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Heal the Bay Blog

In Part 1 of our 3-part series, Commit to Conservation, Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist Annelisa explains how smart water practices like recycling and conservation can help ensure the human right to water and the rights of nature, even as California becomes more arid.

MANY FOLKS LIVING IN CALIFORNIA are all too familiar with drought, because it seems like we are always in one. I was born and raised in California, so drought conditions have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I learned to turn off the faucet while I brushed my teeth, to limit my showers to 5 minutes or less, and to never let a drop of water go to waste. Many California residents have gotten really good at conserving water when drought is in the news, but we are not as familiar with the why behind it all, so those good water practices often fall away as soon as we get some rain. Unfortunately, one good rainstorm — or even a few — is not enough to end a drought, nor is it enough to prepare for the next one. Drought cycles have always occurred in California, and they continue to worsen as the climate crisis persists, due in part to a process called aridification that is making our dry years even drier. What we consider “normal” is constantly shifting, and then we still get periods of drought on top of that. In this blog, we will start to explore the why behind all of our conservation efforts, and what that means for Los Angeles’ water future.

A map of drought conditions in California, as of October 18, 2022. This map shows exceptional drought conditions (the highest level of drought severity) in the Central Valley. All of California is experiencing some level of drought conditions, and the majority of California is experiencing severe, extreme, or exceptional drought conditions. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Water Management in Los Angeles

Where does LA Water come from? Source: Know the Flow / Heal the Bay

Roughly 80% of LA’s water is imported from hundreds of miles away in the Northern Sierra Nevada mountain range and San Francisco Bay Delta via the CA Aqueduct, the Eastern Sierra and Owens Valley via the LA Aqueduct, and the Rocky Mountains via the Colorado River Aqueduct. Most of this imported water starts as snowpack in the mountains. In fact, California’s water system was designed so that the snowpack would be our biggest reservoir, with the Sierra Nevada (which translates to snow-covered mountains in Spanish) alone holding 30% of California’s water. The snow would build up in the winter, and then slowly melt over the spring to fill reservoirs, recharge groundwater aquifers, and flow through our aqueducts so that we have water supply when we need it most in the summer and fall, at which time the cycle would start all over again.  

While we continue to take water from critical ecosystems like the Bay Delta, Owens Valley, and Colorado River Delta, which also need that snowmelt, we flush away the water that is available to us locally. Even in dry weather, 10 million gallons of water flow through Los Angeles’ stormdrain system and out to the ocean every single day just from nuisance flow (e.g., broken sprinklers, washing cars, hosing down driveways). And then, when we do get rain, that flow number surges with stormwater runoff, averaging 100 billion gallons of water wasted each year, when it could instead be captured and put to beneficial use. In addition, hundreds of millions of gallons of treated water is discharged from our wastewater treatment plants each day. Some of this treated water flows to the ocean through rivers and streams, and at least some of this flow may be needed to provide critical habitat for ecosystem health. But the treated water that is discharged directly to the ocean provides no beneficial purpose.  

To learn more about the LA Aqueduct and its effects on local peoples and ecosystems, watch The Aqueduct Between Us, directed by AnMarie Mendoza from the Gabrieleno-Tongva Tribe.  

Water Resources in Los Angeles Change with the Climate 

Climate change is happening now. We are seeing and feeling the effects every day with relentless record-breaking heat waves, floods, fire seasons, and droughts. We already experience what is called weather whiplash: dramatic swings between extreme weather patterns. Climate change continues to intensify these swings, so our dry years are hotter and drier, and our wet years are even more intense. More frequent dry years and hotter temperatures drive demand for water up (it takes more water to irrigate crops and landscapes), depleting water supply. Evaporation also takes its toll by pulling water from reservoirs and even taking moisture up from the land, which weakens ecosystem health and actually makes it harder for the land to absorb water when it does rain. Add longer and more intense droughts into that mix, and it is clear that California is becoming more dry (or arid) over time. This process is called aridification, and the trend will only increase as human-accelerated climate change continues. 

Low flow in the Colorado River, Source: Vicki Devine / Center for Biological Diversity

Critically low snowpack in California. Source: Stephanie Elam / CNN


Despite this dire news, it does still rain in Los Angeles. Looking ahead, we actually expect to get the same volume of rain locally on average as we have in recent history, but it will fall less often through heavier downpours. In addition, our dwindling snowpack reservoirs are melting faster each year. We do not currently have the infrastructure in place to capture that higher level of runoff from intense storms and fast snowmelt. This all means that more water will flow back to the ocean rather than being stored as snowpack, or infiltrated into groundwater reservoirs. Some people have suggested that more surface reservoirs are the answer, but they are excessively expensive. Much of the stored water would be lost to evaporation, and quite frankly, we have already dammed most of the rivers in CA. So we must rethink how we manage water to make the most of the resources we do have left.  

