Luke Ginger, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, recaps a tough summer for water quality monitoring at LA County’s freshwater recreation areas, and outlines the urgent need for equitable, climate-resilient communities in the face of a health pandemic, extreme heat, unprecedented wildfires, and beyond.
Heal the Bay concludes another summer of freshwater sampling and monitoring with the River Report Card. Over the course of the summer of 2020, we provided inland water-goers with water quality grades for 27 freshwater recreation sites across Los Angeles County, California. This included 5 sites in Malibu Creek State Park and the LA River, where Heal the Bay staff collected water quality samples. We updated grades on a weekly basis and posted them online to be viewed by the public.
Summer 2020 was filled with many challenges that impacted our program. Due to COVID-19, Heal the Bay was unable to hire local college students to monitor water quality at recreation sites and storm drains like in previousyears. Instead, Heal the Bay’s permanent staff carried out water sampling. This was a major blow to our program because one of our main goals has always been to provide knowledge, skills, and career training to emerging professionals. Additionally, without a full crew, we sampled fewer recreation sites and storm drains, leaving the public with less information on how to stay safe.
We also had to take extra precautions while sampling – wearing masks at all times, driving in separate vehicles, and sporting extra protective gear (face shields and extra-long gloves) to reduce exposure to potentially contaminated water. These were necessary precautions because the research on the risk of contracting COVID-19 from recreational waters is still ongoing.
Photo by Alice Dison
There were also major changes in accessibility and use this summer at the sites Heal the Bay monitored. Malibu Creek State Park was open all summer, but the swimming holes (Rock Pool and Las Virgenes Creek) remained closed due to concerns over the ability to maintain proper physical distancing. However, this closure was not clearly enforced as we saw many swimmers throughout the summer. The official LA River recreation zones were open from Memorial Day until the end of September, but kayaking was not allowed due to safety concerns around COVID-19.
Monitoring efforts by LA Sanitation, Council for Watershed Health, and San Gabriel Regional Watershed Monitoring Program were impacted this summer as well. There were weeks where certain recreation sites in the Upper LA River Watershed and San Gabriel River Watershed were not monitored due to park closures or overcrowding concerns. According to LA Sanitation officials, Hermit Falls was not monitored this summer because it is a particularly crowded area that posed a health risk to the water quality monitors. Worker safety is incredibly important, as is the health of all Angelenos and visitors. Unfortunately, these tough decisions resulted in critical water quality information not being available at a very popular location all summer. LA Sanitation instead sampled the Vogel Flats picnic area, which is a new addition to the River Report Card. Toward the end of the summer, monitoring in the San Gabriel River Watershed and some of the Upper LA River Watershed was cut short due to the Bobcat Fire and the subsequent closure of Angeles National Forest.
This summer, the pandemic, a record setting wildfire season, and extreme heat culminated into one even larger public health crisis. The pandemic forced people to stay local and opt for close-by areas to take a swim. Because of this, as well as the reduced risk of contracting COVID-19 outdoors, people flocked in unusually high numbers to ocean beaches and freshwater recreation sites to stay active and cool. Unfortunately, if outdoor crowds become too big and dense, there is an increased risk of COVID-19 spread. The fact that so many people sought respite outside made clear the importance of open space for physical and mental health. But, the benefits of open space are not equally experienced by all. Black and Latinx communities have been systemically denied access to parks and nature, and there is a lot of work to do to provide justice for these communities. LA City and County must work hard to meet their target of 65% of Angelenos living within half a mile of a park or open space by 2025 (and 75% by 2035).
Photo by Alice Dison
The summer’s extreme heat waves coincided with the largest wildfires in California’s history, which created harmful air quality across the entire west coast. Many people endured hazardous outdoor air quality in order to cool off at rivers, streams, and beaches. Tragically, exposure to wildfire-induced poor air quality exacerbates the harmful health effects of COVID-19. So for low-income households without air conditioning, it was impossible to escape harm; people were either subject to extreme heat at home or subject to harmful air quality outside. We must acknowledge that in the United States, the communities facing the brunt of climate change impacts like extreme heat and wildfire are disproportionately Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian people.
Summer 2020 was a tough time for many, and it underscores the need for immediate and equitable action to address the climate crisis and environmental justice.
Looking forward, Heal the Bay will continue to advocate for water quality improvements across LA County, so everyone is protected from waterborne illness. And, we will continue to push for nature-based policies that stem the impacts of climate change and make our communities climate resilient.
Summer 2020 Results
Here are the water quality results from the sites Heal the Bay monitored during summer 2020.
Malibu Creek State Park
Rock Pool – did slightly better than last year
Las Virgenes Creek – worse than last year
Los Angeles River
Sepulveda Basin at Burbank Ave. – slightly better than last year
Surfrider Beach Third Point, Malibu. Photo by The California Coastal Commission
On November 15-16 and December 13-15, 2020, head to the beach during the King Tides to catch a glimpse of what our future coast will look like with sea level rise.
