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Heal the Bay Blog

Author: Luke Ginger

One year ago today, a catastrophic flood at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant (Hyperion) sent 13 million gallons of sewage into the Santa Monica Bay endangering the health and safety of Los Angeles County beachgoers and Hyperion workers. For several weeks after the spill, surrounding communities were blanketed in noxious fumes, and the Plant continued to discharge millions of gallons of undertreated wastewater into the ocean as repairs were made. Public notifications were alarmingly slow and reckless with L.A. County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) taking nearly 24 hours to close beaches and issue sewage spill advisories. This major breakdown in infrastructure and public notification is something we cannot afford to have happen again.

Here, we provide a short recap of the response to the spill as well as the most recent updates. For more information about the spill, check our original blog post.

The Response to the Spill

In the weeks after the spill, Heal the Bay supported motions put forth by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and the L.A. City Council to investigate the cause of the spill as well as the public notification protocols used by government agencies. These motions resulted in the creation of two reports – one created by L.A. Sanitation (hereafter 30-day Report), and one created by an ad hoc committee (hereafter Ad Hoc Report) of experts that included Heal the Bay’s CEO at the time, Shelley Luce, as well as Heal the Bay’s current CEO, Tracy Quinn, who was with the Natural Resource Defense Council. Around this time, L.A. Sanitation launched a website providing information and data about the recovery status of Hyperion in a bid for transparency. 

30-day Report 

The 30-day Report was released several weeks after the spill, and offered much needed clarity on the events leading up to the spill and an assessment of the damage to Hyperion. This report also provided a minute-by-minute account of the day of the spill. While this report was valuable, it did not identify the cause of the spill as there was not enough time for a thorough investigation.

Ad Hoc Report 

The Ad Hoc Report was released on February 11, 2022 and was more comprehensive than the 30-day Report. The Ad Hoc Report found that a series of missteps led to the sewage spill rather than a single sudden influx of debris that inundated Hyperion’s machinery, which was the original theory. The report recommended improvements and next steps for improving Hyperion’s operations including upgrades to the trash removal equipment; improved alarm functionality; and more staffing and training. 

Enforcement 

This event caused Hyperion to violate both water and air pollution regulations, which means they could be penalized by two government agencies: L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) and the South Coast Air Quality Management (SCAQMD) district. Both agencies state that investigations are ongoing, but we do have some information:

  • The SCAQMD has identified 39 separate air quality violations, but since their investigation is still in progress, there is no information about penalties at this point. The SCAQMD states that air pollutant levels no longer exceed state thresholds.
  • The LARWQCB has not released information about violations publicly, but we do know that there were sewage discharge and water quality monitoring violations. According to the LARWQCB, Hyperion may be fined between up to a maximum of $10 per gallon of sewage spilled depending on how severe the LARWQCB deems the spill. Given that 13 million gallons were discharged into the ocean, potential penalties could be $130 million dollars – with additional monetary penalties for each day they were in violation (up to $10k per day). Unfortunately, the LARWQCB has a poor track record when it comes to enforcement. In 2015, when Hyperion discharged 30 million gallons of sewage into the Santa Monica Bay, they were fined a little over $2 million or 7 cents a gallon. That penalty is well below the $10 per gallon maximum the LARWQCB could enact.  

Latest Updates 

On June 29, 2022, L.A. Sanitation (LASAN) provided the public with updates on the status of the Plant’s operations:

Completed  

  • LASAN worked with LACDPH and other agencies to improve public notification protocols.  
  • Additional staff have been hired at Hyperion. 
  • Alarms are audible and more visible in the Headworks facility; emergency protocols have been updated; and staff have received additional training. 
  • Certain buildings were upgraded to make them less vulnerable to flooding.
  • More effective air filters were installed to address fumes.  