Water Management in Los Angeles Must Change, Too 

While we will continue to experience aridification and weather whiplash, we can still adapt to this hotter, drier future. To do this, conservation cannot only happen in response to a drought designation, but it must be a way of life. The good news is that there are local and sustainable solutions that individuals can do at home (indoor and outdoor) and systemic changes that we can push for together to be water wise 

We can source enough water locally to support our water needs and drastically reduce our reliance on imported water. This can be done through improving water conservation/efficiency both regionally and at home, groundwater cleanup, stormwater capture, and  wastewater purification, without turning to expensive, energy intensive, and environmentally harmful practices such as ocean water desalination. Additionally, there is an opportunity to use nature-based solutions that capture and infiltrate water naturally to support overall ecosystem health, which, in turn, can help to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis, among myriad additional benefits. In this way we can ensure the human right to water so people can stay safe and healthy, and respect the rights of nature by keeping our ecosystems thriving. 

Nature-based solutions for stormwater capture. Source: Heal the Bay

Do What You Can When You Can – Stay Informed 

Issues of California’s dwindling water supply, increased demand, and uncertain reliability can feel overwhelming. But we are not powerless in this climate crisis. We can all take the Climate Challenge to do what we can when we can. Start today and focus on “what we learn” — or whatever resonates with you. You can stay informed. Heal the Bay can help.  

Over the next six months, Heal the Bay will be exploring what it means to live in an arid state, and what climate change, drought, and aridification mean for our water future. We will share solutions and opportunities for advancing water efficiency to become more water wise at home and as a community through collective and regional action. Stay tuned for more content! In the meantime…

💥ASK THE EXPERTS: What do you want to know? Ask our staff scientists any questions you have about aridification, drought, and water conservation. Your answer may be featured in an upcoming blog post or video from Heal the Bay.

List as many questions as you'd like!
Who asketh and wherefore art thou, questioner? You can also say 'Anonymous'.

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Written by Annelisa Moe. As a Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist, Annelisa helps to keep L.A. water clean and safe by advocating for comprehensive and science-based water quality regulation and enforcement. Before joining the team at Heal the Bay, she worked with the Regional Water Quality Control Board in both the underground storage tank program and the surface water ambient monitoring program. 



The Clean Water Act revolutionized water protection law and has resulted in multiple cleanup success stories. However, as of March 2022, the goals of the Clean Water Act are not being met, and there is still much work to be done to achieve fishable, swimmable, drinkable water across the US.

LIVING IN A WATER-SCARCE region like Southern California, I hear this a lot: Water is life! And more than that, the quality of water affects the quality of life for humans, the environment, ecosystems, and, of course, the waters themselves. The US federal government recognized this decades ago, and created the first major federal law in the US to address water pollution, called the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act. However, this policy was ineffective owing to a lack of oversight and enforceability. Public pressure following a series of environmental plights (including the Cuyahoga River catching on fire) forced the US to reconsider its approach, leading to the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA) Amendment. This amendment, among many upgrades, gave the EPA more regulatory control to enforce clean water requirements and achieve swimmable, fishable, drinkable water.  

PHOTO: The Cuyahoga River on fire due to high amounts of flammable pollution in the water. Credit: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections

The CWA protects areas designated as Waters of the US (WOTUS) including streams, rivers, lakes, estuaries, and wetlands. Waters of the US are designated with various beneficial uses such as water supply, navigation, recreation, fishing, habitat, etc. In California, new designation categories are being added now for Tribal Cultural and Subsistence Fishing beneficial uses. The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, which reports to the EPA, enforces the federal Clean Water Act locally by determining the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of pollution that a waterway can handle while still supporting its beneficial uses, and then regulating discharge to stay below that contamination limit. For more information on the structure of the CWA, check out Heal the Bay’s Clean Water Act Knowledge Drop 

Initially, the CWA aimed to achieve pollution-free waters by 1985. Unfortunately, that goal was not met. While this innovative water protection law has resulted in a number of water quality success stories, there is still much work to be done. In fact, as of March 2022, about half of US waterways remain impaired. According to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project, California unfortunately ranked first in the US for most river and stream miles listed as impaired for drinking water, and third for fish consumption. 

a)  b)

Maps of (a) California and (b) the Los Angeles Region, showing impaired waterways in dark green and unimpaired waterways in light green. Available at: California 2020-2022 Integrated Report 

The Los Angeles Region alone has 210 total waterways listed as impaired by pollution in 2022, and since many of those waterways are impaired for more than one pollutant, there are a total of 877 listings in LA. Fifty-four of these listings are related to trash pollution, even though LA was one of the first regions to adopt “zero trash” regulations. 

Santa Monica Bay is one of the waterways of LA listed as impaired by trash pollution and the Bay, along with the watersheds that drain into it and the beaches that line it, need care, protection, and advocacy. On Saturday, October 15, 2022, 366 Heal the Bay volunteers took to Will Rogers State Beach, just north of Santa Monica, for one of the biggest NothinBut Sand Beach cleanups of the year. In just under two hours, over 145lbs of trash were cataloged and removed from the shore. Thank you to all our volunteers who came out to help keep our precious coastline clean.  