King Tides occur when the Moon aligns with the Sun, and is also at its closest position relative to the Earth. This exerts cumulative gravitational pulls on Earth, resulting in the most extreme high and low tides of the year. In California, experts say that King Tides today are what we can expect our daily high tide to look like in the next few decades under climate change and sea level rise predictions.
For many people, it’s hard to see everyday impacts of climate change locally and difficult to understand real-life impacts that are here or coming. King Tides give us the opportunity to visualize firsthand what a higher sea level will be like, and it’s impact on California cities. This is also an opportunity to get involved as a community scientist and document the #KingTides through photos. These photos can be used by scientists, government agencies, and decision makers to understand, plan for, and educate about climate change impacts.
As sea levels rise, flooding and erosion along the coast will increase, putting people’s homes, freshwater aquifers, and critical infrastructure (like roads, bridges, wastewater treatment plants) at risk. Sea level rise is also predicted to result in the loss of 31-67% of SoCal’s beaches. However, the impact of sea level rise does not stop at the coast. As ocean water flows farther inland, it displaces groundwater, pushing it closer to the surface. Eventually, that groundwater can break the surface and damage roads and homes, and release toxins and pollution that would otherwise remain trapped in the soil.
There are actions that we can take today to minimize and prepare for coming climate change impacts. For instance, individuals can reduce their carbon footprint by driving less, adopting a plant-based diet, and demanding action from elected officials. Individuals and agencies can support and advocate for restoration of coastal wetlands, such as the Ballona Wetlands, which sequester carbon and buffer communities from sea level rise and storm surges. Governments can update their Local Coastal Programs (a planning document to guide development) for sea level rise and climate change adaptation.
El equipo de comunicaciones de Heal the Bay conversó con Shelley Luce, directora ejecutiva de Heal the Bay, y discutió a fondo su reacción a la historia del diario Los Angeles Times que descubrió el vertido de barriles con DDT cerca de la isla Catalina que ocurrió hace más de tres décadas.
Estoy impactada. Conocemos el sitio superfund de Palos Verdes. Fuimos parte de las investigaciones científicas y legales que se realizaron en las décadas los ‘80 y ‘90. En 1990, los EE. UU. y agencias estatales, presentaron una demanda contra Montrose Chemical Corporation y otras tres empresas, que finalmente se resolvió en el 2001. Heal the Bay ayudó a la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA) a crear el Programa Educacional Pesquero para informar a los pescadores locales de subsistencia sobre cómo los desechos tóxicos contaminan a los peces que capturan para sus familias y cómo mantenerse sano y salvo.
Pero estos barriles de DDT arrojados cerca de Catalina no formaron parte de la discusión.
Se necesitaron años para negociar los requisitos de limpieza para el sitio de Palos Verdes. Es simplemente inimaginable que la EPA, el Departamento de Justicia (DOJ) y la Junta Estatal de Control de Recursos Hídricos sabían sobre la contaminación adicional y no la incluyeron en los requisitos de limpieza y mitigación.
Los impactos de medio millón de barriles con fugas de DDT son de largo plazo.
El DDT es una sustancia química devastadora porque persiste en el medio ambiente y porque puede ingresar a la cadena alimenticia, biomagnificarse, causar daño a un número incalculable de peces, mamíferos marinos y aves, así como tambien a personas en comunidades vulnerables. Este devastador descubrimiento de barriles con DDT en aguas cercanas a la isla de Catalina es otro golpe para nuestro océano. Los océanos ya están afectados por los impactos del cambio climático, calentamiento y acidificación, sobrepesca y por la contaminación de otros productos hechos por el hombre destinados a “mejorar” la vida, como los plásticos, que nunca se biodegradan ni abandonan el medio ambiente.
¿Qué podemos hacer para responsabilizar a los contaminadores?
Es muy dificil. A veces, como organizaciones sin fines de lucro, tenemos que luchar contra corporaciones poco éticas e incluso con nuestros propios gobiernos. Hoy hablamos del DDT de Montrose Chemical Corporation, el mes pasado vimos como a Exide se le permitió alejarse del desastre tóxico que crearon durante tres décadas y que afectó a más de 10,000 propiedades residenciales y a más de 110,000 residentes en el este de Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Bell Gardens, Vernon, Cudahy, Maywood, Bell y Huntington.1
Las corporaciones pueden irse, los funcionarios de gobierno lo pueden hacer tmbien, pero nuestras comunidades se quedan.
Este DDT fue vertido hace décadas y se pudo llegar a un acuerdo para cubrir parte de esa contaminación. Ahora tenemos que renovar esa lucha para que estos contaminadores rindan cuentas.