In Progress 

  • Pipes carrying wastewater to the Plant will be inspected and cleared of debris. 
  • The flood control mitigation feature in the Headworks facility will be automatic and will not rely on an employee to activate the feature in case of an emergency.
  • All equipment in the Headworks facility will have the ability to be operated remotely in case conditions in the Headworks facility are too dangerous for workers.
  • Electrical equipment will be updated and protected so it can withstand a flood.
  • New covers will be installed on effluent storage tanks, which will help prevent noxious fumes from seeping into the surrounding neighborhoods. Sensors will also be installed around the facility’s perimeter to measure fume concentrations.  

What Comes Next 

We are glad to see that Hyperion has made so many upgrades to its infrastructure within one year of sustaining catastrophic damage. At face value, the updates to Hyperion’s operations, both completed and in progress, will prevent a similar disaster from happening in the future at the Plant. However, this will not be the end of major sewage spills in Los Angeles County. Until major infrastructure updates are implemented across the County, we can expect to see failures in our sewage system like the December 2021 spill in Carson. We urge decision makers to fund infrastructure updates to keep pollution out of our communities and ecosystems. 

LASAN will also need to work on rebuilding public trust as Hyperion transitions to full wastewater recycling by 2035. This transition means that Hyperion will no longer discharge treated water to the ocean, but will instead recycle 100% of its water to provide for a reliable and local source of water in the face of ongoing drought and climate change impacts. Heal the Bay is a strong supporter of this effort to reduce our reliance on imported water as well as reduce impacts to the ocean – we will be tracking the issue closely to ensure that public health is prioritized along with sustainability.

L.A. Sanitation and LACDPH have stated that they are working together on updated protocols for public notifications in case of a sewage spill, but we have seen little documentation or evidence of this. We urge both agencies to provide us with more information on how they will communicate with each other and the public in case of a sewage spill.  

Once LARWQCB and SCAQMD complete their investigations, they will levy a monetary penalty on Hyperion/L.A. Sanitation. Some of these funds could go towards Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) – which are projects aimed at improving the environment. For example, approximately $1 million of the penalties resulting from the 2015 Hyperion spill went to environmental education programs including Heal the Bay’s and LASAN’s Don’t Flush That campaign. Another $1 million went towards cleanup and abatement costs of the spill. We urge LARWQCB and SCAQMD to enact fines that will adequately remediate the damage caused by this spill and also act as a deterrent for future environmental violations. Check out L.A. Waterkeeper’s blog for more information. 

Heal the Bay will continue to monitor this issue and provide updates. We’d like to thank our local communities for diligently staying informed on this issue. Right after the spill happened, we received countless inquiries from members of the public, and in response we hosted a Live discussion on Instagram to answer your important questions. If you continue to have questions about the spill, please contact us.  



On warmer days when people are spending time outdoors in Los Angeles, Heal the Bay is there too, collecting water samples from rivers, creeks, and streams. Our River Report Card has issued water quality grades for freshwater recreation sites throughout LA County since 2017. The grades are based on levels of bacterial pollution in the water, and help the public make informed decisions about whether it’s safe to swim there. Local college students (our ‘Stream Team’) collect water samples from Malibu Creek State Park and the LA River in the San Fernando Valley and north of Downtown.

In the summer of 2021 we expanded our program to the lower reaches of the LA River, so now our River Report Card covers the entire extent of the LA River! Funding for this expansion came from the Watershed Conservation Authority. We partnered with California State University Long Beach (CSULB) and would like to give a major shout-out and thank you to Dr. Varenka Lorenzi and Dr. Christine Whitcraft from CSULB who dedicated their time and resources to facilitating the program.

This fantastic achievement would not be possible without the hard work of our Lower LA River Stream Team, which is composed of five students from CSULB and Long Beach City College (LBCC).

We asked the students to share their thoughts on the work they did this past summer – read on to hear their voices and what this experience meant to them.

 Sarah Valencia

“Throughout my entire experience with the Stream Team I learned so much about the activity surrounding the LA River. So many locals come out to enjoy the River and the space it has to offer. It made me realize how precious the River is to so many hidden communities and local families. Unfortunately, our samples collected from the lower part of the LA River yielded large amounts of E. coli and Enterococcus (which indicates the presence of fecal pollution). The River was not suitable or safe for any kind of in-water activities, so seeing locals try to catch fish or bathe in the water made our work feel needed and long overdue.