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PHOTO SET: Hundreds of volunteers support Heal the Bay’s October Nothin’ But Sand Beach Cleanup in honor of the Clean Water Act 50 Year Anniversary. A special thanks to our cleanup sponsors Subaru and Audacy. Photos by Bria Royal / Heal the Bay

PHOTO: Heal the Bay staff member, Forest Leigh, inspecting trash pollution after a first flush event. Photo by Katherine Pease / Heal the Bay

Despite the remaining pollution in our waters, the Supreme Court is considering changes to the definition of WOTUS, which could leave many waters unprotected under the CWA. But there are also many folks working hard towards swimmable, fishable, drinkable water for all. The EPA rereleased its 2022-2032 Vision for achieving CWA goals. The 2022-2023 Vision aims to maximize coordination through partnerships to plan and prioritize opportunities for holistic watershed protection, restoration, and data analysis; and it includes new focus areas for environmental justice, climate change, tribal water quality, and program development, as well as an increase to overall program capacity. Heal the Bay and other NGOs will continue to advocate for water quality projects and comprehensive and science-based water quality regulation under the CWA. 

50 years after the Clean Water Act was established, California’s waterways still need the protection and attention of all those who can help. Discover all the ways you can make an impact. Register to attend Heal the Bay Volunteer Orientation and help us make strides for the next 50 years. 

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Written by Annelisa Moe. As a Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist, Annelisa helps to keep L.A. water clean and safe by advocating for comprehensive and science-based water quality regulation and enforcement. Before joining the team at Heal the Bay, she worked with the Regional Water Quality Control Board in both the underground storage tank program and the surface water ambient monitoring program. 



Sponsor Spotlight: We’d like to send a huge wave of thanks to Heal the Bay’s featured Coastal Cleanup Day 2022 sponsor, Water for LA. Learn more about how Water for LA is empowering residents to be part of LA County’s water supply solution.

THE FUTURE of Los Angeles County depends on a water-literate public that understands how simple individual actions impact the complex networks that make up our water system and the health of our coast and waterways. Topics like recycled water, flood protection, water pollution, and conservation are important and should feel as accessible as discussing the latest Dodgers game.

The truth is we can no longer afford to take our water or our environment for granted. It took a monumental effort to grow this improbable metropolis out of our arid soil. We met that challenge, but we face new threats to the sustainability and success of Los Angeles.

Water for LA is a program to transform LA County residents from passive water consumers to empowered and informed water advocates dedicated to sustainability and health for all. This is why we are glad to sponsor Heal the Bay’s 2022 Coastal Cleanup Day events. Our team will be on site in Santa Monica supporting the clean up and providing more information to attendees about how they can make small changes to their water use that make a big impact.

As a trusted resource on all things water, Water for LA leads campaigns that educate the public and foster more sustainable behavior to help ensure the region’s future.

Our water goes through an epic journey to reach the taps in our homes—sometimes it travels far, moving across mountains and through miles of pipelines, and sometimes it goes through complex processes locally at our water recycling plants and through groundwater cleanup. And we each have our own journey with water. Water for LA’s 2022 campaign—My Journey with Water—identifies simple behaviors, such as sweeping your driveway instead of spraying it down, that we can each adopt to keep our beaches and waterways clean AND conserve water.

Water for LA envisions an LA County where residents understand and nurture their relationship with water—where it comes from, its connection to the rivers and lakes upstream, and how their actions impact their neighbors, region, ocean, and the planet.

Where else can we build a community of fierce water advocates? As the saying goes: only in LA.

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VISIT WATER FOR LA’S WEBSITE

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Sponsored by Water for LA. On Saturday, September 17, 2022, more than 4,583 Heal the Bay volunteers gathered across LA County to remove 11,298 pounds of trash and 313 pounds of recyclables from our watersheds, neighborhoods, and coastline. We’d like to send a huge wave of thanks to all of our Coastal Cleanup Day 2022 volunteers, organizers, and sponsors! 



The LA Regional Water Board approved an agreement for one of the nation’s most polluted sites. Concerns about transparency, accountability, and loopholes in this agreement leave the public vulnerable to continued contamination from the Santa Susana Field Lab.

THE REGIONAL WATER QUALITY CONTROL BOARD VOTED ON AUGUST 11 to approve an agreement concerning Boeing’s highly contaminated Santa Susana Field Lab, formerly known as Rocketdyne, located in the hills above Simi Valley. The agreement sets up a process by which Boeing will eventually be able to remove its water quality regulations after cleanup has been completed, and after they have proven that runoff from the site is clean. Heal the Bay attended the 10-hour-long August 11 hearing and, while we fully support cleanup, we voiced our concerns that this agreement would not adequately protect water quality or public health and asked for a postponement to make improvements to the plan. We also raised concerns with the process — the agreement was made behind closed doors, the public was not able to submit written comments, and the only opportunity to speak was at the hearing. Due to an overwhelming turnout from members of the public, input at the hearing had to be further reduced from the typical 3 minutes to 1 minute and cut off completely at 5pm.

