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Heal the Bay Blog

Author: Matt King

Staff scientist Ryan Searcy takes a closer look into the state’s decision not to drop fecal coliform regulations at California beaches. It’s an important example of our advocacy at work, and how collaboration with regulatory agencies can lead to better environmental policies.

Advocating for sound, science-based environmental policies is often both frustrating and rewarding. In California, we advocates are lucky that regulators generally share a similar goal of achieving a safe, healthy, and clean environment. However, we often find ourselves at disagreement on how to achieve that goal. In the end, when regulatory officials change policies or adopt a new regulation, our hope is that the best science guides the process. All relevant stakeholders should have their say, so that the policy or regulation serves the public and the environment to the highest benefit.

At the end of August we saw one example of this as the State Water Resources Control Board approved updates to the beach water quality standards provided in the California Ocean Plan. While it is true that Heal the Bay does not agree with all of the changes the State made to these standards, we want to particularly highlight a major success: that in the 11th hour, the State, along with Heal the Bay and other stakeholders, worked together to rewrite the standards to be more health protective by retaining fecal coliform.

In any given sample of ocean water, you are likely to find a veritable zoo of algae, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other organisms. Fecal coliform, along with total coliform and Enterococcus, are the three primary fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) monitored and regulated at California ocean beaches to help us determine if it’s safe to swim. FIB in the water do not necessarily get you sick themselves, but presence of these organisms may also indicate the presence of the organisms that do get you sick, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Norovirus. Swimming in water with high levels of FIB is correlated with an increased risk of skin rash, eye and ear infections, and gastroenteritis. Because of this, the State protects beachgoers by setting and enforcing water quality standards for FIB.

Last year, the State began the process of updating the water quality standards in the Ocean Plan, something that hadn’t been done since the 1980s. Initially, both total coliform and fecal coliform were dropped from the ocean regulatory standards, while standards for Enterococcus only were retained. To support this decision, the State initially cited the EPA’s 2012 meta-analysis of 27 epidemiological studies that concluded, among other findings, that Enterococcus alone was the best predictor of illness from a day at the beach. However, EPA’s analysis is not the most recent nor relevant science on water quality at California beaches. Only two of those 27 studies were performed in marine waters in the United States, and only one was performed in California; both were completed before the year 2000.

Recent epidemiological studies performed at California beaches since 2012 actually show that both Enterococcus and fecal coliform are indicators of elevated health risk. Even more interesting is that some of these studies also show that fecal coliform is a good indicator in certain types of exposure and environmental conditions where Enterococcus is not. The Colford et al. study performed at Doheny State Beach in 2012 indicated that both fecal coliform and Enterococcus were indicative of risk of gastrointestinal illness, and that when a swimmer’s entire body was submersed, fecal coliform was indicative of risk of illness when Enterococcus was not. The Surfer Health Study, performed in San Diego by our friends at the Surfrider Foundation and the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) in 2017, showed that fecal coliform was strongly correlated to certain illnesses in periods of wet weather when Enterococcus was not.

Additional to its known correlation to health risk, fecal coliform levels have often exceeded California standards, even at times when Enterococcus does not. Heal the Bay maintains a large database of FIB samples taken by California beach agencies, and these data fuel our Beach Report Card and NowCast programs. Our analysis of over 328,000 historical FIB samples taken at over 700 sites in the summer seasons from 1998 through 2017 showed that nearly 23,000 (7%) of those samples exceeded state standards for at least one FIB. Of those exceedances, nearly 3 out of every 4 days in which a health standard was exceeded at a California beach, Enterococcus was partially or fully to blame. So Enterococcus is undeniably an important indicator at ocean beaches.

However, the remaining measured exceedances were not due to Enterococcus. Fecal coliform exceeded California standards alone (that is, when total coliform and Enterococcus did not) in more than 16% of all recorded exceedances, an amount that Heal the Bay argues is significant when considered with its known correlation to health risk. Looking deeper into the data, we saw that fecal coliform was the FIB in highest exceedance at a number of well-known beaches. Troubled beaches like Cowell Beach, Pismo Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, and La Jolla Cove (among others) may not have been prioritized for getting cleaned up if fecal coliform were dropped from regulation.

Fortunately, a fecal coliform crisis was averted.

The State was set to adopt the revisions to the Ocean Plan, including the amendment that dropped fecal coliform standards from the regulations, at a public hearing in February of this year. Days before the adoption hearing, the lack of consideration of the relevant California science and the historical FIB data mentioned above were brought to the State’s attention, and the hearing was postponed in order to consider fecal coliform standards further.

After a meeting in the spring with a stakeholder group composed of Heal the Bay scientists; expert water quality scientists from Stanford, UCLA (including our former chief Mark Gold), and SCCWRP ; the California Coast Keeper Alliance; and representatives from some of the Regional Water Boards, the State went back and evaluated the relevant California-based science and the historical FIB sample data from California beaches, using them as evidence to rewrite the standards to retain fecal coliform. When the amendments to the water quality standards in the California Ocean Plan were finally adopted last month, the existing fecal coliform standards were retained, and the state agreed to continue to consider the relevant science and data in future updates of the Ocean Plan.

The clawback marked a huge win for California beaches and the people who visit them.