I grew up in Bell, California, just about a block from Riverfront Park. I remember hanging out by the River with friends, so I feel connected to the River in that it is part of my community and childhood. Joining the Stream Team helped me look at the LA River through different lenses. I can now see how the River is an integral part of the ecosystem there especially as we move closer to the ocean where the River ends. Animals were always a fun sight. We’d randomly find a snake, turtle, frog, and countless dogs. Each field day was its own new adventure.

I hope to continue my education in environmental science by attending graduate school so that I can take my knowledge and studies into helping watershed conservation and communities. I believe that the work the Stream Team does will prompt legislatures, other conservation groups, and the community to support efforts into watershed conservation and protecting the LA River for all its communities.”


Sarah Kambli

“I was so excited to have the opportunity to work as part of the Stream Team this summer. Originally a Marine Biology major, I switched to Environmental Science & Policy in the fall of 2019 and while I was excited at the new prospect, I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly this field would have in store for me. Cue the Stream Team! When I heard about this opportunity, I was so excited and jumped at the chance to apply, and I was absolutely elated when I got the position. I’ve always felt a connection to Nature, especially water, so to be able to get down into the River and study it was so exciting!

This project meant a lot to me in many ways. Scientifically, I was able to get some hands-on experience by collecting and analyzing samples. I was able to use some of the skills I learned in previous Science classes that, while enjoyable, I really struggled with. So, it really made me feel good to see that I was able to pull from some of that knowledge and put it to practical use, despite my previous difficulties. I gained so much confidence in myself through working both in the field and in the lab, and this experience showed me a potential road that I am excited to continue down after school. I’m still not completely sure what I want to do when I’m finished, but I know I want to work with ocean conservation; having this experience will really help me with that goal in the future.

On a personal level, this project also meant a lot to me. Like a lot of people, COVID has been very difficult for me. My entire family lives over a thousand miles away in the middle of the country, so I felt the forced isolation especially hard. When I joined the Stream Team, though, and got to work with these amazing young women, I felt myself come alive again. The five of us all got along exceptionally well from the start, and we worked seamlessly as a team. Besides amazing teammates, I made four wonderful friends that I foresee being in my life for many years down the road.”


Monet Pedrazzini

“Early morning air carries sounds of sweeping trucks on the 710 that mimic ocean waves, a foreshadowing of the eventual pelagic destiny of the Lower LA River runoff. We, the Stream Team, trudge in our waders and boots while taking note of cyclists and weekly algae bloom, watching dragonflies during the summer, and counting trash bags or shopping carts that decorate the concrete-floored watershed. Each site has its own expression of local flora, fauna, and activity. Families push strollers on the bike trail past the scattered duckweed and litter on the slopes of Riverfront Park’s riparian bank while Audubon Society members stake out at Willow (the furthest downstream site) to view Canadian geese or California terns taking a rest from migration commutes. As a part of Los Angeles history from early colonization to its present physical intertwinement that starts in Canoga Park, the LA River’s broad ecosystem spans time as well as the landscape with understatement. Shooting through downtown LA generally unnoticed and ending in Long Beach, it runs through and by us each day. The myth of nature as other erodes as we collect samples, commuting downstream, amongst the biodiversity and legacy of the LA River. We, as humans, are as much a part of this once wild river that’s laden with society’s trashy fingerprint as it is a part of us, as the watershed cycle flushes away our cityscape toxins like urban kidneys. Our connection is integrated, even interdependent.

Participating in routine, weekly visits cultivated an intimate relationship with each site, allowing us to more acutely observe seasonal shifts and differences in weather or time of day as patterns of the ecosystem. We learned to correlate these fluctuations with our lab analysis, excitedly putting into practice empirical observation along with the scientific method as we discovered the disappointing, but not so surprising, high levels of bacteria present in the River. This was each of our introductions to scientific field and lab work. Our worst fear was to feel intimidated, talked down to, or not smart enough to be there. Being an all-female team with varying abilities and backgrounds felt radically inclusive according to our understanding of the culture of STEM. With Heal the Bay’s encouraging support and example of relearning inclusivity in STEM, we intentionally empowered each other with compassionate accommodation that highlighted each member’s contributing strengths. Learning to practice consistency in standardized data collection and interpretive analysis as well as utilize unfamiliar lab equipment as a team allowed us to be more present, confident, and welcomed in the realm of science, transforming the fearful, projected legacy of competition into collaboration.