Comenzaremos preguntando a la EPA, Departamento de Justicia (DOJ,por sus siglas en inglés), Comisión Costera y Junta Estatal de Control de Recursos Hídricos qué jurisdicción tienen para hacer más reclamos contra las partes responsables del vertido de DDT y colaborar con agencias que demuestren que quieren solucionar este problema. Exigimos soluciones y tomaremos medidas para lograrlas.
¿Qué más se necesita hacer para proteger a las comunidades y sus hábitats?
Además de la acción legal, hay tres cosas que debemos hacer:
1. A través de nuestro Programa Educacional Pesquero, Heal the Bay ha educado a más de 170.000 pescadores de muelles y zona costera en los condados de Los Ángeles y Orange sobre los riesgos de consumir peces locales contaminados con DDT y PCB y necesitamos mucha más educación para las personas que dependen de los peces que capturan para alimentar a sus familias. Esto debe estar dirigido para llegar a las personas más vulnerables, en sus propios idiomas y en los lugares donde se sientan cómodos para recibir esta información.
2. Necesitamos un monitoreo más frecuente y extenso de los sedimentos, peces del océano y peces capturados para la venta, para poder determinar los niveles de contaminación que pueden dañar a los animales y a las personas que los consumen.
3. Debemos buscar la forma de limpiar el DDT y PCB que se encuentran en nuestro océano. Sabemos que el proyecto piloto para cubrir parte del sitio de Palos Verdes no fue exitoso, pero no significa que lo olvidemos. La EPA, Administración Nacional Oceánica y Atmosférica (NOAA, por sus siglas en inglés) y otras agencias deben convocar a expertos que puedan dar soluciones, hasta encontrar la forma de lidiar con este legado tóxico.
Heal the Bay’s Communications team sat down with Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay CEO and discussed her reaction to the in-depth story in the Los Angeles Times uncovering DDT dumping near Catalina that happened more than three decades ago.
I am shocked. We know about the superfund site off of Palos Verdes. We worked on the scientific and legal investigations in the 1980s and 1990s. We supported U.S. and state agencies in their lawsuit againstMontrose Chemical Corporation and three other companies, which was finally settled in 2001. Heal the Bay helped create the Angler Outreach Program to inform local subsistence anglers about the toxic waste that contaminates the fish they are catching to feed their families.
But these thousands of barrels of DDT dumped near Catalina were not part of the discussion.
It took years to negotiate the cleanup requirements for the Palos Verdes site. It’s just unfathomable the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Justice (DOJ), and the State Water Board all knew about the additional contamination and did not make that part of the cleanup and mitigation requirements.
The impacts of half a million barrels of leaking DDT are far-reaching.
DDT is an especially devastating chemical because it never goes away. It gets into ocean animals and concentrates as it moves up the food chain. It harms untold numbers of fish, marine mammals, and birds, as well as people in especially vulnerable communities – people fishing to feed their families.
And in this time of climate change, this DDT dumped in the waters off Catalina is yet another blow to our ocean. Oceans are already stressedfrom warming and acidification, as well as overfishing and pollution from products like plastics, that never biodegrade or leave the environment.
How can we hold polluters accountable?
It’s so hard. Sometimes as nonprofits we have to fight unethical corporations and our own governments. Today we’re talking about DDT from Montrose Chemical Corporation. Last month we saw Exide Technologies, Inc.was allowed to walk away from the toxic lead and arsenic mess they created for three decades near 110,000+ residents in East LA, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Bell Gardens, Vernon, Cudahy, Maywood, Bell, and Huntington. 1 Support East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in the fight to hold Exide accountable.
Corporations can leave. Government officials can leave. But our communities stay.
This DDT was dumped decades ago and a settlement for a portion of the pollution was already reached. Now we will fight again to hold these polluters accountable.We will start by asking the EPA, DOJ, Coastal Commission, and the State Water Board what jurisdiction they have to bring further claims against the parties responsible for the DDT dumping, and by collaborating with agencies who show they want to fix this problem. We demand solutions and will take action to reach them.
What more needs to be done to protect communities and habitats?
In addition to legal action, here are three things we must do:
We need a lot more education for people who rely on fish they catch to feed their families. Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program is the model: we reach the most vulnerable people, in their own languages, and in places where they feel comfortable receiving this information.
We need more frequent and extensive monitoring of sediment and fish, to track contamination that can harm animals and the people who eat them. Every five years is not enough; we need detailed assessments to understand what is happening to the DDT that is out there.
We must find a way to clean up the DDT and PCBs in our ocean. We know the pilot project to cap the Palos Verdes site was not a success, but that does not mean we walk away. The EPA, NOAA, and other agencies must convene the experts who can come up with the next step and the next, until we find a way to deal with this toxic legacy.
Tell us what you think should be done. Contact Us.
Jamal Hill, Paralympic swimmer and educator based in Los Angeles, believes the next US Olympic Games champion is 5 years old right now and waiting for their first swim lesson.
To reach them, and many others, Jamal has a goal to teach one million people to swim.