It was also a good example of a regulatory process that involves consideration of sound science and collaboration between a regulatory agency and its stakeholders. The task is not done, though. Heal the Bay looks forward to continuing the conversation with the State Water Board and other stakeholders as we continue to work towards water quality regulations that ensure our beaches are all available for Californians to safely enjoy.

You can read the State Water Board staff report that documents their full analysis here, starting on page 62.



Santa Monica often sets the stage for the rest of Southern California when it comes to curbing consumer practices that trash our oceans and neighborhoods.

In 2007, the Santa Monica City Council passed its first ordinance regulating the use of polystyrene, the type of foam typically used in fast-food and drink packaging that has become such an eyesore on our local beaches and neighborhoods.

Today, 110 municipalities in California have passed some type of legislation on the use of polystyrene.  Progressive cities like San Francisco, Malibu and Manhattan Beach have comprehensive bans that include retail sales, coolers and ice chests.

polystyrene ban

Last night, the City Council approved modifications to the City’s earlier ordinance on polystyrene, extending protections that will reduce blight and save marine life.

The new rules extend the existing polystyrene ban to include Food Service Ware (plates, bowls, utensils, cups, straws, and more) and prohibiting bio-plastic #7 and plastics #1-5. They also encourage alternatives such as paper, fiber, bagasse and wood for takeaway packaging.  They also require that takeaway straws and utensils only be made available to customers on a request-only basis, and that they be “marine degradable.”  There are exceptions for people with medical conditions for the use of straws.

These modifications are crucial if we are to systematically reduce plastic pollution in our communities and oceans.  In the last 18 years, Heal the Bay volunteers have removed over 736,000 pieces of plastic foam trash from L.A. beaches.  The harmful flow of single-use plastic foam is a constant threat to marine animals, wildlife and habitats.

And this pollution problem is only growing.  Of the more than 375,000 tons of polystyrene (plastic foam) produced in California each year, not even 1% gets recycled.  The rest ends up in our landfills, waterways and the ocean.

The new rules will help the city achieve its Zero Waste goals by 2030 — through diversion, composting, and recycling.

Nearly 30 people, ranging in age from 3 to 70 years old, spoke in support of the changes. Our policy leaders Katherine Pease and Mary Luna led the Heal the Bay contingent.  Councilmembers seemed enthusiastic during public testimony and wanted to learn more about how the City staff could work with businesses to facilitate transitioning polystyrene out of use.

Beginning January 1, 2019, vendors are not allowed to provide containers made out of polystyrene #6, or from other plastics #1-5; all containers need to be made out of materials like paper, wood, and fiber that meet the definition of marine degradable.

After that date, any business in Santa Monica serving food or drinks in containers labeled #1-6 would not be in compliance with this polystyrene ordinance, and the public may choose to educate them about the ordinance, or to file a report with the City’s Code Enforcement division to ensure compliance.

The definition of marine degradable is included in the ordinance language, specifying that products must degrade completely in marine waters or marine sediments in fewer than 120 days. Products predominantly made with plastics, either petroleum or biologically based, are not considered marine degradable.

Heal the Bay staff and our partners asked the Council to strengthen the ordinance by adding polystyrene items to the prohibited list, such as retail sales (e.g. packing materials, foam coolers) and grocery items (e.g. food trays, egg cartons).  The Council did add beverage lids to the list of items that need to be marine degradable.

The Council expressed interest in including retail sales and grocery items, but ultimately said the new ordinance isn’t the place for action.  Members instead directed staff to look at prohibition of polystyrene retail sales and come back with recommendations.  They also directed staff to look into possible charges for take-away containers (like the 10-cent charge for single-use plastic bags), and incentives for businesses to move more quickly to sustainable packaging.

The Santa Monica City Council showed great leadership last night by adopting the ordinance and continuing the conversation about how to strengthen it further.  We commend the efforts of city staff and councilmembers and look forward to working with the public to implement and build upon this important action.



New rules permit 1 out of 31 people to get sick from swimming at CA beaches

A day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick.  So it’s a bit perplexing to Heal the Bay that the state of California has just decided to weaken water-quality protections for the millions of people who visit our shoreline each year.

Last week the State Water Resources Control Board approved new standards for bacteria levels in our coastal and inland waters.  Unfortunately, the board has now decided that it’s acceptable that one person out of every 31 beachgoers become ill with diarrhea, intestinal ailments or skin rashes after a visit to the shore.

Think about that for a minute … if a typically-sized elementary school class goes on a field trip to the beach, it’s now OK for one of those children to later become sick from water contact.

But this isn’t just a theoretical debate. Tens of thousands of people get sick each year swimming at Southern California beaches.  Ocean-borne illnesses cause at least $20 million in health-related costs each year, according to L.A. County health officials.

We’re concerned because these new levels of “allowable” illness undermine public health protection and benefit polluters and dischargers.  The new rules basically endorse bacteria pollution levels set by the U.S. EPA, which had watered-down its own regulations in 2012 to Heal the Bay’s dismay.

California is known for setting stricter environmental standards than federal regulators. Instead of using the EPA as the gold standard for the Golden State, Heal the Bay believes that all standards and acceptable risk levels should be based on research performed along California’s unique coastline and watersheds.