These embracing qualities have been so important to each of us as our initiating experience with scientific research. The opportunity to engage with science without feeling judged or insecure not only maintained a wholesome environment but has worked to affirm my own capacity, ability, and confidence to pursue a professional career in the STEM fields. Furthermore, as a Latinx, Long Beach native, relating data specific to my local ecosystems to the overarching narrative of climate change and environmental justice is a priority. Given this, my goal is to utilize my degree to advocate for Indigenous Land reclamation and stewardship in the process of decolonization along with environmental advocacy while continuing to nourish inclusivity in STEM. Working with Heal the Bay on the Lower LA River Stream Team has provided an incredible launching pad of curiosity, partnership, empowerment, and insight into the praxis of scientific pursuits. My experience with the LA River will always be a deep, personal reminder of the poetic resiliency and adaptive character of nature, moving me to remember that nature is not only all around us but more so, we have merely built ourselves around nature.”


Melissa Zelaya

“My time spent learning about the Lower LA River these last few months has been incredibly informative and inspirational. I was lucky to be part of the Stream Team which included a wonderful array of individuals that I learned from each day. Also training under Luke and meeting a community of like-minded individuals has been fuel to my already blazing need to work towards the health and protection of our natural environment.

I discovered that to understand the importance of monitoring the Lower LA River is to understand the importance of all the connecting waterways. The seriousness of a rainfall washing through these connecting channels bringing all the waste of our city to the ocean is one of the reasons it is instrumental in seeking ways we can make better changes. Not only were we able to see firsthand what rainfall does to the River but we were also able to quantify the difference it makes in our data. Monitoring the Lower LA River was challenging at times. Even though it holds the title of a river and is used recreationally, what we noted was a heavily impacted area not held to safe health standards. The qualitative data we recorded revealed that there is movement of birds as well as local activity using this area as recreational pathways. We saw fishes, insects, algae, vegetation, and life in and near the River. Our mission to the River was for the entirety. To advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves and to show the results of our current standing so that we can see positive improvements of the natural aspect of this area.

The direction of my personal and professional life has always been intertwined. As a first generation Latina college student, it was exciting being able to come home and explain to my parents the work I was doing in the River. My passion for my study came from their encouragement and compassion. I want to use my time and voice in ways that can be beneficial to the community and in the protection of the environment. I felt privileged to be able to do work that I loved at this point in my educational career. In addition, knowing that I would be gaining experience working with Heal the Bay who commits their time and resources to public health, climate action and education has been rewarding. I want to continue in this path that has been nothing but fulfilling. In educating others, as others have educated me. To advocate for an equitable future and use my training in ways that are going to help our diverse community flourish. I’ve been able to grow my confidence as well as knowledge of what it means to be a scientist thanks to an encouraging group putting work every day to see a better tomorrow.”


Jasmine Sandoval

“Hi, my name is Jasmine Sandoval and I had an amazing time being a part of the Stream Team this summer/fall! I am currently working on my Bachelor’s in Environmental Science and Policy, minor in Geology, and GIS certificate at Cal State University of Long Beach so this opportunity was right up my alley. During this time, I learned a lot about how to use lab equipment, how to set up, clean up, and perform testing on water samples, and how to take proper samples that would not introduce any bias or obstruct the sample as a whole. I also learned how to properly record data that is being collected! Working with the entire Stream Team has been such a blessing as the colleagues I worked with helped create such a fun, supportive, and respectful work environment. This whole experience has been so meaningful to me as it has helped me see how capable I am as a person, how much I love the field I am getting into, and how much work there is to be done that I can be involved in. I will take everything I learned from this and apply it to my future endeavors and for that I am truly grateful!”


