Summer is officially here – the peak season for swimming outdoors. Heal the Bay releases its annual scientific reports on bacterial-pollution rankings for hundreds of beaches in California and dozens of freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County.
For more than 30 years, Heal the Bay has assigned annual “A-to-F” letter grades for 700 beaches from Washington State to Tijuana, Mexico including 500 California beaches in the 2022-2023 report, based on levels of fecal-indicator bacterial pollution in the ocean measured by County health agencies. In addition, since 2017, the organization has ranked freshwater quality, releasing report grades for 35 freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County for summer 2022 in its fifth annual River Report Card. The public can check out the updated water quality of their local freshwater recreation areas at healthebay.org/riverreportcard and ocean beaches at beachreportcard.org or by downloading the app on their smartphone.
BEACH REPORT CARD HIGHLIGHTS
The good news is 95% of the California beaches assessed by Heal the Bay received an A or B grade during summer 2022, which is on par with the average.
Even so, Heal the Bay scientists remain deeply concerned about ocean water quality. Polluted waters pose a significant health risk to millions of people in California. People who come in contact with water with a C grade or lower are at a greater risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, and rashes. Beaches and rivers usually have poor water quality following a rain event. More rain typically means that increased amounts of pollutants, including bacteria, are flushed through storm drains and rivers into the ocean. Sewage spills pose increased health risks and trigger immediate beach closures, which should be heeded until public officials clear the area. Last year an astounding 45 million gallons of sewage were spilled and made their way to California beaches. Only 56% of California beaches had good or excellent grades during wet weather, which was worse than average, and very concerning.
“As climate change continues to bring weather whiplash, our water woes will swing from scarcity to pollution. This year, record precipitation produced major impacts on water quality across Coastal California,” said Tracy Quinn, President and CEO of Heal the Bay. “Now more than ever, we must prioritize multi-benefit projects to manage stormwater as both a water quality and supply solution, all while ensuring that the public is kept informed of risks to public health.”
Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card and River Report Card provide access to the latest water quality information and are a critical part of our science-based advocacy work in support of strong environmental policies that protect public health.
Heal the Bay’s Beach Bummer List ranks the most polluted beaches in California based on levels of harmful bacteria in the ocean. The 2022-2023 Beach Bummer List includes beaches in Los Angeles, San Mateo, San Diego, and Orange Counties as well as the Tijuana Area. This year, Santa Monica Pier and Playa Blanca in Tijuana tied for the top spot as both faced significant water quality challenges.
1-2. Playa Blanca, Tijuana Area
1-2. Santa Monica Pier, LA County
3. Linda Mar Beach, San Mateo County
4. Marlin Park, San Mateo County
5. Erckenbrack Park, San Mateo County
6. Tijuana River Mouth, San Diego County
7. Pillar Point Harbor, San Mateo County
8. Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach, LA County
9. Poche Beach, Orange County
10. Gull Park, San Mateo County
BEACH HONOR ROLL LIST
This year, only two out of over 500 monitored beaches made it on the Honor Roll compared to 51 last year. Unfortunately, the unprecedented amount of rain that fell across California during the 2022–2023 winter led to an enormous dip in water quality and a very short Honor Roll list. The Honor Roll is typically dominated by Southern California beaches, in part, because many Northern and Central California Counties do not monitor beach water quality year-round. However, it appears that the wet weather from this past winter took its toll everywhere.
Point Loma, Lighthouse, San Diego
Bean Hollow State Beach, San Mateo
The record rainfall impacted the Honor Roll list in two ways: 1) fewer beaches received Winter Dry Grades because most of the winter data was collected during wet weather, and 2) increased precipitation negatively impacts water quality. In order to get on the Honor Roll, a beach must have zero bacterial exceedances all year under all conditions, which is extremely difficult to do with so much rainfall. The unsettlingly short Honor Roll was also impacted by our inability to grade one third of San Diego County’s beaches, which usually comprise a large portion of the Honor Roll (15 in the last report). in 2022 San Diego agencies began using a new testing method for bacterial pollution at nearly a third of beaches in the County, which is unfortunately not yet compatible with our grading methods in the Beach Report Card. Find out why we couldn’t grade nearly a third of San Diego beaches in the full report.
RIVER REPORT CARD HIGHLIGHTS
Heal the Bay graded 35 freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County within the L.A. River, San Gabriel River, and Malibu Creek Watersheds during summer 2022. Across all 35 sites and all dates graded throughout summer 2022, 65% of grades were Green (indicating no water quality health risks); 15% were Yellow (moderate health risk), and 19% were Red (high health risk). This was an improvement from the previous year.
We are thrilled to be debuting a new method for grading freshwater quality in summer 2023 in our weekly grades that are online. The method was developed with the help of a team of water quality experts and will use the same letter grading system (A-F) as the Beach Report Card to improve user experience and reflect the latest science.
“Our River Report Card identifies a disturbing trend between development and water quality. The natural areas in our watersheds, rivers and streams with muddy or sandy bottoms and ample flora, typically have the best water quality and are the safest for the public. In contrast, heavily developed areas, waterways encased with concrete (including within the L.A. River channel) and stormdrain inputs, tend to have lower water quality. We recommend checking out the River Report Card before heading out to the L.A. River because bacteria levels are often at unsafe levels and you can find a safer spot for cooling off,” said Dr. Alison Xunyi Wu, Water Quality Data Specialist and co-author of the River Report Card and Beach Report Card.
Avoid shallow, enclosed beaches with poor water circulation.
Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains, creeks, and piers.
Stay out of the water for at least 72-hours after a rain event.
Follow all local health and safety regulations, including all local pandemic-related regulations.
Check in with the lifeguard or ranger on duty for more information about the best places to swim.
Stay in the know! This year, the annual reports received state and national coverage – appearing in the New York Times, LA Times, and Associated Press.
ACCESS TO WATER RECREATION
The COVID-19 pandemic, record-setting wildfire seasons, and extreme heat have compounded the already dire need for equity in our recreational waters, and exposed major systemic failures; open spaces, including beaches and rivers, are not equally accessible to all people. Low-income communities of color tend to be the most burdened communities, bearing the brunt of environmental pollution, socioeconomic disparities, and limited access to safe, healthy, and clean water recreation. Heal the Bay is committed to expanding the user base of our Beach Report Card and River Report Card. We have started by working with local community-based organizations that are taking down barriers to water recreation for communities of color. Through this work, we will amplify what “safe, healthy, and clean access to water recreation” means in the communities where it is needed the most.
About Heal the Bay: Heal the Bay is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1985. They use science, education, community action, and advocacy to fulfill their mission to protect coastal waters and watersheds in Southern California with a particular focus on public health, climate change, biodiversity, and environmental justice. Heal the Bay Aquarium, located at the Santa Monica Pier, welcomes 100,000 guests annually and hosts a variety of public programs and events that highlight local environmental issues and solutions. Learn more at healthebay.org and follow @healthebay on social media or watch this short video.
Beach Report Card with NowCast, in partnership with World Surf League, is Heal the Bay’s flagship scientific water quality monitoring program that started in the 1990s. For more than thirty years, the Beach Report Card has influenced the improvement of water quality by increasing monitoring efforts and helping to enact strong environmental and public health policies. Learn more at beachreportcard.org and download the free app on Apple and Android devices. The Beach Report Card is made possible through generous support from SIMA Environmental Fund, SONY Pictures Entertainment, and World Surf League.
About River Report Card: Currently, there is no statewide water quality monitoring mandate for rivers and streams in California, like exists for the ocean as a result of the Beach Report Card. Heal the Bay started the River Report Card in 2017 to push for new public health protections for freshwater areas in addition to serving the immediate need for increased public awareness about the risks at popular freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County. Learn more at healthebay.org/riverreportcard. The River Report Card is supported by Environment Now.
After a decade of volunteer surveys and scientific review, we now know that Marine Protected Areas are working, but inclusivity and climate resiliency must be considered to ensure the full benefits of these precious sanctuaries for all.
Nearly 24 years ago, the state of California passed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), forever changing the course of marine conservation in our coastal state. Following an arduous community centered process, California established a globally recognized network of 124 marine protected areas, or MPAs. These MPAs, which run up and down our nearly 1,000-mile coastline in varying degrees of protection, limit certain consumptive human behaviors like fishing and collecting tidepool animals in an effort to protect and restore biodiversity and coastal resources.
(Above) Heal the Bay Marine Protected Area Watch Volunteers completing MPA Survey Training at Point Dume, California.
After California instituted these Marine Protected Areas, there was an immediate need to establish a successful management program and a system to refine or adapt MPA Network over time based on both ecosystem and human data. The state built an adaptive management program, requiring a review of our MPA network every ten years.
Now, a decade after the final MPA was put into place, the very first California MPA Decadal Management Review (DMR) is underway. Led by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and California Fish and Game Commission (FGC), this review process looks at the four managing pillars of MPAs: research and monitoring, education and outreach, policy and permitting, and enforcement and compliance. For more info on the DMR process, check out our blog from last year.
How is this highly anticipated Decadal Management Review going? In mid-March, Heal the Bay’s MPA team traveled to Monterey along with activists, researchers, Tribal members, Tribal elders, enforcement officers, anglers, and community members to attend three days of MPA management review. We heard from MPA managers, Fish and Game Commissioners, Indigenous leaders, scientists, and many others through a series of meetings, panels, and open forums.
Here are our top four take-aways from California’s FIRST MPA Decadal Review thus far:
California’s MPAs are working. Long-term monitoring shows that, at least for highly fished species in certain areas, MPAs are supporting larger and more abundant fish compared to reference sites that are not protected. Further, modeling across the central coast showed connectivity and spillover, indicating that MPAs are behaving as designed (i.e., as a network) and that benefits are seen even outside and across MPAs. While there is still much more research to be done, these initial results are incredibly promising, and we expect these positive outcomes to increase with time.
Indigenous people must be elevated to MPA leadership positions. The Indigenous nations of our coastline have been and continue to be the original stewards of this land. They have cared for coastal ecosystems since time immemorial and their knowledge and perspectives are necessary components in managing and evaluating our MPAs. Unfortunately, Indigenous nations and people were largely excluded from the original MPA designation process. Heal the Bay supports the requests made by Tribal members for expanded access to the coastline and to be elevated to positions of leadership within the MPA management system. Access to the coast and all it has to offer must be expanded for all Indigenous people.