Staff scientists Ryan Searcy and Karen Vu traveled to Sacramento to press this issue with the State Board, which is a branch of the California EPA.  The regulatory body oversees the state’s water quality, drinking water, and water rights programs.

The State Board also oversees Regional Boards, which develop water quality standards and enforces those standards when they are violated, all serving to protect the beneficial uses of the state’s waterways.

During our meetings we also expressed our concern about a provision to create a new inland regulatory designation that could have a major impact on efforts to increase recreation along the L.A. River.

The board has decided to create a new statewide beneficial-use designation for inland waterbodies, to be called Limited REC-1 (LREC-1).  The move may actually lead to efforts to restrict public access to spots along the L.A. River and other urban waterways.

L.A. River signage for water quality

Waterbodies in California that have recreational uses in or near the water are currently labeled either REC-1 or REC-2, depending on whether direct contact with and ingestion of the water will occur.  Depending on the designation, there are different water quality requirements for polluters that are discharging into the waterbodies.  The idea is to compel them to ensure that the beneficial use of the waterbody is maintained.

Under this new provision, a LREC-1 designation refers to waterbodies that are “limited by physical conditions such as very shallow water depth and restricted access and, as a result, ingestion of water is incidental and infrequent.”

Because an LREC-1 designation has less stringent water quality standards than a REC-1, an incentive is created for polluters to restrict public access to a waterbody to achieve a less protective designation.

This type of waterbody designation will have large implications for urban stream restoration efforts, such as those in the L.A. River, where a massive effort is under way to improve and increase public access.

However, we did manage to score a few wins in our trip to Sacramento.

Heal the Bay staff scientists worked with several other NGOs during the past few months and successfully stopped the State from dropping fecal coliform standards in determining ocean water-quality regulations.

The state had initially neglected California-based science that proves that fecal coliform remains a critical indicator of health risk at our beaches.

Fecal coliform is one of three fecal indicator bacteria that are monitored by beach agencies and regulated by the State.  These indicator bacteria aren’t necessarily harmful to humans  themselves, but each of the three are potentially indicative of the presence of pathogens in the water.  They are easier and cheaper to measure than directly measuring for the bugs that harm us.

In California, fecal coliform has been an important indicator of the risk of illness, along with enterococci and total coliform.  Thankfully, regulators agreed to go back and consider this science, and the original fecal coliform standards will remain.

Additionally, the state has also agreed to continue to consider the latest California-specific epidemiological studies to develop and improve appropriate bacteria objectives during future reviews of ocean-bacteria standards.

Some might wonder why the state is acting now to modify long-standing beach water-quality rules.

The board has cited a need to modernize its water quality standards. The last modification occurred in the late 1990s, with the passing of AB411 (which Heal the Bay helped enact).

AB411 mandated weekly monitoring of hundreds of California beaches, and requires beach agencies to post notices if the allowable thresholds are exceeded.  Since then, the EPA adopted new standards in 2012, and a number of relevant epidemiological studies were published in California.  The state made these changes in its standards mostly to align with the EPA, but neglected to consider the relevant epidemiological studies.

You can help us by paying attention to water quality at your favorite beaches and streams.  Fortunately, Heal the Bay has developed some tools for the public to use to do this easily.  Using the Beach Report Card, the NowCast system, and the River Report Card as advocacy tools.

All water-lovers can monitor their favorite swimming spots and raise their voices if they see consistently poor water quality.

You win some and you lose some whenever you travel to Sacramento’s halls of power, as any seasoned policy advocate will tell you.

While we are discouraged by the state’s decision to go lock-step with federal bacteria standards, we promise to keep fighting.  We will continue to support policies that provide the maximum public health protection.



Heal the Bay today released our 28th annual Beach Report Card, which assigns yearly A-to-F water-quality grades for more than 400 beaches statewide based on levels of harmful bacteria.

Our staff scientists put a ton of work into this comprehensive county-by-county survey of pollution along the California shoreline. We encourage you to geek out on all the stats and charts we’ve assembled in the colorful, easy-to-read report.

But if you are short on time, here are the major findings:

  • There’s one silver lining in Southern California’s recent swing back to drought-like conditions – improved beach water quality.
  • Less rain means less bacteria-laden urban runoff carried to the sea via the stormdrain system. Accordingly, bacterial pollution at our local beaches dipped dramatically in 2017-18. Some 95% of the beaches monitored in Southern California earned A grades during the busy summer season, a 5% uptick from the reporting period’s five-year average.
  • In another positive sign, a record 37 beaches in California made the Heal the Bay Honor Roll this year – meaning they are monitored year-round and score perfect A-plus grades each week during all seasons and weather conditions. You can see the full list on page 20 of the report.
  • Northern California beach-water quality sagged slightly in 2017-18, driven in large part by troubled beaches in San Mateo County and Humboldt County.
  • Some 88% of the 96 Northern California beaches monitored by Heal the Bay received an A or B grade for the busy summer season. That figure marks a 3% dip from the region’s five-year summer average.
  • In a somewhat surprising twist, Northern California held seven spots on our infamous Beach Bummer List, a ranking of the top 10 most polluted beaches in the state based on levels of harmful bacteria.
  • Poche Beach (creek mouth) in Orange County has the dubious honor of holding the top spot on our Beach Bummer List this year. For the full list, please see page 16 of the report.
  • You can get a county-by-county, beach-by-beach breakdown in the full report.
  • Download our press releases for Southern California and Northern California.

