Heal the Bay’s mission is to protect local coastal waters and watersheds through science, education, advocacy, and action. We are dedicated to making progress for clean water in LA.
Our top goals this year include exciting outcomes for our communities. In 2022 we are building our first-ever stormwater park in South LA, ramping up public outreach about smart water solutions throughout LA County, and supporting major plastic policies that reduce pollution locally and statewide. Heal the Bay Aquarium is growing ocean stewardship in LA by expanding our public hours and accommodating hybrid learning programs through field trips and public activities. And, that’s not all we’ll be doing.
Scroll down below to review Heal the Bay’s Goals, and some details about how we plan to accomplish them in the coming months.
Goal #1: Protect public health with increased access to science-based water quality information for ocean, river, and stream water users.
How we’re doing it: The River Report Card, Heal the Bay’s public map-based tool for water quality at LA County’s popular freshwater areas, is about to get a fresh upgrade. We’ve created the River Report Card Technical Advisory Committee, with experts representing Tribes, agencies, NGOs, and academia. We are going through a rigorous process to enhance our River Report Card by aligning the freshwater grading methodology with scientific standards as well as our well-known Beach Report Card’s “A through F” grading system. We’re also focusing on outreach, advocacy, and education at Heal the Bay Aquarium about the health and safety risks of poor water quality at local swimming holes.
Goal #2: Champion equitable, multi-benefit, and nature-based solutions to address water quality and supply issues for the communities most impacted by climate change.
How we’re doing it: For the first time ever, Heal the Bay is building a stormwater park in collaboration with LA City Councilman Curren Price Jr. and community members! The new community-designed, multi-benefit green space Inell Woods Park is coming to South LA this year. To keep raising awareness about nature-based solutions like this park, we’re hosting workshops for South LA communities where we’ll share climate-ready clean water projects that can be implemented. The success story of Inell Woods Park will be shared with Heal the Bay Aquarium visitors and volunteers across our programs, to foster a broader understanding about essential environmental and public health services that protect the most impacted communities from dangerous heat and flood effects caused by extreme weather. We can’t talk about the dangers of the climate crisis without talking about the dangers of fossil fuels — the number one contributor to climate change. Our organization continues to advocate for an end to oil drilling in our ocean and neighborhoods locally and statewide through allyship and support of legislation and ordinances.
Goal #3: Enhance ocean, river, and stream habitats by cultivating environmental stewardship and action for our local waters.
How we’re doing it: Will 2022 be a pivotal year in the fight against plastic pollution? Yes—and our work includes an advocacy campaign, targeted at Southern California voters, in support of the statewide 2022 ballot measure (California Plastic Pollution Reduction and Recycling Act), to reduce plastic pollution in communities and aquatic environments. While we are set on passing comprehensive policies at the state level, we’re not losing sight of the critical importance of local change. We’re pushing the City of LA and LA County to greenlight comprehensive ordinances that address single-use plastic waste. Plastic isn’t the only cause of harm to our environment, and Heal the Bay Aquarium is creating more community resources for habitat and wildlife restoration information while ramping up efforts in the rescue, rehab, and release of critically endangered species.
We are proud of our goals. They are bold. They are big. You can trust Heal the Bay to get them done. Stay connected with us, so we can continue to take action together!
Another ocean water desalination plant has been proposed for construction in Huntington Beach. This project has also been opposed by the environmental community and by the public for years. Poseidon will be applying for a coastal development permit to build their ocean water desalination plant with the CA Coastal Commission. This meeting was originally scheduled for Thursday, March 17, 2022. However, the meeting has been postponed, and no new date has been announced yet. Keep an eye out – we’ll let you know when it gets rescheduled.
Two critical decisions were made in 2021 to protect LA’s coastal waters from the negative impacts of large-scale ocean water pumping. All too often, we see exemptions, extensions, and approvals for projects that threaten our coastal waters, but the tides may be turning!
Previous extension approvals allowed the Redondo Beach Once Through Cooling Facility to avoid fees associated with years of water quality violations; a trend that ended with this Regional Board Vote. And, LA County’s West Basin Board of Directors voted to terminate a massive ocean desalination project proposed for El Segundo in a shocking step forward for protecting coastal waters.
Are these victories signs of systemic change? And what can Californians do to keep this trend of transformation going while combating large-scale industrial interests that are dangerous to our environment and public health?