Future MPA management MUST prioritize climate resiliency. We are in the midst of unprecedented climate disruption, not only on land but in our marine and coastal ecosystems. California’s network of MPAs presents a unique opportunity to evaluate the climate resiliency potential of MPAs against climate stressors like increased temperature, increased acidity, rising sea levels, changing tides and storm surges, increased erosion, and decreased oxygen. Heal the Bay would like to see the future of MPA monitoring include climate resilience metrics.
MPA monitoring and research needs to broaden in scope. While the level of MPA research that has been conducted over the past 10 years is nothing short of impressive, there are areas where the state can do so much more. For example, long-term monitoring of MPAs should utilize innovative research tools like environmental DNA (eDNA) to measure biodiversity trends in space and time. Analysis of biological data must be expanded to compare the different types of MPAs in the network to assess how effective different levels of protection are. Finally, there are opportunities and a need to better analyze compliance, or how well people are following MPA regulations, to give us the full picture of MPA effectiveness. Heal the Bay is advocating for these expanded monitoring priorities to improve our understanding and management of MPAs overall.
(Above) Emily Parker, Coastal and Marine Scientist, and Crystal Barajas, Senior Community Science & Outreach Coordinator, represented Heal the Bay at the March 2023 Decadal Management Review Forum in Monterey, California.
At the meetings in Monterey, Heal the Bay advocated for the inclusion of Indigenous leadership, the prioritization of climate resiliency, and the broadening of MPA research in an oral testimony to the FGC Marine Resources Committee and submitted these suggestions via a written comment letter. We will continue this advocacy in future FGC meetings and as we meet with agencies, collaborate with partners and stakeholders, and engage the public.
California’s network of MPAs is still young. It will take more time and improved protection and management to see the maximum benefit for biodiversity. To see those benefits, the MPA network must remain intact and protections must, at the very least, remain as strong as they currently are. This first glimpse of our MPA,s success is incredibly exciting, and we can’t wait to see what 10 more years of MPAs bring.
What a night!! Thank you to all who were a part of the celebration. Your generous support of the Bring Back the Beach 2023 Gala enables Heal the Bay to continue (and expand) our mission to make coastal waters and watersheds in Greater Los Angeles safe, healthy, and clean. Guests enjoyed drinks, dancing and a one-of-a-kind experience in the Time to Act Augmented Reality Tents all at the iconic Jonathan Club right on the beach in Santa Monica.
Bring Back the Beach was a tremendous success, raising critical funds to reinforce our work!
With your support the event raised more than 🎉$925,000🎉exceeding all expectations and allowing Heal the Bay to continue our mission to #protectwhatyoulove: our irreplaceable Southern CA watersheds and coastal waters.
We were delighted you were part of the celebration honoring Assemblywoman Luz Rivas with the Dorothy Green Award; Amy Liu, Founder Tower 28 Beauty, with the Wave Award; and Jan & Marsh Mokhtari, Co-Founders Gray Whale Gin, with the Walk the Talk Award (Images below). We also hope you had fun!
Assemblywoman Luz Rivas & Tracy Quinn, CEO of Heal the Bay
Nick Gabaldón(1927-1951) was a pioneering surfer of Mexican– and African American descent. He was the first documented surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay. Gabaldón’s passion, athleticism, discipline, love and respect for the ocean live on as the quintessential qualities of the California surfer.
In 2013, with the help of African American historian Alison Rose Jefferson, Heal the Bay joined forces with the Black Surfers Collective to amplify and expand their prior Nick Gabaldón efforts. Nick Gabaldón Day is now in its 11th year, and will be held on June 3, 2023, as a collaboration of organizations gather together to honor this great legacy that left ripples throughout many communities. TheSurf Bus Foundation is another essential organization to the structure and safety of Nick Gabaldón Day 2023, empowering people to have a healing connection to the sea by engaging in ocean sports like surfing.
This innovative and collaborative celebration provides an amazing opportunity for broadening outreach, action, and education to connect Angelenos with their cultural, historical, and natural heritage.
We are excited this year to welcome LA28. The LA28 Olympic and Paralympic Games will celebrate our community’s diversity and creativity to collectively design a Games we all want to be a part of. The Games are organized by an independent, non-profit, private organization that partners with private and public entities to deliver the Games. Participants will have an opportunity to meet and hear inspirational stories from Olympic athletes.
Once Upon a Beach, in the Face of Adversity
The shoreline and waters at Bay Street in Santa Monica were an active hub of African American beach life during the Jim Crow era. This beach was popular from the 1900s to early 1960s among African American people, who sought to avoid hostile and racial discrimination they might experience at other southland beaches. Racial discrimination and restrictive covenants prevented African Americans from buying property throughout the Los Angeles region, but their community’s presence and agency sustained their oceanfront usage in Santa Monica.
In 2008, the City of Santa Monica officially recognized the “Inkwell” and Nick Gabaldón with a landmark monument at Bay Street and the Oceanfront Walk. In 2019, this same beach was listed as the Bay Street Beach Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in the African American experience and American history.
A Beach Day For All: June 3, 2023
Nick Gabaldón Day introduces young and old from inland communities to the magic of the coast through free surf and ocean safety lessons, beach ecology exploration, and a history lesson about a man who followed his passion and a community who challenged anti-Black discrimination to enjoy the beach.
The Black Surfers Collective, Heal the Bay, Surf Bus Foundation, and the Santa Monica Conservancy collaborate for Nick Gabaldón Day to reach families in resource-challenged communities and to connect them with meaningful educational programming. Together, we are helping build personal experiences with cultural, historical, natural heritage, and civic engagement that make up the foundation of stewardship, and the development of the next generation of heritage conservation and environmental leaders.
Heal the Bay Aquarium under the Santa Monica Pier will be free for all visitors in honor of Nick on Saturday, June 3, 2023 thanks to a generous sponsorship. A celebrity guest reader will pop in for story time and special art activities will be offered, as well as screenings of documentaries exploring issues of race, coastal access, and following your passion against all odds (“12 Miles North: The Nick Gabaldón Story”  and“La Maestra (The Teacher)” ).
Tentative Agenda: June 3, 2023
9 am Welcome Ceremony and Memorial Paddle Out for Nick at Bay Street Beach
Sponsors National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – Funding for this project was provided (in part) by the Refugio Beach Oil Spill South Coast Shoreline Parks and Outdoor Recreation Grants Program overseen by the Refugio Beach Oil Spill Trustee Council.
For more information about partnership and sponsorship opportunities please contact: Jeff Williams, Black Surfers Collective, email@example.com or Meredith McCarthy, Heal the Bay 310.451.1500 ext. 116 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alison Rose Jefferson M.H.C. Ph.D.
Alison Rose Jefferson M.H.C. Ph.D. is a historian and heritage conservation consultant who has contributed to the organization of the Nick Gabaldón Day celebration since 2013. Currently, Jefferson’s work is public facing as consultant on Los Angeles history projects. Her book Living the California Dreams: African American Leisure Sites during the in the Jim Crow Era, rethinks the significance of the struggle for leisure and public space for all within the long freedom rights struggle and civil rights movement. Her book was honored with the 2020 Miriam Matthews Ethnic History Award by the Los Angeles City Historical Society for its exceptional contributions to the greater understanding and awareness of regional history. Dr. Jefferson’s work has garnered attention in the L.A. Times and other media outlets. For more information about her activities visit her website, www.alisonrosejefferson.com.
Surf Bus Foundation
The Surf Bus Foundation’s mission is to empower people to have a healing connection to the sea. They do this by engaging in ocean sports like surfing, swimming and beach games while exploring the wonder and beauty of the sea. Our teaching and mentoring provides understanding that encourages a lifelong commitment to share and protect our oceans for all to enjoy.
Jamal Hill is a Los Angeles based educator and community leader with over 10 years of experience in aquatics that include teaching inner-city youth swim lessons, serving as an LA County lifeguard, and representing Team USA as a member of the Paralympic Swimming team. Dismantling the barriers to industry entry such as previous aquatic related trauma, lack of access to calm water environments, unestablished learning curves, and non-affordable pricing, Jamal helps to create restorative justice through swimming for underserved communities with little access to this life saving essentials.
Plastic pollution is a major problem in Los Angeles because plastic makes up the majority of LA County’s litter, according to a UCLA report commissioned by LA County’s Sustainability Office. LAist recently reported that about 85% of plastic is NOT recycled, “instead, it fills up landfills or ends up in the street and gets flushed into storm drains and ultimately the ocean, causing harmful and deadly consequences to ocean life” (Restaurants In Unincorporated LA County Are Now Banned From Using Plastics, Erin Stone). Consumers are often unaware that when plastic is recycled, thrown away, or improperly put in recycling bins it often ends up in the same place and is always detrimental to the environment.
For several years, Heal the Bay has been working with LA City and County to help create legislation aiming to break the harmful plastic cycle. And finally, there is some hope.
In 2023, THREE new laws are making big waves for the environment, and ultimately, reducing plastic in our oceans. They may sound confusing, but the result is simple, less plastic! Here is Heal the Bay’s quick breakdown of those laws:
Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish
The City of Los Angeles, in accordance with the first phase of the LA Sanitation and Environment (LASAN) Comprehensive Plastics Reduction Program, passed several exciting laws in 2022 to reduce waste and curb plastic pollution in our region. Since then, two of those laws have officially gone into effect as LA takes major steps to reduce single-use plastics.
The LA City law went into effect on April 23, 2023, and asserts that no restaurant or retail store can give, sell, distribute, or offer products made of EPS to any consumer. This includes cups, plates, bowls, takeaway containers, egg cartons, and even ice coolers. The first phase will only impact establishments with more than 26 employees and will expand to include all restaurants and retail establishments in April 2024.
The LA City “plastic bag ban” has been in place for nearly a decade, banning local LA grocery stores from handing out single-use plastic bags and charging ten cents ($0.10) for alternative single-use carryout bags. This law was a means to reduce plastic in the environment and encourage the public to invest in reusable totes bags instead. In 2023, the ban on single-use plastic bags was expanded to large retail stores. Now in effect, retail establishments that employ more than 26 employees should no longer offer flimsy single-use plastic bags to consumers and will offer alternatives or paper bags for a $.10 fee. As of July 2023, all other shops including apparel stores, farmers markets, and food or beverage facilities will join the list of places to ban the bag.
If you suspect your favorite clothing store, watering hole or eatery is unaware of these new rules, let them know! Education is the most important part of creating change in your community. You can also give LA Sanitation a call and let them know, too at 213-485-2260.