His own love for swimming began at a local YMCA “Mommy & Me” swim class in Inglewood. Even back then, it was evident Jamal was a natural born swimmer.
After paralysis and recovery at age 10, his parents encouraged him to use the experience to inspire others to overcome challenges. Jamal trained and swam competitively in high school and college, and then became a professional Paralympic swimmer. He is currently ranked number one in the US Paralympic 100 Freestyle and number 22 in the world. Watch a short documentary about Jamal’s story.
Jamal’s passion for swimming extends well beyond his personal and professional goals for competing in the next Olympic Games. He also has set his sights on empowering Black and Brown youth locally and globally with water safety and swimming lessons.
The latest statistics from the World Health Organization show that 320,000 people lose their lives to drowning every year. Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in children aged 1-14 years in the United States.
Due to a history of systemic racism in the US, Black and Latinx children are disproportionately impacted by a lack of equitable access to pools for swimming and water safety lessons.
If you are celebrating Thanksgiving at home this year, we have a fun family activity to do that week. Get your household together for a Creative Family Swim on Zoom with Jamal Hill and Heal the Bay at 11am on Saturday, November 28. Together, we’ll unlock basic swim and water safety skills at home without a pool!You’ll just need these supplies: (1) 10-inch bowl, (2) 5-gallon buckets, (1) bench or table that supports your body weight, (1) Note pad, and (1) Pen.
Tune in to Instagram Live with Jamal Hill and Kelly Kelly – Education Manager at Heal the Bay, Danni Washington – TV Host and Co-Founder of Big Blue & You), and Soleil Errico – World Longboard Champion for a series of conversations about equity in water safety and swimming, environmental education and advocacy, and the journey to becoming a pro water athlete. We’ll get started at 11am PT on Tuesday, November 24. Follow @swimuphill on Instagram to watch live and ask questions.
Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program, through the EPA’s Fish Contamination Education Collaborative (FCEC), has been visiting eight Los Angeles County and Orange County piers throughout the last 17 years, talking to anglers about fish contamination and how to stay safe and healthy. Many anglers come to the coast to catch fish to eat for themselves and their families. Our previous researchindicates that 78% of pier anglers fish for subsistence.
To better understand the local angler community, our outreach team collects zip code information from individuals fishing on piers and along the coast. We recently analyzed this survey data from 2018 and 2019. Our findings help us understand where anglers are located and how to better serve them.
In 2019, we talked to 8,488 anglers and collected zip codes from 3,052 of those anglers. We collect zip codes only from anglers who are surveyed for the first time. Most of the zip codes (3,001) were from California. The rest were likely tourists and visitors. We even talked with some anglers from as far away as Alaska — fishing in Alaska is surely different than LA!
In both 2018 and 2019, one location had the highest density of anglers surveyed: Hawthorne (90250), a city in the South Bay in southwestern LA County bordered by the 105 freeway on the north and the 405 freeway on the west. According to the LA Times and census data, Hawthorne is a diverse area in the South Bay and LA County with a 44.2% Latinx, 32.4% Black, 12.9% White, and 7.6% Asian population.
In both 2018 and 2019, a few areas showed up in the top five zip codes of anglers: Compton and Willowbrook (90222), Long Beach (90805), and South El Monte (91733).
In both years, many anglers hailed from areas in the San Gabriel Valley, including South El Monte and Rosemead. The demographics of these two areas differ greatly: South El Monte has a predominantly Latinx (86.2%) population; Rosemead has an Asian (48.6%) and Latinx (41%) population.
It has been widely shownthat People of Color are disproportionately impacted by pollution. This environmental injustice includesair pollution, water pollution, waste dumping,oil drilling and refining,fish contamination, and more.Many communities where anglers live have high pollution burdens on CalEnviroScreen, a tool that compiles environmental, health, and socioeconomic information to produce a score showing which communities are most affected by and most vulnerable to pollution.
It is imperative that our Angler Outreach Program reaches people effectively in order to protect public health. In example, if anglers speak Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese as their first language, warning signage and other resources about fish contamination that are written in English may not be effective. Our Angler Outreach Program has employed multilingual team members who directly engage local anglers about fish contamination and how to stay safe. We have produced educational materials and resources in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
Using the results of our zip code survey, we created a heat map of where anglers are located in Los Angeles County, and through it we see many opportunities for additional outreach in specific areas. Ensuring there is accessible and relevant information across Heal the Bay’s programs, especially in top angler zip codes, can increase the number of people we reach and maximize impact.
It is interesting to also use our zip code survey analysis to gauge how effective other Heal the Bay programs are at reaching angler communities. Heal the Bay Aquarium hosted 24 field trips for 1,217 students from schools in the top angler zip codes* in 2017. Heal the Bay’s Speakers Bureau Program gives free talks (previously in-person and now virtually) throughout LA County, and we gave 39 talks to 2,985 people in the top angler zip codes* in 2017. While Heal the Bay conducts outreach and provides education in many of the communities where anglers are located, there is ample room for growth and a lot more to be done! We are excited to continue our analysis and find new ways to engage anglers and their families with helpful information.