Let’s jump into what we mean by ‘ocean water pumping’ and how these two coastal project decisions uphold the Clean Water Act, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.
Protecting the Santa Monica Bay from Harmful Industrial Water Pumping
Industrial water use includes the large-scale pumping (or “intake”) of ocean water and it has severe negative impacts on the health of our coastal waters. The intake of ocean water threatens sea life with impingement (being sucked up against an intake pipe) and entrainment (being sucked up into an intake pipe), both of which can cause serious injury or death. The Clean Water Act of 1972, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, requires the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate this pumping to minimize those negative impacts.
At the end of 2021, two critical decisions were made right here in Los Angeles, that support these Clean Water Act regulations by limiting industrial ocean water intake and holding those who continue to use it accountable.
Rejection of Extension Request from the Redondo Beach AES Power Plant and Once-Through Cooling Facility
Seabirds and Pinnipeds are just a few species that can be affected by the Once-Through Cooling process used in locations like Redondo Beach (King Harbor / Dana Murry )
Once-Through Cooling (OTC) is a process used by power generating facilities to cool down generators using water. Most of these facilities, especially in California, are located along the coast, positioned to use ocean water. But this kind of large-scale ocean water intake is what threatens sea life with impingement and entrainment. After the water is used, it is usually released back into the ocean, but oftentimes at a higher temperature and with pollutants from the equipment, causing possible water quality violations and concerns for coastal wildlife.
OTC was first recognized as a threat to California’s fisheries, estuaries, bays, and coastal waters in 2005, leading to the approval of a Statewide OTC Policy in 2010. Heal the Bay was one of many stakeholders that worked together to craft the requirements of the OTC Policy. One major compromise was the long time schedule, giving all OTC facilities 10+ years to either shut down or transition away from OTC operations. Now that we are finally approaching those deadlines, we are seeing many of these OTC facilities asking for extensions beyond the original 10+ year grace period.
Over the last two years, the Redondo Beach OTC Facility has requested two separate extensions for operation. Despite opposition from environmental groups and Redondo Beach Mayor Brand, the State Board approved both, allowing the Redondo Beach OTC Facility to continue operations through December 31, 2023. The Redondo Beach Facility then requested an extension (referred to as a Time Schedule Order) from the Regional Water Quality Control Board to essentially waive any fees for water quality violations of the OTC wastewater they release during this time.
On December 9, 2021, the Regional Water Board voted 3-1 to deny this request after hearing clear opposition from NGOs like Heal the Bay, as well as from representatives from the City of Redondo Beach. This was the first time in years that the Regional Board has denied any Time Schedule Order request. The Redondo Beach Facility is still allowed to operate, but they are no longer exempt from fines associated with their contaminated OTC wastewater discharges. If the vote had gone the other way, it would have provided a clear and easy path for additional operational extensions. This critical decision by the Regional Water Board will help to protect water quality by putting pressure on the Redondo Beach Facility to shut down their OTC operations by the new December 31, 2023 deadline.
Termination of the West Basin Ocean Water Desalination Project
Desalination, or the process of sucking in seawater and removing the salt to convert it to freshwater, might initially seem like a logical way to get more freshwater for Southern California. But ocean water desalination has many negative impacts on the environment, and the truth is that we do not need it. Although Southern California does face consistent drought conditions, we can source enough water locally to support all of our water needs without ocean water desalination by focusing on smart water practices like water conservation, recycling efforts, and stormwater capture. One of the myriad problems with desalination is the ocean water intake process, which poses the same impingement and entrainment threat as OTC operations.
The West Basin Municipal Water District had proposed an ocean water desalination plant in El Segundo, intending to reuse decommissioned OTC piping to intake ocean water. This project has been hotly contested for decades, with strong opposition from the environmental community (including Heal the Bay) as well as from the public, because it is the most expensive and energy-intensive way to obtain fresh water and simply does not make sense for Southern California.
At a meeting of the West Basin Board of Directors on December 23, 2021, the Board voted 3-2 to terminate the ocean water desalination project, after hearing from 25 members of the public speaking in opposition to the project. Many factors contributed to this decision including a report from West Basin proving that ocean water desalination is not needed to meet water supply demands for LA. But a final vote from Board Member Houston, quoting the fact that there is no longer public support for the project, broke the tie.