NowCast program

We’re also expanding our predictive beach water-quality NowCast program this summer, which could be a game-changer for better protecting people at the beach. Using sophisticated statistical models, environmental data, and past bacteria samples, the scientific team can accurately predict each morning what beaches might be impacted by bacterial pollution that day. Knowledge is power! This summer, Heal the Bay will run models for 20 beaches, from San Diego to San Francisco counties, posting predictions each morning on our digital platforms.

New website and mobile app

We’re also stoked to take the wraps off our newly redesigned Beach Report Card website, which allows users to get the latest water-quality grades for their favorite beaches in real-time. We’ve streamlined functionality and incorporated the new data sets from our NowCast program. Our tech team also is readying a new mobile app to launch this summer, just in time for prime beachgoing season. Learn more about what is new.

How to stay safe at the beach

  • Check beachreportcard.org for latest water quality grades
  • Avoid shallow, enclosed beaches, which usually suffer from poor circulation
  • Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains, creeks and piers

Download the Report

Visit Our New Beach Report Card website

Support This Work



 

Heal the Bay’s science and policy department recommends the following votes on ballot measures that directly affect the health of Southern California shorelines and inland waterways.

YES on Proposition 68

 A vote to authorize $4 billion in general obligation bonds for parks, natural resources protection, climate adaptation, water quality and supply, and flood protection. The bond measure addresses some of California’s most important water, park and natural resource needs.

The issue: California has been facing frequent and severe droughts, wildfires, and the impacts of climate change. This bond measure would invest in our natural resources and help prepare for any possible disasters. Funds would help keep toxic pollutants out of our drinking water, clean up groundwater, increase local water supplies, and create safe parks for children while protecting the land around the rivers and lakes that provide our drinking water. Prop 68 commits 40% of the bond measure funds to underserved, low-income communities. Accountability will also be ensured through annual audits. Help provide clean water and safe parks for every community with this measure.

The stakes: California continues to face a reduction in support of our water supplies and natural resources from our federal government. Many communities in Los Angeles are underserved, lacking safe spaces and parks for their children to use, as well as lacking access to safe drinking water in their homes. With the continued drought, natural disasters and wildfires could become more frequent and damaging. By capturing and recycling more water locally in communities, Californians can help prepare for these devastating events by increasing our local water supply while protecting our natural resources for future generations.

Our recommendation: Stand up for clean, safe drinking water and protect our natural resources. Vote YES.

YES on Proposition 72

A vote to prevent property tax increases for homeowners who install rainwater capture and reuse systems.

The issue: Stormwater is a great potential resource for water supply on a local scale as well as throughout California. Homeowners can install rainwater recycling systems that collect, store and reuse thousands of gallons of stormwater each year for outdoor use in landscaping and gardens. These projects reduce the use of potable water in landscaping, buffer the effects of drought, and benefit our entire state. Currently, installation of a rainwater capture system can increase property value, and consequently increase property taxes owed. Help Californians conserve water by eliminating this extra tax for homeowners who choose to capture and reuse rainwater.

The stakes: Much of the rain that falls in California is wasted as stormwater runoff, which flows through our waterways and out to the Pacific Ocean. In Los Angeles County alone, 80 billion gallons of stormwater runoff is lost every year. In the process, stormwater transports oil, trash and other contaminants into our rivers, our lakes and our ocean. These pollutants pose a serious risk to public and environmental health. Californians who choose to install rainwater capture systems help to improve water quality and reduce water waste. These efforts should be encouraged and rewarded.

Our recommendation: Reward homeowners who choose to recycle our rainwater resources. Vote YES.

 

 



Eric Garcetti and Zooey Deschanel at Heal the Bay Gala 2018

Please browse Flickr for images from the Gala and our Blue Carpet.

The fates shone on Heal the Bay last night at our annual “Bring Back the Beach” Annual Awards Gala.

After a week of May Gray, the sun gloriously took over at the Jonathan Club in Santa Monica. Under a gentle breeze and the gaze of a beaming lighthouse, more than 700 guests schmoozed on the sand and saluted our honorees: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Univision TV anchor Gabriela Teissier and Hollywood couple and sustainability champions Zooey Deschanel and husband Jacob Pechenik of The Farm Project.

L.A.’s biggest beach party always draws an eclectic crowd — from Venice artists to Silver Lake activists, DTLA policy wonks to South Bay surfers. Buoyed by tasty cocktails (blood orange margaritas!) and good vibes, our guests came out in beach-chic style to support our biggest fundraiser of the year.

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Thanks to their generosity we met our goals, raising more than one-fifth of our annual operating budget in a single night. Proceeds of the night underwrite a number of programs, from water-quality monitoring to subsidized field trips for underserved youth to visit our Aquarium.