LA Countywide Changes
This year has brought a big environmental win to even more places beyond the municipality limits, impacting communities all over Los Angeles County.
Sticking a Fork in the Single-Use Plastic Problem
3) LA County Foodware Ordinance:
In April 2022, LA County celebrated Earth Month with the passage of unprecedented legislation to reduce single-use plastics and curb plastic pollution and it is already being rolled out. As of May 1st, you should no longer be offered single-use plastic foodware or Styrofoam products at restaurants in the unincorporated areas of LA County! But this ordinance does so much more:
Phases out single-use foodware that is not compostable or recyclable. Since plastic is neither, that means no more single-use plastic foodware!
Phases out the sale of products made of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) aka Styrofoam.
Requires full-service restaurants to use reusable foodware for customers who are dining on-site (including reusable plates, cups, bowls, silverware).
The ordinance will go into effect in phases but, for now, if you see a restaurant not complying, be sure to let them know or contact LA County Public Works.
A Huge Relief and Cause for Hope Heal the Bay volunteers have removed more than 4 trillion pieces of trash from LA County Beaches in the past 3 decades, and sadly, 80% was plastic. These ordinances are just the first steps on a long journey to end the local dependency on plastic in Los Angeles. With LA leading the way, the rest of California is following along with the passage of bills like SB54. There is finally real hope for a plastic-free future in LA with safe clean watersheds across the State.
This is a developing story and we will update information as new details come to light.
UPDATE: 6:30 PM Pacific Time On April 19, 2023.
The City of LA/LA Sanitation & Environment has responded to the April 7 deadline from the Regional Water Board and did not accept the fine or waive the hearing. They have instead entered into further negotiations with the Regional Water Board. More to come as we receive information.
UPDATE: 6:30 PM Pacific Time On April 6, 2023.
Late last week, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board announced a tentative fine of $21.7M to the City of LA for the July 2021 sewage spill at the Hyperion Treatment facility. The fine is based on five categories of violations, including 1) the discharge of 12.5 million gallons of raw sewage to the Santa Monica Bay, 2) failure to perform offshore sampling for 14 days, 3) failure to comply with permit requirements for odors for 80 days, 4) failure to comply with monitoring and permit reporting requirements for 108 days, and 5) violations of water quality limits for 217 days (38 serious and 22 non-serious violations). The City of LA has until tomorrow, April 7, to agree to this fine and waive a hearing on the matter or to request a postponement of the hearing to allow for further deliberations. Even if the City agrees, there will be a 30-day window for public comment. If the City does not agree to the settlement or ask for a postponement, there will be a hearing. While the maximum amount for the fine, based on the violations, could have been over $500B (yes, that’s billion!), $21.7M is actually the largest penalty the LA Regional Water Board has ever proposed for permit violations. We don’t yet know how or where the final fine amount will be allocated but we hope that a majority of it will go to Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs), which provide environmental and public health benefits to affected areas and communities. The good news is that LA Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) has taken numeroussteps to ensure this doesn’t happen again by implementing recommendations from an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee of water quality experts from across the country, as detailed in their report that was released in February 2022. Namely, LASAN has installed additional alarms (audio and visual), completed a comprehensive update of protocols for emergency response and notifications, implemented an interagency task force for emergency response actions with LA County, El Segundo and City of LA departments, established a hotline call-in number operated 24/7, conducted equipment tests and procedure practices, installed new equipment, and upgraded existing equipment. Additional improvements that are in-progress or planned include equipment upgrades, development of plans to protect major equipment from flood damage, and more.Heal the Bay will continue to advocate to ensure that the City of LA provides sufficient funding to LASAN for critical upgrades and ongoing operations and maintenance. We will continue to track this issue and provide updates as we get them as well as opportunities for the public to weigh in.
UPDATE: 3:00 PM Pacific Time on April 13, 2022.
According to a new Daily Breeze article, “42 million gallons of sewage entered LA waterways in past 15 years. More than half of the total was spilled in 2021 alone. A nearly catastrophic disaster at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant and the sudden collapse of a sewer system in Carson last year combined to make it the worst since the beginning of the data set in April 2007. The two spills, roughly six months and 15 miles apart, led to the total release of 25 million gallons of raw sewage either directly into the ocean or into waterways that empty into it.”
It’s been nearly 8 months since the massive sewage spill from the Hyperion Treatment Plant and two key updates occurred recently.
First, we recently learned that Hyperion Treatment Plant has not been complying with air quality standards since the spill. This is alarming news considering that the plant emits greenhouse gasses hundreds of times more potent than carbon dioxide. While Hyperion is no longer discharging under-treated sewage into the ocean, the environmental impact of the sewage spill continues. We urge regulators to take prompt action and ensure Hyperion’s air emissions are in compliance.
Second, The City of Los Angeles, Board of Public Works assembled an advisory committee composed of government officials, academics, and NGO representatives. Our very own CEO, Shelley Luce, was on the committee. The committee was tasked with conducting an independent assessment of the spill, and their findings were recently released in February in a report along with recommendations for minimizing sewage spill risk in the future.
The 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. Here is the series of events as we understand them:
The machines (bar screens) that Hyperion uses to remove trash and large items from our waste water became clogged because some of that trash was allowed to cycle back through those machines due to a design failure. It is also important to note that trash should not be flushed down the toilet.
When the trash removal machines became clogged, alarms were triggered, but they were not responded to in time and Hyperion’s headworks facility (building where trash is removed from our wastewater) began to flood.
Once the flooding began, it was too dangerous for workers to open an underground bypass channel that could have relieved the flooding. Opening this channel required workers to lift a large metal barrier out of the ground using a ceiling-mounted crane.
The sewage flowed to other parts of Hyperion, damaging critical equipment and systems, which further hampered their ability to respond to the situation.
Hyperion’s storm drain system, which feeds into the 1-mile ocean outfall, was eventually filled with sewage, resulting in 13 million gallons of sewage spilling into Santa Monica Bay.
The report recommended the following improvements and next steps:
Upgrade the trash removal equipment to reduce or eliminate the chance that trash is sent back through the machinery once it has already been removed from the wastewater.
Improve the alarm functionality by designing an alarm that will be immediately noticed.
Conduct additional staff training and revise protocols for alarm and flooding response.
Conduct additional recruitment to fill jobs in the headworks facility, which is where the flooding began.
We appreciate the creation of this report and we support its recommendations for improvements to Hyperion’s systems and processes. Heal the Bay’s additional recommendations for next steps in light of the report are:
Integrate the advisory committee report recommendations with the 30-day report (initial report released 30 days after the spill) recommendations. We need the findings from both reports combined so that all the information and data for the spill is in one place. Information on impacts to the public (e.g. beach closures, odors, public health impacts, economic impacts) as well as water and air quality violations should be included. And, this will help create one cohesive plan for improving Hyperion.
Prioritize the recommendations from both reports based on their significance and/or ease of correction. And each recommended action should be accompanied by a realistic timeline in which it can be addressed.
Provide stakeholders and the public with regular progress updates as improvements are made to the plant. At the very least, the Hyperion Recovery website should remain active and should be updated with such progress reports.
Heal the Bay is committed to working with LA City Public Works and Sanitation (as well as other agencies and groups) to make sure that the report recommendations are addressed promptly to protect the health and safety of Hyperion’s workers as well as the general public and the environment. Implementation of the recommendations along with the rebuilding of public trust will be paramount 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.
UPDATE: 10:30 am Pacific Time on November 2, 2021.
We have some promising news regarding the Hyperion Treatment Plant. For the past few months, the plant has been operating in a diminished capacity due to the damage it sustained on July 11 that resulted in the discharge of 17 million gallons of raw sewage nearshore (1 mile out). Consequently, LA Sanitation (LASAN)was discharging wastewater from Hyperion Treatment Plant into the ocean (5 miles out) that did not meet regulatory requirements. We now have confirmation that the plant is fully operational according to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB).
After the July 11disaster, LASAN was issued a notice of violation by the LARWQCB for the discharge of raw sewage in violation of their permit, which will likely result in fines. Further, LASAN was required to conduct additional water quality monitoring by the LARWQCB, initially consisting of daily samples taken at multiple locations and depths, 5 miles offshore. In mid-September the LARWQCB approved a request by LASAN to reduce monitoring to three times per week and, just this week, approved LASAN’s request to cease all additional offshore monitoring. The LARWQB made this decision based on the water quality data and the reports that LASAN has been required to submit.We have also reviewed the data provided on Hyperion’s recovery webpage and found that contaminant levels in the wastewater discharged into the ocean do indeed meet regulatory requirements. However, we do have a few lingering concerns about individual events of water quality exceedances over the last month, as well as remaining maintenance work to be done.
We are relieved that Hyperion now appears able to properly treat wastewater before it is discharged into the ocean. However, we still do not know the cause of the flooding and subsequent sewage spill. Heal the Bay is part of an ad hoc group meeting to discuss the causes of the incident and the response by government agencies, and to make recommendations for improvement. The group meets nearly every week with the aim of producing a comprehensive report by the end of the year. Heal the Bay will continue to push for answers from LASAN because we must make sure events like this do not happen in the future. We also look forward to carefully reviewing the report that LASAN must submit to the LARWQB by November 8 as well as tracking and ensuring that there is enforcement of the violations.
UPDATE: 7:00 pm Pacific Time on October 4, 2021.
LA Sanitation recently released a report with an in-depth description of the events that led to the sewage discharge into the Santa Monica Bay on July 11 & 12. Here is a summary of what we learned.
The discharge occurred because the Hyperion Plant’s barscreens (trash filtration devices) clogged leading to a catastrophic flood event at the facility. Raw sewage flooded large swathes of the facility and damaged machinery and infrastructure necessary for the plant to function. Millions of gallons of this sewage were released through the 1-mile outfall and into Santa Monica Bay as an emergency measure to prevent further flooding and the plant going offline completely.
So far, no one has been able to determine the origin of the large amount of debris that clogged the barscreens that day. The flooding also made it impossible for Hyperion to determine the amount of debris that caused the blockages. These are two critical pieces of information for the incident investigation, and we are keeping up the pressure for some answers soon. Fortunately, the minute-by-minute account of July 11 & 12 in Hyperion’s report gives us some clues as to what went wrong that day and how events like this can be prevented in the future:
Hyperion’s barscreens have an automated system that clears blockages when they are detected. According to the report, this feature has never been used by the plant due to “unreliable level sensors.” The barscreens are instead operated manually, and workers clear any blockages that occur. Hyperion stated in the report that this process needs to be assessed and improved.