Para comprender mejor a la comunidad de pescadores locales, nuestro equipo educacional recopila información de los códigos postales de las personas que pescan en los muelles y a lo largo de la costa. Recientemente analizamos los datos de estas encuesta del 2018 y 2019. Nuestros hallazgos nos ayudarán a comprender major de donde vienen los pescadores y cómo servirlos mejor.
En 2019, hablamos con 8.488 pescadores y recopilamos códigos postales de 3.052 de ellos. Recopilamos códigos postales solo de pescadores que fueron encuestados por primera vez. La mayoría de estos códigos postales (3.001) eran de California. El resto probablemente fueron de turistas y visitantes. Incluso hablamos con algunos de ellos que provenían de lugares tan lejanos como Alaska. ¡Pescar en Alaska es seguramente diferente a LA!
Tanto en el 2018 como en el 2019, una ubicación tuvo la mayor densidad de encuestados: Hawthorne (90250), una ciudad en South Bay en el suroeste del condado de Los Ángeles que limita con la autopista 105 al norte y la autopista 405 al oeste. Según el LA Times y datos de censo, Hawthorne es un área diversa en South Bay y en el condado de Los Ángeles, con una población que consta de 44,2% latinos, 32,4% negros, 12,9% blancos y 7,6% asiáticos.
Tanto en el 2018 como en el 2019, tres códigos postales aparecieron en los cinco principales códigos postales de los pescadores y fueron: Compton y Willowbrook (90222), Long Beach (90805) y South El Monte (91733).
En ambos años, muchos pescadores vinieron de áreas del Valle de San Gabriel, incluyendo South El Monte y Rosemead. La demografía de estas dos áreas es bastante diferente: el South El Monte tiene una población predominantemente latina (86,2%), Rosemead tiene una división más pareja entre las poblaciones asiáticas (48,6%) y latina (41%).
Se ha demostrado ampliamente que las personas de color se ven afectadas de manera desproporcionada por la contaminación. Esta injusticia ambiental incluye la contaminación del aire, agua, vertimiento de desechos, extracción y refinación de petróleo, contaminación de peces y otras. Muchas de las comunidades de donde provienen los pescadores tienen altas cargas de contaminación. En CalEnviroScreen, una herramienta que recopila información ambiental, de salud y socioeconómica para producir un puntaje que muestra las comunidades son más afectadas y las más vulnerables a la contaminación.
Es imperativo que nuestro Programa Educacional Pesquero eduque y llegue a las personas de manera efectiva para proteger la salud pública. Por ejemplo, si los pescadores hablan español, chino y vietnamita como primer idioma, es posible que las señales de advertencia y otros recursos sobre la contaminación de peces no sean efectivos si solo están escritos en inglés.
Utilizando los resultados de nuestra encuesta sobre el código postal, pudimos crear un mapa para saber de dónde vienen los pescadores en el condado de Los Ángeles, y a través de él hemos visto muchas oportunidades de llegar con programas adicionales en áreas específicas. Asegurarse que haya información accesible y relevante en todos los programas de Heal the Bay, podría aumentar la cantidad de personas a las que llegamos y poder maximizar el impacto de nuestro trabajo, especialmente en las áreas de códigos postales de donde provienen la mayor cantidad de pescadores.
Es interesante también poder utilizar nuestro análisis de encuestas de código postal para evaluar la eficacia de otros programas de Heal the Bay y poder llegar a las comunidades de donde provienen los pescadores. En el año 2017, el Acuario de Heal the Bay organizó 24 excursiones para 1,217 estudiantes de escuelas que estuvieron ubicadas en los principales códigos postales de donde provienen los pescadores. En ese mismo año, el programa Speakers Bureau de Heal the Bay ofreció charlas gratuitas (anteriormente en persona y ahora virtualmente) en todo el condado de Los Ángeles, y dimos 39 charlas a 2,985 personas con códigos postales de donde provienen los pescadores. Si bien Heal the Bay lleva a cabo actividades de divulgación y brinda educación en muchas de las comunidades donde se encuentran los pescadores, hay mucho espacio para el crecimiento y mucho más por hacer. Estamos emocionados de continuar nuestro análisis y encontrar nuevas formas de involucrar a los pescadores y sus familias con información útil.
This has been a year of hardship and heartbreak. Many people are lamenting its losses and eager to get out of 2020 and into the new year. I have felt the deep pain of the pandemic, the wildfires, and the unpredictable politics of this unprecedented year. But I am seeing something else too: I see progress. I see change. I see a new future ahead of us.
During these stressful times Heal the Bay worked differently, and harder than ever, to fight for clean water in LA.