Mayor Garcetti was the undeniable star of the evening. His sincere and humble comments about what Heal the Bay has meant to our city – and to him personally – had the crowd rapt. With his quick wit and clear command of policy, it’s easy to see why he’s a rumored candidate for the 2020 presidency. The Mayor bookended his speech with poems by Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda. Here is the beginning of “The Sea”:

I need the sea because it teaches me.
I don’t know if I learn music or awareness,
if it’s a single wave or its vast existence,
or only its harsh voice or its shining
suggestion of fishes and ships.
The fact is that until I fall asleep,
in some magnetic way I move in
the university of the waves.

In addition to Univision brass, Teissier brought her entire family to salute her longtime commitment to broadcasting stories about ocean and river protection to L.A.’s Spanish-speaking community. Fundraising galas can be long events, so it was endearing to see her sons patiently playing on a jungle gym while waiting for Mom to get her big award. Speaking passionately in both English and Spanish, Teissier recounted stories of her own upbringing and reaffirmed that Latino women have historically stood at the forefront of the environmental movement in Southern California.

Board member and fellow actress Amy Smart welcomed Deschanel and Pechenik to the Heal the Bay family. The couple, who run The Farm Project to better connect consumers directly to the producers of the food, spoke passionately about the growing scourge of plastic pollution in our food chain and greater environment. To cheers, Zooey talked about making smarter choices as consumer: “You weigh the options — single-use plastic vs. a healthy planet … get rid of that single-use plastic! It’s not worth it. It’s convenient filler. It doesn’t do ANYTHING for you. It doesn’t make you laugh or cry!” Well said.

Other supporters making waves: Meg Gill, an HTB board member and founder of Golden Road Brewing, sampling the newly revised version of Heal the Bay IPA with other beer lovers. (Gill is an avid swimmer, who still holds the female record for the fastest 50-meter swim ever recorded in the Ivy League!); Black Surfers Collective leaders Jeff Williams and Greg Rachal charming “Jumanji” co-star Ser’Darius Blain into participating in our upcoming Nick Gabaldon Day; a determined and persistent online bidder from New Jersey who triumphed at our Live Auction to secure a private Goodyear Blimp tour of the Santa Monica Bay.

Major props to the musical talent for the evening – the James Gang. The multi-player party band had supporters boogieing to the very end with their diverse chops, from spirited covers of Dr. Dre to soulful send-ups of Van the Man. They sent many a guest shimmying to their awaiting Lyft rides.

And a deep thank you to our dinner co-chairs: Malibu architect David Hertz and South Bay champion Kim Conant-Blum. Their boundless energy proved to be the ideal one-two punch for a successful evening under the stars.

A final thank you to our dynamic team of Heal the Bay volunteers, staff, leadership, Board, our incredible photographers Colin Young-Wolff, Dan Do-Linh and Nicola Buck, our brilliant event producer Natalie McAdams of NAMEVENTS and all of the gracious staff at the Jonathan Club.



Wildlife along our inland waterways are getting ready for their Heal the Bay close-ups, writes staff scientist Dr. Katherine Pease.

If you live in L.A., you know it’s not too hard to find its wild side. We all know our share of party animals. But let’s talk about the real-life fauna  — the wildlife that has found a way to co-exist in the concrete jungle of L.A.

Heal the Bay has joined a new consortium of environmental groups working together to collect data about the amazing animals that call the area around the L.A. River home.

We’re working with the National Park Service to use “camera trapping” to monitor wildlife activity along the L.A. River corridor. Cameras are set up in the wild, triggered by motion and heat and left out for weeks to months at a time to document passing animals. It’s similar to the now-famous camera-trap photos of mountain lion P-22 in Griffith Park and other animals throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. (In the photo above, you can see a screen grab of an active coyote.)

The new photographic data will help us understand urban biodiversity and how animals use the L.A. River corridor. We expect lots of shots of our urban wildlife neighbors, including opossums, squirrels, coyotes and raccoons.  The information will help inform protections for wildlife, which will certainly be impacted by the city’s ambitious $1-billion plan to revitalize the river.

Some 39 cameras are being placed near the L.A. River from its headwaters in the Woodland Hills areas to south of downtown L.A. The sections are broken up into grids and different organizations are “adopting” grids. Heal the Bay has adopted grid #9. This grid covers the Sepulveda Basin Area and upstream from there to Reseda. Each grid has (or will have) three cameras and the cameras will be deployed for a month at a time in the months of April, July, and October.

Heal the Bay staff and volunteers are responsible for deploying the cameras, checking on them mid-month, and taking them out at the end of the month. We will help clean up the photos (remove photos of ourselves, vegetation, etc.) and then the images will be uploaded to Zooniverse. Anyone using the site can help tag and identify wildlife in the photos.

Heal the Bay has been monitoring water quality in the Sepulveda Basin recreation zone since 2015, so we are excited to see what wildlife is using this area in addition to the humans who boat, fish, and hike there.

The new camera-trapping initiative also supports recent City of L.A. efforts to promote and protect biodiversity in our region. Last year the City Council funded an index to assess urban biodiversity, policies and project to enhance biodiversity, and options for community engagement and outreach strategies. Heal the Bay is serving as a member of the Biodiversity Expert Panel to help inform this city-wide effort.