There is a barscreen bypass system in place at the plant which could have prevented the flooding. Unfortunately, workers at Hyperion were not able to use the bypass system in time – the flooding became too dangerous and they had to evacuate. In the report, Hyperion promised to review standard operating procedures and conduct emergency training for the bypass system.
Hyperion will develop flood risk mitigation strategies for certain facilities and equipment at the plant. This will ensure the plant can operate if a flood event happens in the future. Given the plant’s proximity to the ocean, Hyperion’s operators need to consider tsunami mitigation in their assessment.
While the origin of the barscreen-clogging debris is still a mystery, it is an opportune moment for Hyperion and water advocates to remind the public what can and cannot be flushed down the toilet (only flush bodily waste and toilet paper, nothing else). Hyperion stated that they will increase public education efforts, which Heal the Bay would be willing to assist with as we’ve done in the past.
We appreciate the transparency and data that Hyperion has provided in their report and on their website. Nevertheless, there are still some big questions that need to be answered in addition to the origin of the barscreen debris. Hyperion has not made an official announcement that they are fully operational, and we would appreciate a timeline of when they expect that to happen. The Hyperion Recovery website is still listing some critical process equipment as currently being serviced, and there are reports that the treatment plant is almost fully operational. We are also seeking more information on the quality of the wastewater currently being discharged out the 5-mile outfall.
What was causing the foul odors near Hyperion? We are getting this question a lot, so we wanted to provide some more detail. Flooding at the plant damaged the pumps that move sewage from open-air holding tanks to the secondary processing infrastructure. For three weeks, excessive amounts of sewage built up in the holding tanks while workers repaired the pumps. The odors that have plagued South Bay communities came from these holding tanks. Hyperion stated that they have been processing this backlog of sewage, and air quality will continue to improve. We’ve also learned that Hyperion has ended the air filtration & AC unit reimbursement program for households impacted by the odors.
UPDATE: 10:20 am Pacific Time on September 23, 2021.
Here is what has been going on behind-the-scenes at Heal the Bay as a follow up to the massive sewage spill from the Hyperion plant back in July 2021.
We took a tour of the Hyperion plant to see the extent of damages from the incident, which is still under investigation. We learned about what’s happening to recover Hyperion as efficiently and safely as possible, and we met some of the hardworking people who have the enormous responsibility to treat LA’s wastewater day in and day out. We are working closely with LA Public Works to evaluate existing systems for repairs and upgrades at the plant where needed.
Recent data from the Hyperion 2021 Recovery website shows the effluent coming out of the 5-mile pipe from Hyperion is getting back to within regulatory limits for most water quality measurements. However, bacteria levels at the 5-mile outfall are consistently exceeding health limits, which is alarming. The public has not been provided with a timeline for when water quality improvements are expected. Fortunately, bacteria does not appear to be impacting our beaches – as indicated by beach water quality monitoring. According to the Clean Water Act, Hyperion should be fined for every day it is out of compliance with public health and safety standards. So far it has been 74 days since the spill first occurred.
An engineer points to how high the flooding water was during the catastrophic incident at the Hyperion plant on July 11-12.
When the spill occurred on July 11-12, there was catastrophic flooding within the Hyperion plant. Raw sewage permanently disabled plant electronics that control pumps and other functions at the plant, and equipment had to be replaced. For many weeks the plant could not complete the secondary phase of the treatment process, and the only option was to pump under-treated wastewater into the ocean. The replacement and repairs are mainly done and water quality is mostly back to normal. The elevated bacteria levels at the 5-mile outfall are still an issue and we are pushing the City to determine the cause and fix it as soon as possible.
The City of Los Angeles Sanitation and Environment Department (LASAN) submitted their 30-day action report to the Regional Board and US EPA, and we are reviewing it. We’ll provide an in-depth update about it soon. Recently at the request of LASAN, the Regional Water Board reduced the required sampling from daily to three times per week.
Our team continues to closely monitor water quality with the Beach Report Card and LA County’s Beach Water Quality Advisories website. The good news is, aside from the usual bummers, we’re seeing good grades at most of LA’s beaches for the past month. A couple sites with chronic water quality issues are the Santa Monica Pier and Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey — coming into contact with the water at these beach areas should generally be avoided, especially by young children, senior citizens, and people who are immunocompromised. Install our free Beach Report Card iOS or Android app so you can have the latest water quality grades in your pocket.
Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay CEO, is joining a virtual townhall hosted by The Board of Public Works to discuss water quality and health impacts from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant sewage spill in the Santa Monica Bay.
Our communities continue to have concerns and questions regarding the impacts of sewage in the ocean. Here we answer the top 5 questions we’ve been hearing on social media.
Where does the sewage magically go, which makes it safe for swimming?
Once the sewage is discharged, it travels where the ocean currents take it – that could be further out to sea, closer to shore, or it may remain in place.
Over time, fecal matter and urine will be consumed by microorganisms. This is not desirable because sewage discharges are not natural and may alter the food chain. The microorganisms consuming sewage may also consume chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and toxins contained within the fecal matter and urine. These chemical compounds might then get transferred up the food chain as other organisms consume the sewage-eating ones. Particulates like plastic and toilet paper may get ingested by larger organisms in the water or the material might settle into the sediment.
When it is deemed “safe to swim” does that mean the amount of toxins could still be above what’s normally acceptable?
Human fecal matter contains many microorganisms that can get humans sick from a single exposure. That is why our beaches are tested regularly for the presence of fecal matter, and it’s why California has strict fecal-indicator bacteria standards. Recreational water quality standards do not take into account other forms of pollution like toxins and chemicals because, in general, it takes many exposures over a long period of time to become sick from toxins and chemicals. Heal the Bay continues to advocate for increased water quality monitoring, especially for “forever chemicals” like PCBs and DDT.
How could this impact dolphins and other animals in the Bay?
We are concerned about all organisms in the Bay, including dolphins, fish, algae, and invertebrates living in the sediment. All organisms have a niche and play a role in maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem. The sewage discharges will likely change the abundance and distribution of smaller organisms first as they consume the sewage. Those changes to the bottom of the food chain may then impact species that are higher up on the chain like fish and dolphins. The other concern is that chemicals and pharmaceuticals contained in the sewage will also get transferred up the food chain as the sewage-eating microorganisms are consumed by larger organisms.
How often is water quality being tested? Who is conducting these water safety tests?
Right now, the beaches between Ballona Creek and Manhattan Beach are being tested every day. Under normal circumstances, all beaches in the Santa Monica Bay typically get monitored 2-3 times a week in the summer on average. Santa Monica Bay beaches are monitored for recreational water quality by four government agencies: LASAN, LA County Department of Public Health, Sanitation Districts of LA County, and the City of Redondo Beach.
How can we prevent this in the future?
There is an ongoing investigation into the cause of the damage to the Hyperion Treatment Plant in El Segundo, which triggered millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage to be released into the Bay. Once we know the cause(s) we can advocate for preventative measures. However, we don’t need an investigation to tell us what is obvious: the public was not sufficiently notified about the sewage discharge into the Santa Monica Bay. Heal the Bay is working to put pressure on LASAN and LA County Department of Public Health to investigate why public notifications were not forthcoming and how they can ensure more expedient public warnings.
Make your voice heard about the recent 17 million gallon raw sewage spill and the ongoing discharges of partially treated sewage into the Bay from Hyperion.
Tell the City of LA your concerns and that you demand they take immediate action to improve the emergency public notification protocols and implement preventative measures so this never happens again.
Act now: The City Council meeting starts at 10am on Tuesday, August 10.
Send in a comment to the Los Angeles City Council hearing tomorrow – use Council File # 21-0839: https://cityclerk.lacity.org/publiccomment/ -or- Call 1 669 254 5252 and use Meeting ID No. 160 535 8466 and then press #. Press # again when prompted for participant ID. Once admitted into the meeting, press *9 to request to speak.
Watch and listen to the council meeting here: Cable TV Channel 35 https://clerk.lacity.org/calendar (213) 621-CITY (METRO) (818) 904-9450 (VALLEY) (310) 471-CITY (WESTSIDE) (310) 547-CITY (SAN PEDRO AREA)
UPDATE: 10:25 am Pacific Time on August 4, 2021.
The City of Los Angeles Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) launched a new webpage that addresses sewage discharge at the Hyperion Plant in El Segundo. It briefly covers the cause of the catastrophic incident and the recovery effort underway.
We want you to be aware of the data table (with multiple tabs) at the bottom of the page. It shows the pollutant levels in the effluent (via sampling results of what Hyperion is discharging from the 5-mile outfall), equipment status, odor monitoring results, offshore monitoring results for bacteria, and links to other data, which don’t appear to be working or filled in yet. “Effluent” is the treated wastewater that Hyperion releases to the ocean. In other words, influent is what comes into the plant (raw sewage and other debris), and effluent is what goes out of the plant (typically treated wastewater that has to meet certain standards).
We will be reviewing the data closely and providing a deeper analysis for you. But, our first impressions are that exceedances (aka violations) are occurring for multiple parameters in the effluent since July 11-12, indicating that LASAN is violating their permit by continuing to discharge inadequately treated sewage into the Bay, and is still not able to fully treat sewage. What is even more concerning is that the levels of certain pollutants appear to be increasing over the last couple of weeks (the weekly average numbers are getting larger). These high levels of total suspended solids (TSS), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), settleable solids, turbidity, and oil & grease may have long-term negative impacts on marine life and ecosystems.
Our team will provide more information about the pollutants and what the potential impacts could be for the Santa Monica Bay later this week.
Despite this alarming data, recent beach water quality tests have indicated the water in the Santa Monica Bay is safe for human recreation. All beach advisories, except for Avalon Beach on Catalina Island, have been lifted because water samples have not exceeded State water quality standards. This is good news for beachgoers, but we recommend that you always check the latest beach conditions at theLA County Department of Public Health’s website and Heal the Bay’sBeach Report Card.
UPDATE: 8:00 am Pacific Time on August 3, 2021.
LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) released an update last night that ocean water samples collected at the following locations have met State water quality standards and beach advisories have been lifted:
Dockweiler State Beach
Ballona Creek (Near Dockweiler Tower 40)
Culver Blvd storm drain
Imperial Highway storm drain
Westchester storm drain
Pico-Kenter storm drain (Santa Monica Beach)
Topanga Canyon Lagoon (Topanga Canyon Beach in Malibu)
A warning is still in place for Avalon Beach at Catalina Island (50 feet east of the pier). The Department of Public Health continues cautioning all to be careful of swimming, surfing, and playing in this area.
