message and make an impact. We tabled at events along the LA River, participated in river cleanups (including the first-ever Trash Blitz at Compton Creek) and also collaborated with Pacoima Beautiful, FOLAR and CSUN to educate high school students on water quality in the river. This fall, we are continuing our student outreach by giving lectures at local high schools and providing students hands-on experience collecting water samples.
We tabled at the Wiltern for an Ice on Fire documentary event. We even got to take over the Wiltern’s Instagram account for the day!
Protecting the public from potentially harmful water has been Heal the Bay’s mission for the past 30 years with the Beach Report Card, so our next step has been to provide the same water quality information for freshwater recreation areas. Because a healthy Bay starts with a healthy LA. To dive deeper into our freshwater work, check out our River Report Card. And stay tuned for the next release in Spring 2020, which will include a full assessment of these recent water quality grades.
We are also anxiously waiting for the release of the LA River Master Plan in December 2019, which is LA County Department of Public Works’ plan to revitalize parts of the river. We are eager to see an LA River that supports both nature and the surrounding communities without displacing them, so we urge everyone to follow the LA River Master Plan updates and get involved.
Our monitoring program also got some attention in the media!