And the County of L.A. is just beginning an update of its L.A. River Master Plan. Heal the Bay is proud to be a member of the Steering Committee. We want to ensure that the L.A. River Revitalization plans include ecological and water-quality improvements. Data on wildlife and biodiversity of the River will guide planning by providing basic baseline information on what wildlife is there. We can use that information to set goals for ecological restoration and to assess success.

Stay tuned for more photos and updates over the upcoming months. Once the project is established in Zooniverse, we will share it with you all so you can pore through the many photos.

Other organizations participating include Friends of the Los Angeles River, The Nature Conservancy, LA Conservation Corps, Friends of Griffith Park, and others. The project is part of a nationwide effort to understand the impacts of urban development on wildlife. Currently, eight cities are part of this Urban Wildlife Information Network and another 12 cities are expected to participate in the next two years.

More information can be found in this post from the National Park Service.



Vice president Sarah Sikich exits Heal the Bay this week after 13 amazing years of service to our coastline and inland waterways. She’s moving to Carpinteria with her husband and young daughter, taking on a new challenge as a Director of Development for Principal and Leadership Gifts at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She’ll stay connected to the ocean, helping strategize and fundraise for marine and environmental sciences, among other duties. Here she shares some thoughts about her accomplished career at HtB:

A friend and mentor, Paula Daniels, recently asked me what I was most proud of during my Heal the Bay tenure. Surprisingly, I found it an easy question to answer.

Three campaigns immediately came to mind:

  • Helping design and establish Marine Protected Areas in Southern California;
  • Contributing to the passage and defense of California’s single-use bag ban;
  • Producing the State of the Malibu Creek Watershed report, with recommendations based on Heal the Bay-led citizen science.

That’s not to diminish the other important work I’ve had the privilege to complete over the past 13 years. There’s just something about these three efforts that resonates with me. Personally, I’m proud of the inner tenacity I found to reach the finish line in each race – often in the face of stiff opposition. Professionally, it feels good to have helped lead initiatives that will provide environmental protection in California and beyond for decades to come.

The campaigns were all incredibly complex and protracted, and I only played a small part in making them happen. But, they each challenged me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, and helped me learn a lot about myself and qualities necessary to succeed in the environmental arena. Here are some lessons learned:

Plastic Bag Ban:  Policymaking isn’t a sprint …

When Heal the Bay first started to work on statewide plastic pollution prevention legislation in 2007, we sponsored a flotilla of five bills collectively called “The Pacific Protection Initiative.” Each bill addressed a specific aspect of pervasive plastic pollution: pre-production plastic pellets or “nurdles,” lost fishing gear, polystyrene food containers, toxic plastic additives and plastic bags. The bills all supported actions called out in the Ocean Protection Council’s landmark 2007 resolution on marine debris. Naively, I thought the plastic bag ban had the best chance of passage because it seemed like a no-brainer. Society already had a readily available alternative to single-use carryout bags — reusable bags! Alas, only one bill passed though — AB 258, which prohibits pre-production pellet discharge at plastics facilities.

It took a full decade to go from concept to reality for California to become a plastic bag-free state, thanks to the voter passage of Proposition 67 in November 2016. No single person or entity can claim ownership of this victory – it required leadership from dozens of municipalities, environmental groups, community groups, scientists, agencies, businesses, and legislators. Some close friendships grew through this effort, with people I will carry forwards with me, including Angela Howe, Kirsten James and Meredith McCarthy. And, for me the statewide bag ban is the archetype for the wise words of my friend and mentor, Leslie Tamminen: “Policymaking is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Even with a practical alternative, it took California 10 years to enact its plastic bag ban.

Marine Protected Areas: The value of compromise

Designing Southern California’s network of marine protected areas (MPAs) required enormous amounts of diplomacy and compromise. On one hand, environmental groups felt very strongly we had to protect our most valuable ocean habitats from fishing pressures; on the other, the angling community felt very strongly that reduced fishing access placed an unreasonable burden on its members. As one of 64 people negotiating about where these underwater parks should be located, progress could not be made without building alliances and finding common ground. It was difficult to hone the diplomacy skills required to figure out the moments to give in and when to stay firm. Finding common ground often proved elusive, given the diverse set of stakeholders – from commercial and recreational fishermen to environmental groups and municipalities.

I had seen the mediation and science-based deliberation prowess of my colleagues to the north – Karen Garrison, Kate Wing, and Kaitilin Gaffney — who had gone through a similar process establishing MPAs off California’s Central Coast. And, I worked hard to channel their knowledge and approach. Still, in the toughest of times I found myself frustrated, exhausted, and in one moment overcome by tears.

I now realize that the strenuous process made me tougher and stronger. All that hard work means that I can take my young daughter kayaking, snorkeling, and tidepooling within MPAs that I helped design for Southern California. I can show her rich areas of life that are more abundant and diverse, and now protected, because of the work so many devoted people, including her Mama, did. It is a source of pride.  I will forever be grateful for the support of colleagues who became friends during the toughest moments of MPA design and adoption – Dana Murray, Jenn Eckerle, Samantha Murray, Marce Graudins, Phyllis Grifman, Lia Protopapadakis, Calla Allison, and others.  Even when it took a circuitous route, the compromises made throughout this process allowed for California to go from less than 1% to roughly 16% of our coastal waters safeguarded by MPAs.