The discharge contains bacteria and viruses as well as organic matter that causes low oxygen levels in ocean waters – the impacts on human health and marine life can be significant and very damaging. LASAN should have notified the public and stakeholders who have been tracking the spill results closely for the last two weeks. We don’t know if LASAN has increased monitoring to assess the impacts of the partially treated discharge – that needed to start immediately – and going forward we need transparency in order to ensure appropriate actions are taking place to assess impacts, protect people and wildlife, and pursue fines and mitigation measures to the maximum extent.
Heal the Bay was founded in the 1980s by local activists who refused to accept partially treated sewage being dumped into the Bay by Hyperion. It’s now 30 plus years later – great progress has been made, but without watchdogs we’re at risk of repeating past mistakes.
The LA Regional Water Quality Control Board has taken immediate action to boost monitoring in the Santa Monica Bay.
Last night we received a notice from the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) issuing an order to the City of Los Angeles LA Sanitation and Environment (LASAN) Hyperion Treatment Plant to provide monitoring and reporting related to the discharge of sewage on July 11 and 12.
The order details how the flooding at the plant led to non-operational equipment resulting in reduced efficiency of treatment and a reduction in the quality of the discharge from the 5 mile outfall. The order documents that since the initial incident, Hyperion has violated its discharge permit by releasing effluent that is in exceedance of limits for parameters including total suspended solids (TSS), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), turbidity, and settleable solids.
These exceedances will result in fines – however, they could have negative impacts on human health and the marine environment. We are glad to see that the Regional Board is requiring daily offshore monitoring and submission of daily monitoring and status reports. The offshore monitoring appears to include four stations, each to be tested at three depths (<1m, 15 meters, and at the outfall depth). Testing at these locations must be done for 12 parameters, including bacteria levels, which are indicative of impacts to human health.
The latest advisory from the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) states that they are continuing to test shoreline bacteria levels daily.Heal the Bay scientists and experts will be reviewing the locations and frequency of testing today by DPH and LASAN to ensure that the frequency and spatial coverage is protective of public health. And we will continue to ask for rapid methods to be used for detection of bacterial pollution – the methods being used now take 18-24 hours to obtain results and then additional time for that information to get to the public. Rapid methods would allow for more real-time results to be available to the public.
The LA County Board of Supervisors and LA City Council members have initiated a full investigation into the 17 million gallon spill and continued discharges from Hyperion.
In addition to the Water Board’s actions outlined above, the LA County Board of Supervisors has requested a full investigation within 30 days (scroll down to our last update on 7/29 for more info). And the LA City Council is demanding a detailed report and action plan too, which includes instructing LASAN to “look for engineering opportunities during repairs to begin transforming the facility to recycle 100% of wastewater as part of the city’s Operation NEXT,” according to the Daily Breeze.
Is it safe to swim in the Bay today?
If you are deciding whether or not you should go into the water at LA’s beaches this weekend, we want to be clear: there are potential health risks at some locations.
Water quality tests from sites across the Bay have indicated high bacteria levels around El Segundo, Dockweiler, and Venice beach areas. These beach areas are under an advisory and should be avoided until tests indicate the water quality is good.
If you are heading to other areas in the Bay, we recommend that you check the latest beach conditions at the LA County Department of Public Health’s website and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card (so you can avoid beach areas impacted by bacterial-pollution issues). Conditions can change rapidly, so pay attention to beach postings and remember there is a 24-hour lag between water testing and posted warnings.
Message us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or contact us online if you need any help getting started with our Beach Report Card website or app — or if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.
UPDATE: 11:00 am Pacific Time on July 29, 2021.
One week after the massive raw sewage spill in the Santa Monica Bay from the Hyperion Plant in El Segundo, the LA County Board of Supervisors met and heard an update on what went wrong, particularly related to notification protocols, and what next steps are needed. Heal the Bay staff called in to the hearing to speak on the item, but we were not able to because they cut off public comment after 1 hour for all items on the agenda. We were glad to hear at least three people speak passionately on the issue. We did send in a letter, supporting the motion as well as offering additional recommendations. You can read our letter and other public correspondence on the item here: http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/160317.pdf
The agenda item was heard around 3:15pm and included a brief presentation on the expedited report from CityGate that Supervisor Hahn requested right after the massive release of raw sewage. The findings of the report are quite disturbing and highlight multiple failures in communication and notification, primarily by the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH).
Next, Supervisor Hahn asked a series of questions of Dr. Barbara Ferrer (Director, LA County Dept Public Health), Gary Jones (Director, LA County Dept of Beaches & Harbors), and Fernando Boiteux, (Chief, LA County Lifeguard Division). Dr. Ferrer started by apologizing to the Board and the public; she took full responsibility for the failures and stated that DPH has already made fixes and will continue to improve training, processes, and protocols. Dr. Ferrer said that what happened was unacceptable and that it will never happen again. We appreciated hearing this apology and DPH taking responsibility for their actions (or lack of actions) and the commitment to do better.
Supervisor Hahn asked Dr. Ferrer about ensuring that public health – both in the water and in the community – continue to be protected as the Hyperion plant recovers from the major failure and undergoes construction to get back fully online. El Segundo neighborhoods are bearing the brunt of unbearable odors and LASAN is offering vouchers for air conditioners and hotel rooms for those affected. Dr. Ferrer assured Supervisor Hahn that water quality would continue to be tested and that the DPH team would be conducting door-to-door outreach in the community to ensure that affected residents know how to contact them, report odors, and get access to resources.
Gary Jones from Beaches & Harbors and Fernando Boiteux from County Lifeguards also answered questions about when they received notice of the sewage discharge, what could be improved in communications, and how beach closures should ideally proceed.
The motion was passed, which will result in a more in-depth After Action Report to be produced in 30 days. This follow-up report will detail what happened, where the failures occurred, and recommendations for fixing failures and ensuring this never happens again.
Heal the Bay greatly appreciated the updates and the transparency and accountability that the report and hearing provided. We will be actively following this issue and are engaging with Supervisor Hahn’s office and agencies to offer our recommendations and participate in the process. We will continue to hold agencies accountable and ensure that there are appropriate repercussions for the multiple failures that occurred.
A report was released this week, and made public today, about the recent 17-million gallon sewage spill from the Hyperion plant in El Segundo. “The handling of this release and the necessary public notification were failures, the initial report concluded.
The LA County Board of Supervisors will be hearing this expedited report on Tuesday, July 27 starting at 9:30 am. The Board will be voting on a motion to get this update as well as to request a more detailed “After Action” report within 30 days. Heal the Bay will be supporting this motion by sending in a letter and calling in to give oral testimony at the hearing. We will be suggesting additional recommendations, such as implementing rapid testing methods for water quality and tracking the plume through satellite imagery and other methods.
Watch the hearing, send in an email or a letter, and try to call in to the hearing to speak (this can be challenging to do as speaking time is limited).
We appreciate Supervisor Hahn’s leadership on this and hope to work collaboratively with County and City agencies to ensure this never happens again. And, if it does, that the public is notified immediately and effectively.
UPDATE: 9:10 pm Pacific Time on July 14, 2021.
This evening the LA County Department of Public Health lifted beach closures at Dockweiler State Beach and El Segundo Beach because water samples taken over the past two days have not shown dangerous levels of fecal-indicator bacteria. Based on these results, it appears safe at most locations in the Santa Monica Bay, but we urge you to exercise caution by regularly checking the LA County Department of Public Health website for water conditions and beach closures at PublicHealth.LACounty.gov/Beach and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card.
There are four sites in the Santa Monica Bay that currently do exceed State standards and coming into contact with water at these locations could cause illness – it is unclear if these exceedances are due to the sewage spill, recent rainfall, or something else:
Topanga County Beach at the Topanga Canyon Lagoon
Will Rogers State Beach at the Santa Monica Canyon storm drain
Santa Monica State Beach at the Santa Monica Pier
Manhattan County Beach at the 28th Street storm drain
Heal the Bay won’t let up on pushing for improvements that prevent sewage spills, advance water quality testing methods, and ensure public notifications happen swiftly and equitably. Thanks to everyone in the community for reaching out, voicing concerns, asking questions, staying informed, and most importantly protecting each other by sharing critical updates. This community is strong. It is amazing to see us spring into action. Thank you.
More to come on next steps, so you can take action to hold polluters accountable and to prevent this from happening again.
We have some preliminary good news to share — but don’t rush back to the water quite yet.
Water samples taken on Monday, July 12 by LA City Bureau of Sanitation & the Environment (LASAN) and LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) do not show high levels of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). FIB, in significant quantities, indicate the presence of harmful pathogens in the water. Samples were taken at numerous locations at the shoreline and offshore, at various depths.
While this is good news, the beaches are still closed and will remain closed until two consecutive days of sampling show safe water quality. So, samples were taken again today and if they show low levels of bacteria, closures will be lifted tomorrow.
These results are very preliminary since the samples were taken Monday morning and early afternoon. Tides, currents and wind continue to move water around and we don’t know where the contamination may have ended up.
We also don’t know what the water quality was before the samples were collected – i.e. on Sunday evening and early Monday morning. It is possible that bacteria levels were higher then, and that people who got in the water were unknowingly exposed to poor water quality.
We appreciate that LASAN and DPH have been forthcoming with us on the results, but we feel strongly that this information should be spread widely to the general public, as early as possible. LA County DPH is responsible for notifying the public of dangerous levels of contamination. Given the significant amount of raw sewage released, nearby beaches should have been closed immediately. Delaying public notification by 12-24 hours is not acceptable.
We have heard from many concerned folx that they were at the beaches on Sunday evening and Monday all day without any knowledge of the spill, or any ability to take precautions. We will be working with City and County agencies to establish protocols that better protect public health. We also urge LASAN and DPH to use rapid methods to detect contamination more quickly. DNA-based lab methods like PCR are readily available and provide reliable results in minutes or hours, rather than the 24-hour process required for traditional bacterial monitoring. Using methods like these, in addition to traditional methods, as long as they are accompanied with good public notification, would help get critical information to our many ocean users much more quickly and could prevent significant harm to LA residents and visitors.