Both Boeing and the Regional Board claimed that this agreement was necessary for Boeing to commit to the required cleanup work, and that a delay in approval of the agreement would only delay the cleanup efforts. Stakeholders were put in an unfair position, threatened with delayed cleanup if we did not support an agreement that we had remaining concerns about. However, the blame for delays should not be placed on stakeholders and community members; these concerns and objections are not what is slowing down the process — Boeing has yet to even start a cleanup that was supposed to be completed back in 2017. As community member Marie Mason mentioned to me at the hearing, “If Boeing wanted to do the right thing, they would have done it 20 years ago,” and could have avoided the impacts of pollution and contamination exposure during that time. Further, the cleanup plan itself also raised concerns (see more on this in the next section) and while the decision before the Board was not specifically on the cleanup plan, the cleanup and the agreement are inextricably linked, and approval of the agreement meant a de facto approval of the cleanup plan.

Despite the overwhelming call for either a no vote or a delay, the Board unanimously approved the agreement, with minor edits. Heal the Bay will remain engaged on this issue because the bottom line is that cleanup to a level that is fully protective of human and ecological health needs to happen as soon as possible.

The history of contamination at the Santa Susana Field Lab

Boeing, NASA, and the Department of Energy own the Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) site, where industrial activities were conducted from 1949 to 2006 to test rocket engines and nuclear reactors. This site contains high levels of contamination from these past activities, which have negatively affected the ecosystem, the groundwater, and the surface water that runs off the site, as well as the communities that rely on those water resources. Additionally, SSFL is located on top of a hill, which means that runoff from the site flows downhill into the community to the north in Simi Valley, feeds into the headwaters of the Arroyo Simi waterway, and feeds into theheadwaters of the Los Angeles River. Contamination from this site affects the entire LA Region, but the impacts are felt most severely in local communities.

In 2007, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) set requirements to fully clean up the contaminated soils at SSFL by 2017. But after decades of litigation and delays (led by Boeing), we are now five years after that deadline, and the cleanup has barely even begun. The longer we wait for Boeing to clean up their mess, the longer our ecosystems and communities are exposed to the contamination. In fact, the 2018 Woolsey fire remobilized existing contamination, leading to 57 distinct surface water violations in a single wet season. Had the cleanup been completed by 2017, as originally required, these violations would not have occurred. To add insult to injury, nearly all of Boeing’s fines associated with those violations were waived. Members of the community are the ones paying the price. According to a study by epidemiologist Hal Morgenstern of the University of Michigan, “the incidence rate [of cancer] was more than 60% greater among residents living within 2 miles of SSFL than among residents living more than 5 miles from SSFL.”

To avoid additional delays, CalEPA announced in May 2022 that a new cleanup settlement had been negotiated over the past several years between DTSC and Boeing, with an agreement that Boeing would not sue over this one. However, with no opportunity for public engagement, or even public comment, stakeholders have been left with so much uncertainty surrounding the new cleanup requirements. Community groups, non-governmental organizations, and even municipal legal consultants have reviewed the final cleanup agreement. These expert reviews have revealed a number of contamination limits altered in the latest version, and there is uncertainty on whether these changes are based on the best available science.

The agreement between Boeing and the Regional Board

The LA Regional Water Quality Control Board, which regulates only the surface water runoff at this site, drafted an agreement (also known as a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU) with Boeing to outline how Boeing can eventually remove its water quality regulations. The MOU requires Boeing to complete the soil cleanup as required by DTSC, and conduct modeling and monitoring to prove that surface water runoff is clean. The Regional Board believes that this MOU provides an extra safety measure, setting additional milestones to protect surface water quality, even if the cleanup agreement is flawed.

Although we agree with this in theory, the MOU can only offer this type of reinforcement for surface water quality protection if significant changes were made to the agreement language. Unfortunately, the Regional Board offered no opportunity for written comment on the MOU. Luckily, Heal the Bay was able to attend the hearing in person and provide our full statement in writing to the Board members, even if our verbal comments were cut short.

Heal the Bay’s Recommendations to improve the Santa Susana Field Lab MOU

  1. To address remaining concerns about the agreement, we asked the Regional Board to commit to providing a period for written public comments on the monitoring program to show whether surface water runoff is clean.
  2.  We recommended that the MOU must ensure regulation of past industrial activity, not just of future construction activity.
  3. While the MOU had the potential to provide assurances for protection of surface water, the potential was not there for groundwater. We urged the Regional Board to reclaim regulatory authority of groundwater to ensure that the long-term quality of both surface water and groundwater at this site were sufficiently protective of human and ecological health.
  4. If buried contaminated soil is left behind under the DTSC cleanup requirements, an earthquake or another fire followed by flooding could re-mobilize buried contamination. We demanded that the MOU include a statement to ensure that the responsible parties would have to address any and all remaining contaminated soil so long as they pose a risk to human or ecological health.

“This MOU is an opportunity to provide a backstop to protect surface water quality even if there are flaws in the cleanup agreement. However, the MOU can only offer this type of reinforcement if some changes are made… To ensure that our concerns are addressed, we request that the Regional Board commit now, within the language of the MOU, to providing a period for written public comments on the monitoring program.”
– Elana Nager, Heal the Bay

Heal the Bay Policy Intern, Elana Nager, provides public testimony at the August 11, 2022 Hearing of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board concerning the Santa Susana Field Lab Memorandum of Understanding.