The Stream Team will be back to issuing water quality grades next summer. In the meantime, keep an eye out for our annual River Report Card, which will be released in late spring 2022. Here’s our last report from 2020.



(Photo Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP, NPR)

A federal grand jury has filed charges against the Houston-based oil company responsible for the Orange County Oil Spill that dumped 25,000 gallons into the Southern California ocean coastline. Is this a step forward for environmental justice, or just barely enough?

Amplify Energy and two of its subsidiaries were charged on December 15, 2021 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for negligence that led to the oil spill off the Orange County coast in October 2021. The energy company’s actions that led to the charges include:

  • Failing to properly respond to eight alarms from the pipeline’s leak detection system, and subsequently allowing oil to flow through a damaged pipeline for over seven hours.
  • Operating an oil pipeline with an understaffed and fatigued crew that was not properly trained on the leak detection system.

These charges come with a maximum penalty of five years of probation for Amplify Energy and potential fines, which may reach millions of dollars. We do not yet know what probation would look like for Amplify Energy, but in general, the judge presiding over the case can require them to change their operation or conduct if the corporation is placed on probation.

This action, while positive in that it highlights the extreme negligence that occurred, is unfortunately not enough of a deterrent for oil drilling companies to improve their practices or to go so far as to consider ending drilling. The fines are a drop in the bucket for an industry that generates over $100 billion annually, and indictments target the corporations and not the individuals in charge of the corporations, again softening the accountability blow.

The only way to prevent another oil spill from happening is to end oil drilling. It is clear that the system we have for overseeing and penalizing oil extraction companies is not sufficient for protecting our priceless and increasingly endangered ecosystems as well as fenceline communities and public health. Oil extraction companies continue to operate recklessly knowing that they can quickly recover financially.

To enact meaningful change we must phase out oil extraction all together whether it’s happening in the ocean or in our neighborhoods. We are excited to see the legislation that Senator Min will be introducing in January, which promises to end all drilling in California state waters. Ending offshore oil drilling does not mean that we can expand drilling on land – we must transition to renewable energy as soon as possible to address the climate crisis and the environmental injustices that the oil industry has inflicted on fenceline communities.

Take Action!

  • Urge the California State Government to place a buffer between oil and gas operations and our homes.
  • Get involved with local organizations working to end oil extraction in our neighborhoods.
  • Find out who your representatives are and ask what they are doing to protect the public and environment from oil extraction.


For the seventh straight summer, Heal the Bay is posting daily water quality predictions for California Beaches at the Beach Report Card with NowCast. To make daily predictions, we use computer models to examine correlations between environmental conditions (such as temperature and tide) and historical bacteria concentrations. Our NowCast models then predict with a high accuracy how much bacteria could be present in the water given the current local conditions at the beach. 

A day at the beach should not make anyone sick. That is why health officials across the state monitor water quality at the beach every week during the summer. And when officials detect high levels of bacteria, they issue a public health advisory. By the time traditional water quality samples are processed, a minimum of 18-24 hours have passed and the information is already outdated – and with samples taken only every 7 days, a weekly water quality grade may not provide the most useful or updated information as water quality can fluctuate rapidly. Heal the Bay believes that we need daily water quality information in order to better protect public health – our NowCast program does exactly that, issuing daily water quality information for 25 beaches. 

Map showing locations of beaches with NowCast reporting in Los Angeles area

NowCast predictions appear on the Beach Report Card website and app 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. 

Head to beachreportcard.org to find daily predictions for 25 beaches across California. Or download our free app on your iOS or Android device to get daily predictions on-the-go. 

Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer 2021, we are excited to announce the 25 beaches in our NowCast program, with five new beaches added to the program in 2021:

  1. Trinidad State Beach, Humboldt County *NEW
  2. Luffenholtz State Beach, Humboldt County
  3. Bolinas Beach at Wharf Road, Marin County
  4. Aquatic Park, San Francisco
  5. Ocean Beach at Balboa Street, San Francisco
  6. Linda Mar Beach at San Pedro Creek, San Mateo County
  7. Half Moon Bay State Beach, San Mateo County *NEW
  8. Rio Del Mar, Santa Cruz County
  9. Lover’s Point, Monterey County *NEW
  10. Morro Bay at Atascadero Road, San Luis Obispo County
  11. Hammonds Beach, Santa Barbara County *NEW
  12. Promenade Park at C Street, Ventura County *NEW
  13. Leo Carrillo, Los Angeles County
  14. Venice Beach at Brooks Avenue, Los Angeles County
  15. Venice Breakwater, Los Angeles County
  16. Dockweiler/Toes Beach, Los Angeles County
  17. El Porto, Los Angeles County
  18. Manhattan Beach at 28th Street, Los Angeles County
  19. Redondo Breakwater, Los Angeles County
  20. Torrance Beach at Avenue I, Los Angeles County
  21. Long Beach at 5th Place, Los Angeles County
  22. Long Beach at 72nd Place, Los Angeles County
  23. Seal Beach Pier, Orange County
  24. Huntington Beach at Brookhurst Street, Orange County
  25. Newport Beach at 38th Street, Orange County

Don’t see your beach on the map? Let us know if you have a beach we should consider for NowCast. We are continually refining and expanding this program and hope to cover more beaches in the future. 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. 

Communities looking to bring daily water quality predictions to their favorite beach spots can advocate for this cause in the following ways:

  • 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 the environment.

If you can’t find NowCast predictions in your area, you can see the latest water quality grades issued to over 500 beaches on the Beach Report Card. In the meantime, we are working to expand NowCast, so check back soon to see if your favorite beach has water quality predictions.


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Beach Report Card logo and a design of words in the background that list some of the NowCast beach locations Beach Report Card logo and the statement, NowCast Daily Water Quality Predictions from Heal the Bay Scientists a list of 25 beach locations with NowCast



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 previous years. 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, Hispanic, 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

  • 64% Green
  • 35% Yellow
  • 0% Red

Las Virgenes Creek – worse than last year

  • 0% Green
  • 93% Yellow
  • 7% Red

Los Angeles River

Sepulveda Basin at Burbank Ave. – slightly better than last year

  • 31% Green
  • 69% Yellow
  • 0% Red

Rattlesnake Park – worse than last year

  • 15% Green
  • 33% Yellow
  • 51% Red

Steelhead Park – same as last year

  • 64% Green
  • 33% Yellow
  • 3% Red

Learn More:



Rattlesnake Park - Los Angeles River

Sign up for our “Knowledge Drops – Wait, what’s happening to the L.A. River?” webinar on December 3

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. 

LA River 1800 before colonization
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.

Historic-Flood LA River
1938 Colfax Avenue Bridge Studio City. Source: Regional History Center / USC, riverlareports.riverla.org

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. 

LA River Historic-Channelization
1949 Laurel Canyon Channel Construction. Source: riverlareports.riverla.org

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. 

Meanwhile, the Master Plan has to go through the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process and a programmatic Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is being prepared for the Master Plan itself (see this fact sheet for more explanation).  

Upper L.A. River Master Plan (ULART 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.

ULART Plan Map

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: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Lower LA River Plan Map

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. 

LA River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility - Flows Presentation 8

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. 

LA River Map - Flows Presentation 8

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.

How can I get involved?

When the L.A. River Master Plan is released to the public, you can provide comments about the changes you would like to see in the watershed. The Flows Plan has not been released yet, but the public will have the opportunity to comment when it is released. As plans are implemented, you will have the opportunity to weigh in on each individual project that gets implemented. We recommend tracking these projects on the L.A. River Master Plan, Lower L.A. River Master Plan, ULART Plan, LARRMP, and L.A. River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study websites.

Los Angeles River Access and Points of Interest

Click on a trail segment, access point, or icon for photos and to learn more.



For the sixth straight summer, Heal the Bay is posting daily water quality predictions for California Beaches on our Beach Report Card with NowCast.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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Christina and Michelle collecting samples from the popular Rock Pool in Malibu Creek State Park.

Learn more about our summer of freshwater sampling and our River Report Card.




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.

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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!

Looking Forward

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!