You can check the status of beach closures and conditions on LA County’s recorded information hotline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-525-5662. Information about beach closures and conditions is also available online at: PublicHealth.LACounty.gov/Beach.
We will continue to track this issue and keep you informed.
When did the spill occur? The sewage spill started at 7 pm on 7/11/2021 and stopped at about 5 am on 7/12/2021. We are told by City of LA’s Bureau of Sanitation that the spill was stopped early this morning at around 5 am and all sewage is now being treated normally.
How much was spilled? We understand 17 million gallons of raw sewage were spilled through the 1-mile outfall, which is directly offshore from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in El Segundo.
What should the public do to protect themselves? We recommend the public stay out of the water in the Santa Monica Bay until further notice. Also, check the Beach Report Card for the latest ocean water quality alerts in California, and review the River Report Card for water quality information about freshwater swimming holes in Los Angeles County.
What issues does this cause to people and to ocean wildlife? Bacteria and viruses in raw sewage are extremely dangerous to people and can carry a variety of diseases. Debris such as tampons and plastic trash, when released into the Bay, can harbor bacteria and can cause entanglement of wildlife, but it seems in this case those debris were successfully filtered out of the spill before it made it to the Bay.
Why did this happen? We understand the inflow to the Hyperion plant in El Segundo was severely clogged and flooded the facility. The sewage left the facility untreated through the 1-mile pipe and outfall.
What is the source and how can we hold them accountable for pollution? This is fully the responsibility of the City of LA and their Bureau of Sanitation. The City normally does a very good job of containing and fully treating hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage every day – but when spills happen the City must move quickly to warn the public, and must discover and fix the cause to prevent future spills.
How can sewage spills be prevented? Proper maintenance as well as people not flushing trash items such as plastic trash into the system are the best preventative measures.
How often do sewage spills occur? The last major sewage spill in Los Angeles County was in 2015. However, smaller sewage spills are not an uncommon occurrence. In 2020 to 2021, seventy-five sewage spills sent a total of 346,888 gallons into rivers, lakes, and streams within Los Angeles County. One 222,542 gallon spill in February 2021 closed all the beaches in Long Beach; this area is monitored by Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card. A total of 39,621 gallons of sewage were spilled into the Los Angeles River, and 140 gallons were spilled into Las Virgenes Creek; both waterways are monitored by Heal the Bay’s River Report Card.
For more information about sewage spills, visit LA County Department of Public Health’s website.
Earth Month is here! Heal the Bay is excited to celebrate this April from #Summit2Sea. Our waterways are precious and care for them is an essential part of keeping the Earth healthy. This April, make time to honor and care for them, from the San Fernando Valley to Mulholland all the way to the sands of Santa Monica Bay. Greater Los Angeles offers opportunities to learn ways to conserve, go outside to do some good, and celebrate our precious blue planet with Heal the Bay all month long.
Individuals, households, schools, businesses, and community organizations are all invited to attend Heal the Bay’s Earth Month events. Our inspiring and fun activities all contribute to our dedication to protect Southern California coastal waters, rivers, creeks, and beloved beaches from Summit to Sea. Join us and bring your family and friends to help Heal the Bay.
Heal the Bay Earth Month 2023 Calendar of Special Events
Scroll down for our full #Summit2Sea list of Earth Month events and activities waiting for you to get involved. Don’t forget to stop by our partner events listed below, as well.
Beach Captain’s Training- Virtual & In Person
Tuesday, April 11, 6 PM – 7 PM PST
Our monthly Nothin’ But Sand cleanups are public events open for all to join and we couldn’t run these awesome cleanups without the help of our amazing captains & Speakers! Our Beach Captains lead our cleanup volunteers, educate the public on Heal the Bay’s work and mission, help with registration, hand out supplies, fill out community service forms, and represent the organization on the sand. Beach Captain Volunteer Training is a two-step process. First, attend a virtual Beach Captains Volunteer Training, then attend our in-person cleanup to finalize your traininig.
Saturday, April 15 from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM first Beach Captain Shift: (In-Person at Santa Monica Beach Tower 1550)
Hundreds of pounds of trash are removed from the beaches of Los Angeles at each Nothin’ But Sand Cleanup, helping to promote safe, clean coastlines for wildlife and people alike. We could not achieve this without amazing volunteer Beach Captains. Ready to dive in?
April is Earth Month, so we are amping up our regularly scheduled Nothin’ But Sand cleanup. Come for the great feeling you get when you volunteer, then stay to win prizes at our sponsored raffle. While you’re there, check out our on-the-sand art installation Marina the Mermaid (Artist Andrea Martina Isenschmid), and celebrate your good work with a silent disco party.
Dance your way to a cleaner beach to support Heal the Bay! We are thrilled to partner with World of Sound Productions by offering our cleanup volunteers a unique silent disco dance party experience. DJs will be spinning family-friendly music through your rented headphones for ALL AGES including: EDM, house music, nu-disco, hip hop, Latin, pop and remixes from the 70’s to current day. Headphones will be available for rent on the sand, but you can prebook yours today after you register to reserve your bucket. A percentage of profits will be donated to Heal the Bay to further support our marine and coastal watershed protection work! Reserve your headphones with World of Sound.
The award-winning Heal the Bay Aquarium located at the Santa Monica Pier has planned an afternoon filled with fun Earth Month activities. Featuring exciting exhibits and demonstrations, it’s a great way for the entire family to experience the Santa Monica Bay and observe the local animals that call it home.
Heal the Bay Aquarium’s Earth Month Celebration schedule includes:
Aquarium Opens (11 AM): Check out our award-winning animal exhibits, visit with sharks and sea stars in the touch tanks.
Wildlife Observation Station (12:00 PM to 3:00PM): Visitors who walk to the west end of the Pier will find our wildlife station, staffed and stocked with binoculars and bird identification guides.
Sea Star Feeding (1:00 & 3:00 PM): Help Heal the Bay Aquarium staff feed our sea stars their favorite lunch in our Tide Pool Touch Tanks.
Story Time (2:00 PM): Join the Heal the Bay team for a whale of a tale at our Earth Month Themed Story time.
Mini Dance Party (12:00 PM to 4:00 PM (hourly): At the top of each hour, join Heal the Bay in our Dorothy Green Room for a Mini Dance Party to celebrate all things Earth Month.
All Afternoon: Enjoy an eco-themed crafts station, short films, and hands-on pollution displays including our 6-foot-tall Marina the Mermaid art installation (artists Artist Andrea Martina Isenschmid).
Stussy x Heal the Bay Collaboration Launch – Virtual & In-Person
Saturday, April 22, 11 AM – 4 PM PST
Stüssy and Heal The Bay have collaborated on a capsule collection consisting of two ecocycle blank co-branded t-shirts, and a mesh hat. 100% of the proceeds from this collaboration will be donated to Heal the Bay to further support our marine and coastal watershed protection work!
Stüssy and Heal The Bay is available at Stussy.com and LA Chapter only on Saturday, April 22, 2023.
Earth Day 2023 Celebration at Heal the Bay Aquarium -In Person
Saturday, April 22, 12 PM to 4 PM PST
Did you miss out on the Earth Month fun last Saturday? Enjoy the encore of exciting exhibits and activities as Heal the Bay Aquarium celebrates Earth Day on April 22. Come celebrate the wonder of our Earth’s oceans with touch tanks, sea star feeding sessions, story time, an eco-themed crafts station, short films, an on the pier Wildlife Observation Station, photoshoots with our 6-foot-tall Marina the Mermaid art installation, and mini dance parties at the top of each hour.
Gardena Willow Wetlands Earth Day Celebration & Blue Table Talk- Virtual & In-Person
Saturday, April 22, 11 AM – 11:30 AM
Start the Morning with a wetlands cleanup at Johnson Park from 8 AM -10 AM, then look for the shimmering Heal the Bay Blue Table at the Gardena Willow Wetlands Earth Day Celebration from 10 AM-1 PM where there will be informational booths, food, music, a scavenger hunt, games, and arts and crafts!
Join us for the Blue Table Talk at 11 AM, and take a seat at the table to chat about some of Los Angeles’ most pertinent water topics. Sit down with our watershed experts from Heal the Bay, the Natural History Museum, and TreePeople to ask us anything about water, and its connection to our local habitats. This pop-up roundtable is FREE and open to the public.
Enjoy an immersive consumer experience featuring the best brands in surf and the outdoors, produced by the Surf Industry Members Association, supporters of the Nowcast Beach Report Card. The event is free to attend and family friendly. Stop by the Heal the Bay Beach Report Card table as you check out tons of outdoor gear demos, listen to inspirational conversations around environmentalism and sustainability, enjoy food, and watch local surfers catch waves.
Earth Month April eDNA Community Science Event with MPA Watch -In Person
Saturday, April 29, 10 AM -1 PM
Interested in meeting volunteers and participating in cutting-edge science? We are excited to reintroduce a fun and social Heal the Bay event that will occur monthly in the Malibu Marine Protected Area transects! Heal the Bay is partnering with UCLA again to collect sea water samples in Malibu for an environmental DNA scientific testing program with PhD candidate, Moriah Byrd. All marine life leaves traces of DNA in their environment. eDNA water testing analyzes the quantification of biodiversity in a standardized way within a marine ecosystem, making it an incredible tool to monitor Marine Protected Areas.
Heal the Bay’s Safe Clean Water Program team is adventuring out to Madrona Marsh in Torrance, CA on 4/29 at 10am for an Earth Month BioBlitz. Heal the Bay staff will instruct guests on how to safely observe and document wildlife while discovering more about local marsh ecosystems. Come walk in nature to collect data as part of the 2023 LA City Nature Challenge, sponsored by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California Academy of Sciences.
Registration on Eventbrite in advance is required.
Check out our list of Earth Month events hosted by some of our favorite social, environmental, and partner organizations across Los Angeles. Stop by Heal the Bay’s Outreach table while you’re enjoying Earth Month fun around Los Angeles County this April.
Kids Beach Cleanup Event (Plus Traveling Tidepool, Arts & Crafts, & More), Dockweiler Youth Center, Playa del Rey, CA, April 29, 9 AM- 12 PM
All Earth-Month-Long at Heal the Bay
Take the Pledge: Start your Commitment to Conservation
All Month Long
Take Heal the Bay and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s ONE Water pledge for a step by step guide on saving water indoors and outdoors during the drought. The Dashboard.Earth app connects Angelenos to the climate solutions that matter most in their neighborhoods and makes it easy and rewarding to take action. Together, we can brighten Los Angeles’ water future.