In response to Heal the Bay’s comments, the Regional Board did commit to our recommendation #1, to provide a period for written public comments on the monitoring program — a program that will determine whether the cleanup was successful. We have remaining concerns about how rigorous that monitoring program will be, but by securing a public review we will at least get the chance to address those concerns later on.

Additionally, in response to pressure from Heal the Bay and a community-based coalition (including Parents against Santa Susana Field Lab, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Committee to Bridge the Gap, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), the Regional Board took our recommendation #2 and removed one small word – “or” – from the agreement. This small change will require permit coverage for stormwater discharges associated with past industrial activity, and permit coverage for stormwater discharges associated with construction, as needed for any future cleanup activity. Originally, permit coverage could have only addressed construction activity, which would have been insufficient.

“We request that the ‘or’ in this statement be removed… Coverage must be specifically related to past industrial activity. One word makes a world of a difference.”

– Prince Takano, Heal the Bay

Heal the Bay Policy Intern, Prince Takano, provides public testimony at the August 11, 2022 Hearing of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board concerning the Santa Susana Field Lab Memorandum of Understanding.

Although Board Member Christiansen attempted to include provisions for all of Heal the Bay’s recommendations, our two biggest concerns about re-mobilization of contaminated soil and pollution of groundwater were ultimately left unaddressed. In fact, when the Regional Board asked DTSC to address these concerns, DTSC Director Williams responded simply that groundwater will be monitored, and that the geology at this site is complicated. There was no additional discussion.

Even with the severely limited public process, significant remaining concerns, and the hundreds of voices asking for a either a no vote or a delay (including surprising testimony from former Regional Board Chair Lawrence Yee, who attended as a member of the public to ask the Board to reject the agreement), the Regional Board unanimously approved the MOU, with minor edits.

Where do we go from here?

The few small changes to the MOU do ensure a better public process moving forward, but do not ensure that this MOU will protect surface water quality or public health. However, we might have another chance to hold Boeing accountable for contaminated surface water runoff through their current water quality regulations (or discharge permit), which is up for renewal right now and will be upheld until cleanup is complete and they have proven that surface runoff is clean. There will be another Regional Board meeting later this year to discuss that permit. Heal the Bay will be there advocating for a strong permit that is protective of water quality not only in runoff from the site, but also runoff on the site, which can infiltrate into the ground and further contaminate the soils and groundwater. Stay tuned for more information about that meeting, and how you can join Heal the Bay to hold Boeing accountable.

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EDITOR NOTE: Since the publishing of this blog post, the Regional Board has reached out to Heal the Bay to clarify that the reduced speaking time offered during the hearing was a direct result of the unusually large turnout from members of the public. The article has been updated to acknowledge these conditions.

Written by Annelisa Moe. As a Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist, Annelisa helps to keep L.A. water clean and safe by advocating for comprehensive and science-based water quality regulation and enforcement. Before joining the team at Heal the Bay, she worked with the Regional Water Quality Control Board in both the underground storage tank program and the surface water ambient monitoring program. 



A view of Big Rock Beach from above / BeachReportCard.org. — It’s National Water Quality Month, and to celebrate we’re sharing with you a little-known LA County beach spot that shines when it comes to water quality.

Big Rock Beach

Big Rock Beach received an A+ in our most recent Beach Report Card—the highest grade a beach can get. Located in Malibu, about 8 ½ miles north of the Santa Monica Pier on PCH, Big Rock Beach has free parking and a coastal access stairway that leads down to the beach.

Lots of rocks mean you may see a tide pool or two, and with views up the coastline, it’s a great place to catch a sunset.

Why is it so Clean?

With less development than more urban shorelines, a largely natural landscape upstream, and only a single storm drain nearby, bacteria levels tend to be low at Big Rock Beach. For the same reasons, beaches in Malibu tend to fare better than beaches in more densely-populated areas, largely due to reduced urban runoff.

The beach is also what we call an “open ocean beach”, meaning it has good water circulation, so any pollutants that do enter the water are quickly flushed away from the shore by waves and currents.

“big blue” by Jodi Marr / Flickr

Why Do We Care About Water Quality

Heal the Bay created The Beach Report Card more than 30 years ago, when beachgoers knew very little about the water quality at their favorite beaches, or the health risks of swimming in polluted waters. With weekly and annual water quality grades based on bacterial pollution for more than 700 beaches from Washington State all the way down to Tijuana, you can know before you go.

Find water quality grades for Big Rock Beach and any other beach you’d like to visit on our free website and app.

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READ “ANNUAL BEACH REPORT CARD”

BEACH REPORT CARD APP


Written by Lindsey Jurca. To help keep the beach-going public safe, Heal the Bay created The Beach Report Card over 30 years ago. The Beach Report Card is an important and comprehensive public health tool, providing weekly and annual water quality grades based on bacterial pollution at over 700 beaches from Washington to Tijuana. 



MPA Watch Reflections: Jasmine Islas spent her Spring 2022 MPA Watch Internship with Heal the Bay exploring the rabbit hole of factors impacting skewed representation at Los Angeles beaches. The dead end she arrived at points to important action items for the science community.