This year, people joyfully returned to the beaches and rivers they treasure. Heal the Bay was there. Our most recent River Report Card and Beach Report Card ensured the latest water quality grades were publicly available. But we still have so much more work to do to make our outdoor spaces safe and accessible for all. Heal the Bay is prioritizing water quality monitoring during a health crisis that has caused many public places and services to shut down.
This year, the momentum shifted on plastic trash. More and more people want to rid our environment of this toxic scourge. As a result, we secured more than 800,000 signatures to put a major plastics reduction initiative on the 2022 California Ballot. A robust statewide policy is the logical next step after a patchwork of bans on plastic bags, straws, and Styrofoam have already been implemented. Heal the Bay is pushing for the most comprehensive approach that replaces single-use disposable plastics with sustainable options.
This year, activists put the spotlight on environmental justice. Oil drilling in neighborhoods, polluted water, lack of open space, and many other systemic injustices are being called out for their racist underpinnings. A powerful movement is underway. Heal the Bay is investing more resources to ensure our organization’s impact is equitable for underserved communities.
This year, I saw your commitment. Heal the Bay’s Coastal Cleanup Month mobilized thousands of volunteers to pick up 40,000 pieces of trash from their favorite outdoor places. Our team conducted the first large-scale effort to track PPE litter in the environment. We connected and empowered 4,000 youth and two million individuals and families through science, education, community action, and advocacy. Heal the Bay is amplifying the anti-pollution message far and wide.
The pandemic can’t stop—and won’t stop—the power of water to inspire change!
Thank you for supporting Heal the Bay this year. Every note we get from you, every Zoom we do with you, every phone call we have with you, every gift we receive from you… your commitment motivates us time and time again.
It is fall in Los Angeles, which means earlier evenings, vibrant sunsets, thicker wetsuits for surfers, autumn colors taking over the San Gabriel Mountains, and the first rainfall of the season is inevitably approaching. We welcome the much-needed showers to quench our environment and combat wildfires. However, the first rainfall (aka the first flush) also impacts the health of our local watersheds and beaches.
Stormwater is a major source of pollution for the rivers, lakes, and ocean in Los Angeles County. The first flush brings a flood of water, toxins, and trash from our streets straight onto our beaches through the storm drain system. The runoff eventually dumps a mountain of trash onto shorelines, from Malibu to Redondo Beach, without any treatment or screening. This poses a significant risk, not only for wildlife and marine life who can ingest trash or get entangled, but also to the health of our communities. This is why we have suggested safety precautions after a rainstorm, like waiting 72 hours to go swimming and staying at least 100 yards away from any flowing outfall that looks like a stream meeting the ocean.
During Coastal Cleanup Month in September 2020, Heal the Bay volunteers removed more than 40,000 pieces of trash, including food wrappers, straws, takeout containers, and plastic grocery bags from our neighborhoods, parks, trails, and beaches. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) even made the list of top items found for the first year ever. The 4,320 pounds of trash would have been swept through the storm drain system and out on the beach after the first flush if our amazing volunteers didn’t take action.
Coastal Cleanup Month ended weeks ago, but the trash in our environment continues to pile up. The first flush will happen soon, and it will take all of the accumulated pollution in our communities and storm drains and dump it straight onto our beaches. We have a finite amount of time to remove this trash before it reaches the ocean and becomes marine debris.
How Can You Help?
For several years now, Heal the Bay deploys a team of first responders known as the Storm Response Team in an effort to remove trash and debris around low tide before it heads out to sea. This dedicated team braves the elements and heads to designated areas immediately following a rain event.
We need more volunteers to join our Storm Response Team for the 2020 season to help remove trash, track data, and/or document photos. If you’re interested in being the ocean’s first responder after a storm and protecting our environment and community, sign up to receive alerts about volunteer opportunities!
Heal the Bay will host a virtual training for our 2020 Storm Response Team to brief volunteers on what to expect and ensure the team is prepared to conduct individual cleanups after the first rainfall. When a storm hits, volunteers will receive an email a day (or sometimes just hours) in advance of low tide with relevant details and location recommendations. At that point, our Storm Response Team can spring into action, spreading out along the coast and collecting as much trash as possible before it is swept out to sea.
When I first visited Los Angeles in 2015, I was not interested in seeing the Hollywood Walk of Fame or the Hollywood Sign. Instead, I asked my local friends to take me directly to the L.A. River. I wanted to see the hallmark concrete embankments where so many movie car chases happened and the thin ribbon of water I watched my favorite skateboarders jump over (with mixed success).
The L.A. River has A-List status far outside of the Los Angeles area, and is recognized by people all over the globe. Its notoriety is mostly due to its unique appearance. It doesn’t look like a typical river at all, instead it looks like – and functions as – a storm drain channel.