Capture the QR code above to begin the ONE Water Pledge. Already on a mobile device? Download the App.
FREE Beach Wheelchair Rentals & Beach Exploration with Heal the Bay Aquarium – In person
All Month Long 9:30 AM – 11 AM PST
Need a Beach Wheelchair to enjoy some fun in the sun? Everyone should be able to enjoy a day at the beach, so come to Heal the Bay Aquarium to access our manual, beach wheelchairs, available for FREE public rentals.
Heal the Bay’s Beach Wheelchair rental program helps provide accessibility to one of nature’s most inspiring and critically important resources, and was made possible thanks to funding from The Coastal Conservancy. Learn more about our Beach Wheelchair Rental Program: https://healthebay.org/beach-wheelchairs-santa-monica-pier/
Heal the Bay thrives because of our amazing volunteers. We are only able to celebrate those achievements because of the time, dedication, and support that our volunteers so graciously donate.
Each and every volunteer is instrumental to the success of our organization whether educating the public, reaching out to communities, aiding in aquarium care, or picking up plastic at the beach. Volunteer passion for the environment through selfless dedication is the ture heart and soul of Heal the Bay and drive our accomplishments toward achieving the mission to protect coastal waters and watersheds of Southern California. On March 23, 2023, we took time to celebrate our volunteers at Heal the Bay’s 33rd Annual Volunteer Appreciation Party and Award Ceremony.
Sharing our 2022 Volunteer Success:
Aquarium volunteers contributed 4,005 hours to the Heal the Bay Aquarium, supported field trips, assisted in caring for our animals, and guided visitors through the experience of our touch tanks.
MPA Watch volunteers conducted 489 surveys in 2022 to monitor human activity in the Palos Verdes and Malibu Marine Protected Area sites.
Thousands of volunteers picked up trash from the greater L.A.’s shorelines and neighborhoods last year. On Coastal Cleanup Day, 4,583 volunteers removed more than 11,298 lbs. of trash and 313 lbs. of recyclables from our waterways and neighborhoods.
Our Key Stone Award Winners
The Jean Howell Award and the Bob Hertz Award are Heal the Bay’s lifetime achievement awards. This years award winners, like any keystone, have become central to the success of many Heal the Bay programs. A special thank you to our 2023 awardees.
Tim Cheung – Jean Howell Award
Tim began volunteering with Heal the Bay in 2017. Through the years, Tim has been instrumental to the Beach Captains team for Nothin’ But Sand and Heal the Bay public cleanup programs. In the past, Tim represented Heal the Bay at tabling events in the community and helped spread our virtual Knowledge Drop education series at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tim brings a strong sense of community to each cleanup and ensuring all team members feel informed and involved along the way, commanding the attention of our cleanup volunteers at Nothin’ But Sand every month, ensuring a safe cleanup. At the end of the cleanup, Tim leads the charge, weighing the trash and transporting large items to the dumpster, often by himself. There is no task Tim isn’t willing to do.
John Wells – Jean Howell Award
Since joining Heal the Bay’s MPA Watch Program in February 2020, John has conducted more than 385 MPA Watch surveys. His surveys alone account for more than 25% of the submitted surveys on behalf of Heal the Bay’s MPA Watch program. John’s increased resolution in our data came during an exceptional need to record unprecedented changes in human recreational and consumptive behavior in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. John was awarded the MPA Watch Super Healer award in 2020 and his dedication to Heal the Bay has only grown stronger, serving as an active volunteer, a Beach Captain at monthly NBS beach clean-ups, Suits on the Sand events, and at Heal the Bay’s Coastal Cleanup Day in 2022. John’s contributions are invaluable
John Reyes – Bob Hertz Award
John Reyes attends every Heal the Bay volunteer opportunity. There isn’t a cleanup program or Heal the Bay event that John is not involved. Since 2018, John has captained Coastal Cleanup Day sites in Dockweiler State Beach and even organized his own Adopt-A-Beach team, “the Beach Reacher’s”, to clean up would-be marine debris from L.A.’s inland watershed. John is always one of the first volunteers to sign up to support special Heal the Bay events such as the Trash Bowl and Golf Open. Even during the rainy seasons John joins our Storm Response cleanup efforts. His leadership at Nothin But Sand Cleanups are instrumental and he has volunteered at over 100 Suits on the Sand cleanups. The current Beach Programs team wishes to express the greatest gratitude for John’s dedication and outstanding support.
Celebrating our Super Healers
All Heal the Bay volunteers are wavemakers, but some go above and beyond. We are especially proud to recognize the following outstanding individuals with the 2022 Super Healer Awards:
Sharon Lawrence – Development Super Healer
Actress, philanthropist, and leader Sharon Lawrence is known to most as the multiple Primetime Emmy-nominated and SAG Award-winning actress from hit shows like NYPD Blue, Grey’s Anatomy, Monk, Law and Order: SVU, Rizzoli & Isles, and Curb Your Enthusiasm (among many others). She has also been a change-maker at Heal the Bay for more than a decade, working tirelessly wherever she is needed, serving most recently as Chair of the Heal the Bay Board of Directors. Always the advocate for Heal the Bay, Sharon uses her voice and passionate influence to raise unquantifiable amounts of support and donations that have helped fund some of our most important science, policy, and outreach programs. A wavemaker like Sharon is truly one in a million.
Amalfi Estates (Anthony Marguleas) – Corporate Super Healer
Anthony Marguleas of Amalfi Estates often notes: “we are a philanthropic company that excels at selling real estate. Alongside our commitment to our clients stands our commitment to our community.” Every year the Amalfi team donates 10% of their commissions to Heal the Bay among six L.A. charities. Their mighty team of 10 works enthusiastically to support local nonprofits donating more than $2 million since 2015.In just the past two years, nearly $35,000 has benefited Heal the Bay. When it comes to corporate responsibility, Amalfi Estates leads by example, setting the standard for what organizational-wide philanthropy can look like in the 21st century.
Andrea Martina Isenchmid – Communications Super Healer
Andrea is an actress, filmmaker, and artist, but we all know and love her as one of our most dedicated Beach Captains and Speakers. She has been a Heal the Bay volunteer for many years, inspiring countless attendees at our Nothin’ But Sand Beach Cleanups with her energizing educational safety talks. Rain or shine Andrea is always ready to help setup at the beach and a reliable amplifier promoting Heal the Bay’s messaging and advocacy through social media often serving as impromptu social media photographer for the Communications team. This year, Andrea furthered her passion for Heal the Bay’s mission with the completion on “Marina the Mermaid”. the single-use plastic recycle. This 6-foot-tall recycled mannequin is adorned with pounds of items collected during Nothin’ But Sand Cleanups and her own self-cleanups. Her artwork will be on display during the entirety of Earth Month this April at the Heal the Bay Aquarium to raise environmental awareness.
Celina Banuelos – Public Programs Super Healer
Celina is a real Ocean Hero, dedicating extensive time and effort to interpreting marine life for the public at the Heal the Bay Aquarium. She has helped countless visitors interact with ocean creatures for the first time at the Aquarium while exercising unwavering advocacy for the animals that live in Santa Monica Bay. Celina inspires people to connect with the ocean. We are so grateful to you, Celina, for all that you have done!
Hannah Benharash – Public Programs Super Healer
Hannah is a Heal the Bay regular and is always open to new experiences. Whether breaking down birthday parties or interpreting at the touch tanks on busy weekends, Hannah has made our aquarium programs unforgettable. Hannah is not only enthusiastic and dedicated but also extremely well-known for their unmatched button-making skills! We are grateful to Hannah for always coming to our rescue at the Heal the Bay Aquarium when it is needed the most.
Sophia Sorady – Public Programs Super Healer
Sophia is a Wave Maker who has inspired her peers to take action in support of environmentalism. An amazing advocacy teacher for all our new public programs volunteers, Sophia dedicated time to the Aquarium by ensuring guests responsibly interacting with our animals. . Sophia is a kindhearted leader with compassion for the ocean, and we are proud to have her on our team.
Ren Capati – Public Programs Super Healer
Ren is a stellar Public Programs volunteer. Extremely knowledgeable, dependable, and always curious, Ron has been volunteering with the Public Programs team for more years than some senior staff members! We love talking with Ren about discoveries in marine science, and are grateful for Ren’s infectious passion as part of the Heal the Bay team!
Jim Mckenzie – Aquarist Super Healer
Jim has been volunteering with the Aquarium Operations department for the past two years and is an invaluable member of our team. Jim’s curiosity and dedication to protecting our environment shines through in all the work he does with Heal the Bay. From helping keep exhibits squeaky clean to spending time out on the sand supporting a beach cleanup, Jim has done it all. He is easily our best and most reliable first mate on Dorothy for kelp collections and overall incredible support to have at the Heal the Bay Aquarium. We’re so honored to have Jim be part of our team!
Russell Blakely – Super Healer
Russell first volunteered with Heal the Bay in 2021, as a Beach Captain to help clean coastal areas. Russell is a tireless hero of our Nothin’ But Sand cleanups; always working and giving his all. Recently, Russell has developed into one of our leading Corporate Outreach volunteers, helping at Suits on the Sand cleanups, and on more than one occasion assisting at TWO cleanups in ONE day. Russell is our Suits on the Sand superstar.
Brant Kim – Super Healer
Brant started as a Beach Captain in 2022 and has exhibited multitalented capabilities of leading any station. Exceptionally helpful with uplifting all our new digital initiatives at our cleanups, such as the electronic check-in, waiver check, and DEI survey, Brant’s commitment to community outreach streamlines Heal the Bay’s Beach Program initiatives.
Alice Pak – Super Healer
Alice began volunteering with Heal the Bay in 2022 and has been an excellent addition to the Beach Captains team. Alice hit the sand running, quickly optimizing our Nothin’ But Sand event procedures, most importantly, our registration booth protocols. With Alice at the registration desk the Beach Programs volunteer teams are able to check-in 300 attendees in an hour or less. In addition to serving as a teacher on the sand for other volunteers, Alice is one of our most dependable Beach Captains.
David Eddy -Super Healer & Keystone Starfish
David started volunteering his data analysis skills to Heal the Bay in 2020. In the past, he helped our water quality scientists assess dissolved oxygen levels in the Channel Islands Harbor, painting an impressive overview of the data through visuals and a results overview video. This year, David has started volunteering his time and expertise to help the Beach Programs team revive the marine debris database, integrating our historic data with current datasets, and helping Heal the Bay bring our historic marine debris database into a modern, accessible format. Thank you for making that dream a reality!