LIVING IN CALIFORNIA, I have been spoiled with the beauty and nature that it has. I was lucky that my family wanted to make sure that I relished the different experiences Southern California had to offer. Some of my earliest and fondest memories come from spending my day at the beach. The distance from where we lived to the beach that we frequented was about an hour, so we’d dedicate the entire day to staying there, ending the night with a bonfire. As I grew older, we went to the beach less and less because I was made aware of how far away it was and how much was spent to have a beach day. I felt guilty about how oblivious I was about how much my working-class family was spending so that my sister and I could have fun in the sun.

My visits to the beach led to a passion for marine science, which prompted me to pursue a degree in Biology. Coming from a working-class Hispanic household, I was spoiled and sheltered from what working in marine science would look like. I just assumed that when I would start networking and meeting people in the field I would see more people that looked like me, people with a brown complexion. What I have now come to realize is that the marine science community is dominated by my white counterparts, which caught me off guard. I was perplexed and wondered why that was.

This led me to question my choices in pursuing this field of study. I felt like I wouldn’t fit in or flourish as a scientist. I went down a rabbit hole of questions and research to try and see what the cause of this disconnect was. I ask myself what the root of this issue is.

To determine the reason for the lack of diversity in marine science, I thought it would be helpful to figure out the demographic of people coming to beaches in LA County. I believe that those who have easy access to beaches are more likely to care about coastal issues enough to pursue careers in them. At first glance, this seemed like it would be an easy question to answer with the help of a little research.

To my surprise, there is very little research conducted that focuses on beach access specific to LA County. The exception is a UCLA study called “Access for All; A New Generation’s Challenges on the California Coast” by Jon Christensen and Philip King. In the study, they surveyed 1,146 people that came to SoCal beaches over the summer of 2016. The beaches they focused on were located in Ventura County, Los Angeles County, and Orange County. While the study wasn’t centralized around LA county beaches, their findings were intriguing.

The scientists in this study collected demographic data including the average annual income of beachgoers and how frequently people visited the beach. The beaches with more affordable accommodations had a greater diversity of visitors in comparison to other neighboring beaches in Southern California. Those with a median household incomes greater than $60,000 are likely to come to the beach more frequently than households with an income of less than $40,000 a year.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that an annual household income of $47,850 for 1 person living in Los Angeles County is considered low income. While these low income figures were published in 2011, it’s worth mentioning because that would mean that the people who come to the beach more often are outside that margin. This disproportionately impacts both Latino and African American communities in Los Angeles County.

Going to the beach isn’t affordable for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) communities. The Access for All study found that they face barriers of cost, lack of parking, and lack of public transportation. This is in addition to the intangible barriers that they face such as fear of judgment and discrimination when coming to the beach.

So, what now?

After seeing the absolute lack of published research into beach access, beach equity, and the barriers therein, I want everyone to know about this serious knowledge gap that needs to be filled to make change. Research into these topics IS science and the following questions CAN be sufficiently answered through rigorous, trustworthy, and peer-reviewed scientific investigation:

  1. What science-based methods remove barriers to beach inclusivity and access?
  2. What societal changes are needed to facilitate BIPOC individual interactions with our coastal ecosystems?
  3. How can marine and ocean work be more accessible to BIPOC communities?

Without tangible evidence from a strong investment in rigorous scientific studies into beach equity, it makes it difficult for better policies to be put in place. It makes it harder for change to occur.

Our oceans face very challenging and complicated global threats that will need diverse minds to mitigate, and diverse support to fund and manage. Our oceans depend on us, and I for one, am eager to see more change makers that look like me, who feel a very real belonging in this role. After all, Dr. Jon Christensen and Dr. Philip King astutely observed during that study, that despite our demographic differences, everyone surveyed essentially had the same basic set of desires.

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By Jasmine Islas. As a Spring 2022 MPA Watch Intern, Jasmine supported Heal the Bay’s Science, Outreach, and Policy teams in the research and observation of marine protected areas (MPAs) through coastal conservation advocacy and fieldwork.



💥 Action Alert: We need your calls of support to pass these 5 bills before the end of the California Legislative Season.

UPDATE 09/06/2022: ALL 5 of these bills were passed! Thanks for your support in helping California protect communities and waterways. Now it’s up to Governor Newsom to sign them into law!

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR: the end of the California Legislative season! Our state Senators and Assemblymembers have some important decisions to make over the next two weeks and we are just a few plays away from passing some innovative new laws that will help California communities battle climate change, pollution, and drought all while protecting our precious water and ocean resources. We have already had some major wins from the year, like Senate Bill 54 (Allen) passing back in June to fight plastic pollution, and losses, like Heal the Bay sponsored Assembly Bill 2758 (O’Donnell), which would have required public meetings on the DDT pollution off our coast but didn’t make it out of Senate Appropriations. However, there are still plenty of bills on the docket that need our urgent attention.