The L.A. River begins in Canoga Park where Bell Creek and Arroyo Calabasas converge, and it runs 51 miles through the City of Los Angeles and over 17 other cities, draining over 800 square miles of land, before it flows into the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach.
The History of the L.A. River
In pre-colonial Los Angeles County, water from rivers and streams naturally flowed and supported Tongva, Tataviam, and Chumash Peoples in the area. Later, the L.A. River and its tributaries supported the colonial settlements that were violently and coercively established on local Indigenous territories.
1800’s Before Colonial Settlement. Source: Seaver Central For Western History Research / Natural History Museum Los Angeles County, riverlareports.riverla.org
A population boom in the early 1900’s meant the L.A. River and its tributaries could no longer support the water demand for the area. Cities began sourcing water from the Colorado River and Northern California, and the L.A. River gradually went from being a vital local water source to being seen as a nuisance.
From 1900-1940 there were multiple floods of the L.A. River that destroyed neighborhoods and resulted in fatalities. The colonial cities along the river failed to respect the L.A. River as the Indigenous People had, and instead built homes and buildings within the River’s floodplain.
In response to the floods, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to pour concrete over the sides and bottom of the L.A. River channel and its tributaries to create a network of concrete storm drain channels. The concretization of the river led to a reduction in flood risk because it forced water to flow much more quickly down the river and out to the ocean. But, the concrete completely decimated the river ecosystem and the services it once provided, including cultural value, habitat for wildlife, and greenspace for recreation.
After the river was concretized, Indigenous People, activists, and environmental organizations demanded the restoration of the L.A. River and its tributaries back into a functioning natural river ecosystem.
Now with the climate crisis, we can no longer afford to have a concretized river system that solely provides flood control. We need a river system that will help cool communities as temperatures rise, provide habitat for diverse wildlife, increase local water resiliency, and serve as a greenspace where communities can recreate and reconnect with nature and culture.
Government agencies have identified the need to re-establish all of the lost ecosystem services as well, and have implemented six major plans with the goal of transforming the L.A. River and its tributaries into a multi-benefit system that will serve the surrounding communities.
Here we summarize these plans and let you know how to get involved.
Los Angeles River Master Plan Update (LARMPU)
The LARMPU is a plan created by L.A. County with the goal of transforming the L.A. River. The original Master Plan was drafted in 1996, and its main goal was to beautify the river while maintaining its functionality as a stormwater conveyance system. The 2020 update of the Master Plan was set into motion to ensure the L.A. River has spaces that provide more benefits in addition to flood abatement and beautification. As stated in the plan, projects will reduce flood risk; improve parks and open space; improve river access; support the ecosystem; provide cultural and educational opportunities; address housing affordability and homelessness; improve local water resilience; and promote water quality.
Heal the Bay was selected to serve as a Steering Committee member for the update and has been attending meetings and offering feedback over the last two years. The updated Master Plan for the entire River is expected to be released to the public in the next few weeks as a draft open for public comments – stay tuned for updates on that and be ready to share your thoughts on the River and the Master Plan.
The ULART Working Group (formed by Assembly Bill 466 & Senate Bill 1126) developed this plan so low income communities with limited access to greenspace in the L.A. River Watershed have the opportunity to implement projects such as parks and paths along the river. The ULART Plan was developed to revitalize the L.A. River from Canoga Park to Vernon as well as Aliso Canyon Wash, Pacoima Wash, Tujunga Wash, Burbank Western Channel, Verdugo Wash, and the Arroyo Seco. This plan has identified areas along the L.A. River and its tributaries where multi-benefit projects will be implemented. This is the only plan discussed here that addresses tributaries, which have largely been ignored by revitalization efforts in the past.
As stated by the ULART Plan, the goals are to enhance the ecosystem; maintain and enhance flood management; increase opportunities for culture, arts, and recreation; and increase connectivity and green space along the river system. This plan has identified areas along the L.A. River and its tributaries where projects such as parks and bike paths can be designed and implemented. And, community members are encouraged to collaboratively develop project ideas and get them constructed. The plan was finalized and adopted in April 2020 and can be found on the ULART website.
Lower L.A. River Revitalization Plan
The Lower L.A. River Revitalization Plan was set forth in Assembly Bill 530, and unlike the other plans discussed, has been in the implementation phase since 2018. This plan covers revitalization efforts in the lower 19 miles of the L.A. River from Vernon to Long Beach. Communities in this section of the river have lower than average incomes in L.A. County, are predominantly People of Color, and have been historically underserved by economic, educational, and environmental services. Local residents are disproportionately exposed to pollution and have little access to green space among other environmental injustices. Therefore, it is crucial the Lower L.A. River Revitalization Plan works to create benefits that will address systemic issues. As stated by the plan, the goals are:
Create diverse, vibrant public spaces along and connected to the Lower Los Angeles River resulting in safe, inviting, healthy green spaces that support diverse local communities, allowing equitable access to nature and a variety of recreation entertainment, multi-modal transportation and socio-economic opportunities that enhances quality of life and sustains watershed health.