Malibu Creek Watershed Report: Take the high road

Heal the Bay’s niche in the water world is advocating for science-based solutions to environmental problems. Our methods vary, from making policy recommendations based on citizen science and scientific literature to partnering with university researchers to advance new studies to fill data gaps. Our recommendations often stir controversy – and downright anger. They often require behavior change and/or financial outlays that some opponents resist quite vigorously.

Heal the Bay’s effort to revitalize the Malibu Creek watershed marks one of the most involved and contentious projects on which I have ever worked. We evaluated over a decade of water quality and habitat data taken through our Stream Team citizen science program to inform a comprehensive report on the State of the Malibu Creek Watershed. The data compilation and analysis efforts required meticulous work by our entire scientific team, including Katherine Pease, Mark Gold, Shelley Luce, and Sarah Diringer. The final report included pages of recommendations, many of which have been realized. These include the restoration of Malibu Lagoon, certification of a strong Local Coastal Plan for the Santa Monica Mountains, and the current work of Las Virgenes Municipal Water District to greatly increase water recycling at its Tapia wastewater treatment facility. All these efforts will reduce pollution in the watershed and Santa Monica Bay, while protecting habitat and wildlife in one of L.A.’s most important natural areas. But as with many issues in the Malibu area, local residents dug in their heels to fight what they perceived as environmental overreach.

After we released the report and advocated for its policy recommendations, my colleagues and I experienced name-calling and bullying, and attempts to undermine our credibility from people who didn’t agree with its findings. I even had people viciously calling me out in the lineup at Malibu as I surfed the waves at First Point. At times it was tough to keep focus on the work and not feel deflated by all the personal attacks and distractions. But, the success of the report’s outcomes is a strong reminder that there is great value in taking the high road. It is incredibly rewarding see the positive results of projects with science on their side, like the Malibu Lagoon restoration that has greatly improved water quality and wildlife diversity in this important wetland habitat.

I feel great pride in the protections that I’ve helped advance for the vibrant coastal and ocean resources throughout Southern California. And, after over a decade of work at Heal the Bay, I realize that it’s not the natural resources that move me the deepest. It’s the dedicated people working so hard to protect what we love. I hold a particularly special place in my heart for the women water warriors that I’ve come to know through this work, as they are a powerful and impressive force of positive change-makers.

I had the treasured opportunity to work with Dorothy Green, Heal the Bay’s founding president, for a few years. In the brief time we shared, she taught me the importance of empowerment. She had an amazing ability to help people reflect on and find the individual value that they could bring to a cause, empowering them to take leadership in that area and be the change. She did that for me when I was fresh out of graduate school beginning work on my first project at Heal the Bay – ocean desalination.

By that time she had moved on from Heal the Bay, and I imagine that she had no idea who I was or what I could bring to the topic. But, she listened to me and made me feel valued, as if she knew I would provide meaningful contribution to the effort. I’ve carried that support with me throughout my time at Heal the Bay, and have tried to invest it back into Heal the Bay’s staff, interns, and volunteers as I’ve grown in my career. This type of empowerment made a huge difference for me, and I believe it is imperative to continue to cultivate in future leaders. We need to help smart young leaders grow and learn so they can be ready to conquer challenges yet to come.

As I wrap up my final days at Heal the Bay, it’s hard not to get lost in the check list of tasks to close out and set forth a path of transition. Of course that’s just the nature of work, but it’s also probably a bit of a coping tactic to avoid sitting with the deeper feelings of working at a place that has meant so much to me personally and professionally. Heal the Bay is such a big part of my heart and identity. Working on environmental issues about which I am deeply passionate, and around such amazingly bright and dedicated people has been a true gift that I will carry forward with me to new endeavors.

 



Party People, we’ve got some good news to share about our huge gala next month.

We’ve got an eclectic list of honorees for our annual “Bring Back the Beach” bash, drawing from the worlds of politics, entertainment and media.

We’re super stoked to salute the good work of three leaders who embody the spirit of protecting what you love: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Univision news anchor Gabriela Teissier and sustainability advocates Zooey Deschanel and Jacob Pechenik.

All guests of honor will mingle on the sand with us May 17 at the Jonathan Club in Santa Monica. A lively mix of artists, surfers, policy wonks, engineers, business owners and everyday ocean lovers always turns out for the year’s biggest beach party.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has a long history of collaboration with Heal the Bay, starting with his days as an L.A. City Council member. (He’s pictured above on the L.A River). His administration has made significant progress in making our region more environmentally healthy and economically prosperous under his ambitious 20-year Sustainability pLAn. He is the first L.A. Mayor to design and implement a master sustainability blueprint for the city. Under his leadership, the city has partnered with Heal the Bay and other nonprofits to meet a goal of producing 50% of our water locally by 2035.

Gabriela Teissier is a longtime supporter of our work. Led by her vision and editorial direction, Univision has provided thoughtful coverage of such issues as plastic pollution, climate change, contaminated seafood, and beach safety. By covering these issues, the region’s leading Spanish-language broadcaster has connected Latino audiences to the shoreline, to their watershed and to each other. Her husband, famed surfer and chef Raphael Lunetta, is also a longtime fixture on Venice and Santa Monica beaches.