Heal the Bay has been supporting the following five bills over the past 2-year bill cycle and we have until August 31 to ensure that they are passed by the Senate & Assembly and, if they pass, until September 30 for the Governor to sign them into law. A key factor in their decision-making is the opinions of their constituents. That’s right, YOU! Let’s take a look at this year’s top contenders for environmental legislative wins and how you can help get them across the finish line:

1. AB 1832: Seabed Mining Ban (L. Rivas)

The ocean seafloor is a rich and thriving ecosystem, but around the world, that ecosystem is being threatened by seabed mining. A practice that resembles clearcutting a forest, mining the seafloor for minerals destroys habitat and wildlife leaving behind a barren seascape that grows so slowly, it may never recover. Mining also creates enormous toxic sediment plumes and noise, light, and thermal pollution that disrupt marine habitats. Following in Oregon and Washington’s footsteps, AB 1832 would ban seabed mining in California, effectively protecting the entire West Coast of the United States from this dangerous practice.

2. AB 2638: Water Bottle Refill Stations in Schools (Bloom)

Reusable water bottles are an excellent alternative to disposable plastic bottles, but they aren’t a viable solution if there is nowhere to refill them. AB 2638 would require any new construction or modernization project by a school district to include water bottle filling stations. By increasing access to safe drinking water at refill stations in schools, we can contribute to reuse and refill systems across the state, allowing our students to use reusable bottles instead of harmful disposable ones.

3. SB 1036: Ocean Conservation Corps (Newman)

For decades, the California Conservation Corps has served young adults across the state by hiring and training young adults for conservation-based service work on environmental projects. SB 1036 would expand this program and create an Ocean Conservation Corps. This bill would increase workforce development opportunities to thousands of young adults while contributing to ocean conservation projects like those currently happening at the Heal the Bay Aquarium.

4. SB 1157: Drought Resilience through Water Efficiency (Hertzberg)

California is experiencing long-term aridification, which means a hotter and drier climate, and is currently several years into the most severe drought in 1,200 years. We must ensure that California’s urban areas are not wasting water as we adapt to our changing climate. SB 1157 would update water use efficiency standards to reflect our growing need to conserve water based on best available indoor water use trends. Water efficiency is one of the cheapest, fastest, and most efficient ways we can meet long-term water needs and increase resilience in the face of the climate crisis. Saving water also saves energy, so it can help us meet our climate goals while also resulting in cheaper utility bills. That’s a win-win!

5. AB 1857: Anti-Incineration (C. Garcia)

Right now, Californians are sending their waste to incineration facilities to be burned instead of landfilled or recycled. These facilities are disproportionately located in frontline communities already overburdened by multiple pollution sources. Cities that send their waste to these toxic facilities are currently able to claim “diversion credits”, a tactic aimed at reducing waste sent to landfill and classifying incineration inappropriately in the same categories as recycling and source reduction. AB 1857 would redefine incineration as true disposal, and remove these diversion credits while also funding investments in zero-waste communities most impacted by incineration. This is a critical bill for achieving environmental justice in California and moving us away from toxic false solutions to our waste crisis.

Your representative wants to hear from you to help them vote on these bills, and your voice makes a huge difference. So, we need your help.

Here’s how YOU can help us pass these bills.

Call your Representative: Head to this website to find your representatives and their phone numbers. It takes 5 minutes or less to call your reps. Give the numbers a call and read off the script below, and tell your representative to vote YES on these five environmental bills.

Call Script:

Hello, my name is [insert your name here] and I am a constituent of [insert the representative’s name here, e.g. Senator Stern]. I care deeply about the health and wellness of California’s natural ecosystems and am calling to ask the [Senator/Assemblymember] to vote yes on these five environmental bills: AB 1832, AB 1857, AB 2638, SB 1036, and SB 1157.

These bills will help California protect our environment and better prepare for climate change, while protecting our most vulnerable communities. As your constituent, this legislation is important to me and I urge [insert representative name] to vote yes on all of them.

Thank you for your time.

ACTION LINK(S)

CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVE


Written by Emily Parker. As a Coastal and Marine Scientist for Heal the Bay, Emily works to keep our oceans and marine ecosystems healthy and clean by advocating for strong legislation and enforcement both locally and statewide. She focuses on plastic pollution, marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, and climate change related issues.



It’s been a year since the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant sewage spill. Where are we now?

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

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

The Response to the Spill

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

30-day Report 

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

Ad Hoc Report 

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

Enforcement 

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

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

Latest Updates 

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

Completed  

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

In Progress 

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

What Comes Next 

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

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

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

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

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


Written by Luke Ginger. As a Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist, Luke fights for the environment’s rights by advocating for water quality regulation and enforcement. He’s also looking out for the humans who go to the beaches, rivers, and streams by managing the Beach Report Card, River Report Card, and NowCast programs. 



(From left) Jeff Williams, Andrea Kabwasa, and Rick Blocker attend Nick Gabaldón Day at Bay Street Beach — June 18, 2022.

CELEBRATING OUR 10TH YEAR in partnership with Black Surfers Collective (BSC) and The Surf Bus Foundation, we only have to thank Rick Blocker. For over 50 years Rick has been a powerful advocate for diversity and inclusion in surfing. Rick is an original member of the Black Surfing Association.