Conserve and restore natural river and watershed functions while managing flood risk, enhancing the long-term ecosystem services provided to surrounding communities and mitigating climate changes and environmental impacts of urbanizing on the Lower L.A. River, floodplains, and associated habitats.
Heal the Bay was on the Working Group to help develop and offer feedback on the Plan and currently attends the Implementation Advisory Group meetings, where specific projects are brought forward for discussion and feedback in context of the Master Plan.
Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan (LARRMP)
This LARRMP was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in 2005, and it aims to revitalize the 32 miles of the L.A. River within L.A. City limits. The plan is intended to serve as a blueprint for transforming the river over the next 25-50 years, and the four “core principles” of the plan are as follows:
Revitalize the river by creating a continuous stretch of riparian habitat throughout the 32 mile section of the river in the city boundaries. The plan states that concrete removal will be considered as long as flood abatement ability of the river channel is not compromised.
Creating a continuous “River Greenway” that would consist of a network of bikeways, pedestrian paths, “green connections,” and open space.
Create a river that is safe, accessible, healthy, sustainable, and celebrated. The LARRMP states that it will address environmental justice issues by redeveloping polluted areas and providing natural spaces in neighborhoods that lack them.
Create value by encouraging participation and consensus-building, creating opportunities for sustainable, economic reinvestment, and adding value and providing an equitable distribution of opportunities to underserved neighborhoods along the River.
Projects under this plan are still ongoing, but some projects like Albion Riverside Park, have already been completed. Check the LARRMP website for updates.
Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study
Adopted by the Los Angeles City Council in 2016, this proposed plan would transform 11 miles of the Elysian Valley in the Los Angeles River. The restoration would include the creation of riparian and marsh habitat, enhancing habitat connectivity to other natural areas such as the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains. The plan will also include a natural hydrologic regime with the goal of restoring historic floodplains and connections to Los Angeles River tributaries. Ecological restoration under this plan will also allow for certain passive recreation opportunities like nature walks. There are some preliminary projects that must be completed before this plan is implemented, but the project is expected to be completed by 2029.
Los Angeles River Flows Project
Historically, the water in the L.A. River came from rainfall and groundwater upwelling in the Glendale Narrows. While that remains the case today, wastewater is now the dominant source of water in the main channel of the river during dry weather. The Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys and the Los Angeles-Glendale Water Reclamation Plant near Griffith Park both discharge treated wastewater into the L.A. River on a daily basis. Although this water originated from toilets, sinks, and drains, it is relatively free of contaminants like fecal matter.
In light of the recent long-term drought conditions in California and the looming threat of climate change, wastewater managers in L.A. are rethinking the practice of discharging treated wastewater into the L.A. River. That wastewater can be recycled, which would result in improved water resilience in times of drought and sustainable local water. However, the reduction of wastewater discharges into the river poses a potential problem for the river ecosystem that has come to rely on that water source. The State Water Board and other stakeholders have created the Los Angeles River Flows Project to evaluate the environmental and recreational impacts of reducing wastewater discharge into the L.A. River. The goal is to identify a water flow regime that will support a healthy river ecosystem, allow for recreation opportunities, and recycle enough water to be drought resilient.
Right now, the L.A. River Flows Project has been conducting analyses to identify the optimal flow regime, and research and meetings are planned to continue through the end of 2020. After that, a plan will be drafted and there will ideally be an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the plan.
Heal the Bay is a member of the Technical Advisory Committee as well as part of the Stakeholder Working Group. We will keep you updated on the progress of this and if there are opportunities for the public to voice their comments.
What’s with all these plans for the L.A. River?
Revitalizing the L.A. River is a monumental task so it makes sense to break the revitalization effort into different pieces. However, the main reason for this patchwork of plans is that they are all being led by different agencies. The LARMPU was created by L.A. County and ULART and the Lower L.A. River Revitalization Plan were created by legislation at the state level. The L.A. River Flow Plan was mandated by the State Water Resource Control Board. The LARRMP and L.A. River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study are both overseen by the City of Los Angeles. Each plan states that it will work in conjunction with all the other plans; however, it is unclear what that collaboration will look like as three of the plans are not in the implementation phase yet.
What will these plans do exactly?
The L.A. River Master Plan, ULART, LARRMP, and Lower L.A. River Revitalization Plan will all identify areas along the L.A. River watershed where there is space for a project. A project can take the shape of many different things such as a park, retail space, housing, bike path, nature trail, and habitat among other things. The spaces where these projects will be placed are government owned or easily obtainable by a government agency. The Flows Project will not consist of any projects, instead, it will make recommendations on the amount of water in the river. This might change the habitat characteristics of the river as well as the recreational opportunities. We will know more as the plan continues to take shape. The L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan has already identified the locations of proposed projects.