Zooey Deschanel, a native Angeleno, may be best known for her work in film and music. But the actress and singer spends considerable creative energy on The Farm Project, an initiative to connect people directly to their food. Together with entrepreneur husband Jacob Pechenik, they help reduce carbon emissions – and warming seas – by empowering city residents to easily grow their own food at their home or business through their new service Lettuce Grow.  The couple also has been creating awareness around the dangers of plastic pollution in our ocean and food chain through short-form videos.


We hope you can join us May 17 to celebrate good people doing good work. The event is loose and fun, but it’s seriously our biggest fundraiser of the year. We rely on the support of the community on this one night to sustain us year-round

Seats always sell out each year, so please purchase your table or individual tickets today to avoid being disappointed. Here’s a visual roundup of last year’s gala in case you missed it.

See you on the sand!

 

 



After months of thorough reading, analysis and discussion, Heal the Bay and our fellow Wetlands Coalition members this week submitted formal written comments on the Ballona Wetlands restoration project. Heal the Bay strongly supports Alternative 1, a plan that would reconnect land and sea, create the most wetland habitats and provide ample trails and overlooks for all to use.

You might remember that back in September, the state Department of Fish & Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released much anticipated (and long delayed) plans for the restoration of the beleaguered Ballona Wetlands, the nearly 600-acre ecological reserve near Playa del Rey.

The Ballona Wetlands are the largest remaining wetlands in L.A. County and have suffered decades of neglect and abuse. The restoration plans presented three options (along with a no-project or do-nothing alternative) to improve the damaged and degraded wetlands.

The restoration proposals focus on a few major desired outcomes: reconnecting the wetlands to the sea, enhancing habitat for wildlife and creating more public access.

To do this, the options ranged from taking out nearly all concrete channels from the reserve and removing millions of cubic yards of dumped fill (related to the building of nearby Marina del Rey decades ago), to leaving concrete flood channels in place and making smaller changes.

When the agencies released the draft Environmental Impact Report/Study, interested stakeholders and the public had 60 days to review the plans and submit comments on them in writing and in person at a Nov. 8 public hearing.  The lead agencies wisely extended the review period to Feb. 5. The move gave the public more time to understand and digest the lengthy and technical document, which provided a thorough, science-based analysis of current conditions and potential projects.

So, that brings us to this past Monday when the public comment period ended and we hit the send button, crystallizing months of hard work in a single moment.

Heal the Bay enthusiastically supports Alternative 1, the option that best achieves the goals set forth by the state of California, which include among others:

  • to restore, enhance, and create estuarine and associated habitats
  • to establish natural processes and functions that support estuarine and associated habitats
  • to develop and enhance wildlife-dependent uses and secondary compatible on-site public access for recreation and educational activities.


Source: ballonarestoration.org – This Alternative 1 rendering may not be representative of the final plans.

Alternative 1 best addresses the degradation that the Wetlands have suffered by removing the most fill, removing the most concrete along Ballona Creek, and by restoring, creating, and enhancing the greatest amount of tidal salt marsh habitat.

Alternative 1 also creates the greatest local resiliency to climate change and sea level rise while providing the greatest level and quality of public access.

Alternative 1 is composed of two phases. The first phase will create a naturalized creek. The second phase establishes even more natural tidal flow and connections between the land and sea. These proposed restoration activities will result in wetlands that are the most self-sustaining and require the least amount of on-going maintenance, providing benefits for wildlife and people.

We submitted comments individually and also with our Coalition Steering Committee (made up of Friends of Ballona Wetlands, L.A. Waterkeeper, Surfrider Foundation South Bay Chapter, and the Trust for Public Land).

Our Coalition Steering Committee came to a consensus to support Phase 1 of this plan with some modifications. The group wants to see that the state-endangered Belding’s savannah sparrow bird is protected, that public access paths be increased in certain areas and restricted in sensitive areas, and that additional information about proposed parking lots be included in the final document.

We came to this consensus through many meetings filled with hard work, technical analysis, and long discussions over the last four months. It was not always easy and we didn’t agree on every small detail but our overarching positions were always aligned. We followed our nine Principles of Wetland Restoration, which prioritize ecosystem function, scientific basis, resiliency, appropriate scale, and ecological balance.

Heal the Bay and L.A. Waterkeeper also supported Phase 2 of Alternative 1, which removes more concrete and tide gates along the Creek.

Now, the lead agencies have the task of reviewing and responding to all the comments they have received. The comments and responses will be made public through the Final EIR/S, which we hope to see within a year’s time.

The Final EIR/S will have a chosen Alternative and at that point, funding and permits can be obtained and the project can get started at long last. We still have a lot of work ahead of us and we are committed to advocating and fighting for the robust restoration of Ballona Wetlands so they are healthy, functioning and open to all Angelenos.

THANK YOU to all who joined us AND our partners at the Ballona Wetlands over the last four months and who have engaged and advocated for the restoration of this unique and precious resource. Stay tuned for ways to get involved and ensure that the wetlands get the help they need.

Read our Heal the Bay’s comment letter and our joint Coalition comment letter.