Fifteen years ago Heal the Bay had a table next to BSC at community resource fair at the Crenshaw Mall. I had the privilege of meeting him then. We got to talking about beach access and how to diversify the beach. He told me about what the Collective had started with Nick Gabaldón Day. I told him, Heal the Bay has an Aquarium, bus money, and a lot to learn. He said, “your hired”.

He arranged a meeting with African American historian Alison Rose Jefferson as well as Jeff Williams and Greg Rachal from the Black Surfers Collective, and the rest is a joyous history. I am eternally grateful and humbled to stand with this group.

Check out more photos and stories from Nick Gabaldón Day 2022.

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Nick Gabaldón Day celebrates the incredible life and legacy of the first documented surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay. Gabaldón (1927-1951) was a pioneering surfer of African American and Mexican American descent whose passion, athleticism, discipline, love, and respect for the ocean live on as the quintessential qualities of the California surfer.  This year, Black Surfers Collective, Heal the Bay, Surf Bus Foundation, Santa Monica Conservancy, Color the Water, and devoted community members gathered at the Historic Bay Street Beach to honor these tenets followed by a screening of Wade in the Water and story time at Heal the Bay Aquarium.

Join us in sending a big wave of thanks to our 2022 sponsors:

Thanks to the Tuesday Night Ultimate Frisbee Group affiliated with LA Throwback Foundation, folks that are interested promoting civic engagement and history through sports, for funding support of Nick Gabaldón Day.


Written By Meredith McCarthy. Heal the Bay’s long time Programs Director has recently shifted to the Director of Operations. Meredith now oversees the organizational health and wellbeing of all programs and staff. As an avid scuba diver she has seen firsthand what putting too much in, taking too much out and ignoring the edge of the ocean has done to our coastal systems.



Watch Tracy Quinn, our CEO on Spectrum News 1 discussing SB 54.

HEAL THE BAY IS ENCOURAGED to share that California has taken a major step forward in addressing the plastic pollution and waste crisis with the passage of Senate Bill 54 (SB 54) in the California State Legislature, followed by Governor Newsom signing it into law on June 30, 2022.

Reducing single-use plastics through comprehensive statewide policy is a priority for Heal the Bay. During Heal the Bay beach cleanups, 80% of the more than 4 million pieces of trash that our volunteers pick up is made from single-use plastics. In our ocean and rivers, plastic waste poses a significant threat to animals, leaching harmful chemicals into their bodies or even blocking their digestive tract, leading to starvation and malnourishment. The plastic pollution can even transfer up the food chain ultimately passing the toxins on to us.

SB 54, authored by Senator Ben Allen, establishes a producer responsibility scheme to hold plastic industries accountable for the waste they produce. We look forward to working with Senator Allen on the implementation of SB 54, and with our environmental justice partners to ensure low-income communities and communities of color don’t bear additional burdens. Pollution from the full lifecycle of plastics, which are derived from fossil fuels, already harms communities of color disproportionately. This pollution can lead to health impacts such as asthma, respiratory illness, headaches, fatigue, nosebleeds, and even cancer.

“Heal the Bay envisions a solution that moves us entirely away from single-use materials, especially plastics, and focuses on reuse and refill instead. Even though recycling is an important part of this process, we cannot recycle our way out — nor can we use dangerous chemical recycling methods that dispose of plastics in our air. We will continue to push hard, alongside other environmental and community-based organizations and advocates, to ensure the producer responsibility program established by SB 54 prioritizes reuse and refill,” said Tracy Quinn, Heal the Bay CEO and President.

The passing of this legislation ultimately means the California Recycling and Plastics Pollution Reduction Act Initiative, which was supposed to be on the November 2022 ballot, will be pulled. While we were thrilled to give California voters the opportunity to make this decision, our California legislature has incorporated many of the requirements and solutions laid out in the plastic ballot measure. The momentum of the plastic ballot measure brought industry to the table to make real commitments, and we are going to hold them to it.

What’s included in SB 54:

  • Sets a 25% source reduction goal for single-use packaging production by 2032. And by then, 65% of single-use packaging still being produced will need to be truly recyclable or compostable
  • Establishes a producer responsibility scheme through the formation of a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) to help California reduce plastic pollution, and creates strong state government enforcement and oversight that will remove power from the PRO should they fall out of compliance
  • Requires $5 billion of environmental mitigation funding from plastic producers to go toward environmental restoration and cleanup over 10-years

What needs to be improved upon in the legislation:

  • Does not outright ban polystyrene, rather it sets recycling rates of 25% by 2025 with the material being banned if this rate cannot be met
  • Allows for post-consumer recycled content (recycled plastic that is used in a new product) to count toward source reduction goal

Heal the Bay thanks Senator Allen and the bill’s co-authors Senators Becker, Gonzalez, Hertzberg, Kamlager, Skinner, Stern, and Wiener for championing SB 54. A huge thank you to Assemblymember Luz Rivas who advocated for important amendments. With the passage of SB 54, we look forward to experiencing less plastic pollution in our communities and environments and seeing a decrease in public health risks in the years to come.

Stay tuned for a deep dive from us on Senate Bill 54: The Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act.

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