Upholding the Clean Water Act to protect our water, ecosystems, and communities
West Basin’s decision to terminate its ocean water desalination project stopped new industrial intake from affecting our coastal waters and stopped an unnecessary, expensive, and energy-intensive system from being built. The Regional Water Board’s decision to deny the Redondo Beach Facility Time Schedule Order provides extra incentive for the Facility to stop intake operations and to shut down the inefficient, fossil fuel burning Redondo Beach Facility altogether. Both decisions protect coastal waters, ecosystems, and communities in Santa Monica Bay and uphold the Clean Water Act by minimizing the negative impacts of industrial intakes.
Save the Date to Advocate Against Ocean Water Desalination
Both decisions were swayed by public demand for safe and clean water, but we cannot stop here. To shift the tides so that public and environmental protection becomes the standard, we need more decisions like these. You can help to advocate against ocean water desalination and demand safe and clean water for all.
Another ocean water desalination plant has been proposed for construction in Huntington Beach. This project has also been opposed by the environmental community and by the public for years. Poseidon will be applying for a coastal development permit to build their ocean water desalination plant with the CA Coastal Commission on Thursday, March 17, 2022. Check out this Fact Sheet from the CA Coastal Commission for more information or engage with our partners at Orange County Coastkeeper to advocate against ocean water desalination.
UPDATED NOTE: As of February 28, 2022 the March 17, 2022 meeting has been postponed and no new date has been announced.
Marine animals aren’t so different from us! They work and play in many of the ways we do. They all have their own unique personalities, but have you ever wondered which ones you share a special connection with based on your astrological sign? Just in time for Valentine’s Day, this article will answer the burning question, “Which ocean animal in Los Angeles are you most compatible with, based on your zodiac sign?”!
As an Aries, you are the extroverted initiator, bravely doing whatever it takes to get a job done. The Giant Sea Bass is the same way, they are outgoing top predators that like to be in control of their environment. You two are a match made in heaven.
Taurus, meet the Moon Jelly! Taurus, you love to be chill, preferring to take the path of least resistance (we should all take a page out of Taurus’s peaceful book). The Moon Jelly can relate; it likes to sit back, look pretty, and eat good food. You’d definitely get along.
Gemini, you and the Bottlenose Dolphin are perfect for each other. You’re both sociable, friendly, and extremely smart. You both have an extroverted and curious nature that can bring about new experiences and new friends.
What better match for Cancer than the Sand Crab? Sand Crabs are exploratory and have lots of different personalities. Both Cancers and Sand Crabs can make anywhere feel like home. Not to mention, Sand Crabs are adorable just like you.
Leo rules over gold, so it’s no wonder your match is the Garibaldi, a bright, show-stealing fish, nicknamed the “Marine Goldfish”! The Garibaldi catches your eye not only with it’s glamorous color, but with its outgoing personality as well. Leo, you and the Garibaldi belong together.
Virgo, your shy, helpful, and oh-so-cute match is the Horn Shark! Both you and the Horn Shark have no problem staying to yourself, honoring your introverted tendencies. Horn Sharks like to take their time as they move about the water. You understand their methodical nature.
Libra, you and the Gray Whale make a perfect pair. You are both extremely friendly, and beautiful to look at, but you can become fiercely protective when someone messes with your friends or family. You both give pretty but dangerous vibes.
Scorpio, you are most compatible with the sweet Seahorse! The Pacific Seahorse is unique in many ways, namely in their shape and in the fact that they mate for life. Scorpio has the ability to have a long-lasting love, so you and the Pacific Seahorse are a perfect fit.
Playful, acrobatic, and charismatic, the goofy and talented Sea Lion is the most compatible marine animal for you, Sagittarius! You will appreciate their boisterous and inquisitive personality. You’re both hilarious and love to make people laugh.
Capricorn, you will love the Two Spot Octopus! This octopus is very smart, sometimes even crafty, and profoundly independent. You can respect how productive the Two Spot Octopus can be. You two are definitely a power duo.
Aquarius, you rule over community and things that are unique, so the Grunion is the best match for you! Grunions almost always move in a community and are known for their distinct and special spawning behavior. You know all about what it means to do things differently.
Pisces, your soft, calm, and kind match is the gentle Sea Hare. While the Sea Hare is mellow and genial in personality, they have a very strong sense of smell, similar to the powerful Pisces intuition. You and the Sea Hare are made for each other.