Tasha Kolokotrones – Science Super Healer
Tasha Kolokotrones has been an MPA Watch volunteer with Heal the Bay since 2021. Inspired by a love of the outdoors, Tasha has conducted more than 50 MPA watch surveys earning honorable mention as one our most active MPA Watch volunteers. In 2022, Tasha submitted more surveys than 90% of our other program volunteers. Thanks to Tasha, our Marine Protected Area in Palos Verdes had consistent MPA Watch monitoring in 2022, an accomplishment all on its own!
California’s major infrastructure was built in the 20th century, but neither our laws nor conveyance systems were designed to address the challenges faced by climate change in the 21st century. Here’s everything you need to know about that infrastructure from the Heal the Bay Climate Action Team in Part 3 of our 3-part series, Commit to Conservation.
In past blogs, we’ve broken down the drivers behind the California drought and types of actions that make a real difference as we work to close the large and growing gap between the water we use and the water made available by nature. Even with the recent deluge of snow, torrential rains, and resulting flooding, precipitation was insufficient in permanently reversing the drought. The good news is that we have the technology we need for reliable drinking water and Heal the Bay is actively championing projects that will move us toward a more resilient and equitable future.
Water systems in California were designed based on historic patterns of precipitation that are being altered by climate change, but the primary cause of water scarcity in our region is not climate – it’s governance. Rights to our State’s water supply go all the way back to the 19th century, and our major infrastructure was built in the 20th century, and neither our laws nor conveyance systems were designed to address the challenges faced by climate change in the 21st century. The good news is that the potential for bolstering local water sources and supply in Southern California is enormous, and there are already plans and policies underway to make Los Angeles more resilient! And we believe in the idea of a “One Water” approach, which prioritizes investments in demand management and new supplies based on reliability, affordability, equity, public health, and environmental impacts.
ACHIEVING WATER RESILIENCY THROUGH CONSERVATION AND EFFICIENCY
Conservation and efficiency are two important tools when considering water use in a time of drought.
Conservation involves the conscious choice to change an action, like watering your lawn only one day a week instead of every day. While efficiency means taking the same actions as before but using less water (usually with the help of technology), for example, adding water-efficient showerheads to your bathrooms.
We talk a lot about water conservation and efficiency as strategies that the people of Los Angeles can take to help ensure that every on California can have access to safe clean water as that need increases. Reducing demand is often the cheapest and fastest way to close the large and growing gap between supply and demand. Saving water also helps save energy. In fact, a study by UC Davis revealed that during the 2015 drought, Californians saved more energy through water savings than all the energy efficiency programs combined. And when individuals actively choose to use less water, it makes a remarkable difference in water availability for everyone. Technology already exists that could save up to 1 trillion gallons a year statewide and the greatest potential for water savings exists right here in the South Coast Region, owing in part to the sheer potential of people (9.86 million in LA County alone) who could improve their water efficiency. To help encourage communities to use water more efficiently, the State Water Resources Control Board is working on a rulemaking to establish unique water efficiency budgets for each urban water supplier in California under a broader water resilience framework to “Make Conservation a California Way of Life”.
1) Water efficiency rebate programs that are often not accessible to low-income households because they require customers to purchase new appliances first and then wait several weeks (or more) for a rebate;
2) Water supplier revenues tied to how much water they sell, so there is a disincentive to invest in programs that reduce sales, and
3) Water suppliers won’t pay nearly as much for saved water as they will for new water.
Heal the Bay and our partners are working with our local water suppliers to implement solutions to these challenges, including:
Improving access to water efficiency programs by advocating for state and federal funding for programs that provide direct installation of new plumbing fixtures, appliances, and landscapes for income qualifying customers.
Advocating for water agencies to adopt water rates that incentivize improved efficiency while also allowing water suppliers to recover fixed costs, like the budget-based rates used by Irvine Ranch Water District and Western Municipal Water District.
Increasing the return on investment by advocating for water agencies to leverage the energy savings embedded in water savings to co-fund rebate programs with energy utilities.
CAPTURING STORMWATER – Waste Not, Want Not
Unlike wastewater, most stormwater in Los Angeles is not treated nor cleaned before it reaches our rivers and ocean. Our current stormwater infrastructure was built to protect against flooding, but when rain comes, the first flush of water from urbanized areas sweeps up trash and other contaminants which flow through our storm drains, dumping polluted water directly into our waterways, beaches, and ocean. Capturing LA’s rainwater offers opportunities to improve water quality in rivers and the ocean and at least triple the amount of stormwater captured for water supply (currently around 33 billion gallons per year).
The architects of the archaic system could not have foreseen the impacts of accommodating large population increases and ensuing development let alone a future of climate change and drought. They viewed water through a very different lens as something to control because it was a flooding danger rather than an integral resource and the lifeblood of ecosystems. Since 1985, Heal the Bay has seen first-hand the symptoms and impacts of stormwater contamination on our beaches and ocean as our volunteers and staff pick up thousands of pounds of trash each year. In fact, our Beach Report Card predictably downgrades our beaches after each rainstorm, and therefore, swimmers should consider staying out of coastal waters for at least 3 days after a rain event.
If we utilize natural solutions for stormwater capture, we could get even more benefits like carbon sequestration, cooler temperatures, recreational opportunities, and so much more. Heal the Bay works with the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board to track action under the Regional Stormwater Permit and has also engaged with a local dedicated source of funding as Watershed Coordinators for the Safe, Clean Water Program. One good example of this is our project at Inell-Woods Park, which will be located in South Los Angeles, in a neighborhood that lacks green space within the Compton Creek Watershed. The objective is to use native plants to reduce long-term potable water requirements and capture and treat stormwater to irrigate the park.
Stormwater Capture Projects: a) The Oxford Retention Basin Regional Stormwater Capture Project, b) The Ladera Park Stormwater Improvements Project, c) a rain garden in The Elmer Avenue Neighborhood Retrofit Project. Photos by Annelisa Moe/Heal the Bay.
SUSTAINABLE GROUNDWATER MANAGEMENT – A Huge Underutilized Opportunity
One element you need for successful stormwater infiltration projects is clean groundwater. Here in the Los Angeles area, groundwater reservoirs offer vast natural water storage potential. And while they are heavily regulated to avoid over-pumping, much of this water is contaminated from historical industrial pollution. So, in recent years, groundwater has only made up about 10% of local water supply. Groundwater remediation, therefore, offers removal of pollution that is currently underlying communities, a boost for subsurface ecosystem health, and an increase in local water supply, as long as these stores are also regularly refilled by other local water sources. Across LA County, there are roughly 5.8 billion gallons of available unused groundwater storage space where we can store recycled wastewater and captured stormwater for future use; and if we do not use this storage space, the ground could compact, actually removing that storage potential.
In addition to some groundwater being polluted, we also have aquifers that are salty. Desalination can be used to clean up salty groundwater, and that process is safer, less expensive, and less energy intensive than ocean water desalination. It also provides multiple benefits by removing salt from our groundwater and providing water supply.
SAFE WASTEWATER RECYCLING – Rinse and Repeat
Treated wastewater (water used indoors that gets cleaned to a high standard at a wastewater treatment facility) has traditionally been discharged to the ocean or rivers, which is a hugely missed opportunity because that water can be used again to reduce our dependence on imported drinking water. We currently reuse some of this water indirectly to recharge groundwater reservoirs, or directly for irrigation through the purple pipe system or recycled water fill stations, but we could be using more. In fact, California is finalizing regulations to allow for direct potable reuse, defined by the EPA as a “water recycling method that involves the treatment and distribution of water without an environmental buffer”. Although the concept has received some non-scientific skepticism along the way, it is actually very safe and is already in use around the world and even here in Southern California. Orange County’s Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) is the world’s largest purification system providing treated water to near-distilled quality that is then piped to a location where it naturally seeps into a groundwater basin that provides about 70% of the potable water needs for 2.4 million OC residents.
Skeptical about drinking recycled water? Fun fact: Half of all water systems that serve more than 10,000 people provide de facto recycled water, or water that includes wastewater that was discharged from an upstream source. Purified recycled water is actually much cleaner than most supplies because of the extensive treatment and purification process that takes place at these advanced treatment facilities.
Many facilities in Southern California are already preparing their facilities to include direct potable reuse as a means to increase the use of recycled wastewater, including the Metropolitan Water District Pure Water Southern California Project, the Las Virgenes-Triunfo Pure Water Project, the City of Ventura Water Pure Project, and the City of LA’s Hyperion 2035 Project. Though it will take time and funding for these facilities to be fully operational, Heal the Bay has already visited some demonstration facilities as we continue to advocate for smart policies that ensure high quality water, as well as environmentally safe and sustainable practices.
The Las Virgenes-Triunfo Demonstration Facility turns wastewater into highly purified water that exceeds federal and state drinking water standards in 3 very high-tech steps: 1) Membrane Filtration, 2) Reverse Osmosis, and 3) Advanced Oxidation. At the end of the Demonstration Facility tour, guests can taste test the final product. Photos by Annelisa Moe/Heal the Bay.
DESALINATION – The Option of Last Resort
We regularly receive questions about the possibility of desalination. Click here to read 5 reasons to be wary of desalination. The takeaway is that it is extremely expensive, energy intensive, and environmentally harmful and should only be used when all other options have been exhausted.
SECURING LA’S WATER FUTURE
With limited resources to counter the myriad impacts of the climate crisis, we must prioritize cost-effective projects that maximize local water and offer multiple benefits to support thriving communities and ecosystems. With better access to water efficiency programs, a multi-benefit stormwater capture network, sustainable groundwater management, and increased use of safe water recycling, we can reduce our reliance on imported water.
Successful water resiliency work requires bringing together the variety of water agencies and governmental departments to work collaboratively for the shared benefits not only for the future of the Southlands but for California water resilience, as a whole. For two years, Heal the Bay has led this conversation by hosting a “One Water” symposium attended by water agency leaders that serves to drive momentum toward collaborative solutions for these major infrastructure projects. You can take part in Heal the Bay’s work as we continue to track all of these efforts and advocate for a holistic One Water approach to build a resilient water future for LA.
Written by the Heal the Bay Science and Policy Department in Collaboration with the Climate Action Team. Leading a dynamic team of scientists, policy experts, outreach specialists, educators, and advocates in pursuit of its clean water mission.