Amber Jay is an astrologer with over 10 years of astrological research under her belt. She utilizes astrology as a practical tool that is enlightening and freeing, focusing on pulling out the inherent wisdom that lies within all of us. You can find her for regular spiritual and astrological guidance at @AmberJayLightsTheWay on Instagram.
Like a national or state park on land, Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs, conserve and protect wildlife and habitats in the ocean. Here in California, we have a unique and science-based network of 124 MPAs all up and down the coastline. This network exemplifies a new kind of MPA science, designed to not only conserve the habitat inside the boundaries of the protected areas, but to enhance the areas in between as well.
The MPA Decadal Review
California’s MPA network has been around since 2012 and, per the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) passed in 1999, this network must be reviewed every 10 years. This year marks the very first Decadal Management Review of California’s MPAs. What does that mean for our network?
We sat down with Tova Handelman, the Senior Marine Protected Areas Program Manager at California’s Ocean Protection Council (and former Heal the Bay staffer) to give us the inside scoop on what’s in store for California’s treasured MPAs.
To get started, California’s MPAs are really special – what makes our network of 124 MPAs different from other MPAs in the United States and around the world?
Most MPAs around the world are designed as individual protected areas: a specific spot on the map that is set aside and conserved. Our MPAs are different; they span the entire California coastline and are ecologically designed as a network. They are meant to interact with each other, connected by the California Current, wildlife migration, and dispersal patterns.
Since California’s MPAs are a statewide network, we can actually manage them as a state. All 124 MPAs are managed to the same degree, unlike MPAs that are managed differently region by region. This allows for more equitable distribution of resources, no matter how remote an MPA may be.
Point Dume is one of 124 stunning Marine Protected Areas in the state that offer safe refuge for ocean inhabitants as well as breath taking views from the land that make up the California Coastline.
The state of California manages our entire MPA system, how exactly does that work?
We use “adaptive management” for our network of MPAs in California, which gives us an opportunity to change how we manage these areas as the ecosystems change over years or decades. What might be working in MPA management now, might not work in the future. It was quite brilliant to include adaptive management in the MLPA and we are already seeing now, with the climate changing so rapidly, how necessary it was.
A variety of information is taken into account when monitoring an MPA. Heal the Bay partnered with scientists like PhD candidate Dr. Zack Gold to study eDNA in protected waters over the past couple years.
A key part of adaptive management is checking in on our MPAs to see how they are working and then adapt management accordingly. Here in California we do that through the Decadal Management Reviews, and the very first one is happening this year. Tell us about this review.
The Decadal Management Review, which was written into the MLPA, is an opportunity for us to use science and monitoring to see what has been going on in MPAs over the past 10 years. Based on the evidence presented, we can determine if there are any ways we can strengthen MPA management to make it more effective.
What does this scientific evidence look like?
The state of California has been funding long term MPA monitoring for a long time, and it all started with baseline data. Researchers went to all different types of ecosystems like sandy beaches, rocky reefs, kelp forests, and estuaries and gathered information to get an idea of what was going on inside and outside MPA boundaries 10 years ago, before the MPAs were put into place. Since then, those same sites have continued to be monitored over time to look at changes and see if anything interesting has happened since the baseline data was collected. In addition to the long-term data sets, we also will be interested in community science, like MPA Watch, to give a broader picture of the human dimension of MPAs [how humans interact with, use, impact, and value these areas]. The review will also include Traditional Ecological Knowledge from Indigenous communities who have been stewards of these lands and waters since time immemorial.
MPA volunteers like Sophia von der Ohe (seen in the picture above) are crucial to the success of the Decadal Review. Over 36161 surveys have been submitted by MPA watch volunteers to date.
How exactly will the review work, and who is involved?
The major players are the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC). The review will start with the gathering and synthesizing of scientific evidence by CDFW – this is happening right now and will continue through the year [and Heal the Bay is helping to contribute evidence and data for this critical step]. As the managing agency of the MPA network, CDFW will present this evidence to the FGC through a report, a presentation at a Commission meeting, and a symposium. This is set to happen in early 2023. As the regulatory body, the FGC will then review the evidence and make the decision if any changes are needed in MPA Management. If they choose to make any changes, they would have to go through a full regulatory process.
What can we expect from this first review? Will the science show major changes? Will there be any big management adjustments like MPAs added/removed or shifting boundaries?
The science might show some changes [like this Channle Islands MPA study showed increased abundance and biodiversity] but we don’t know yet because we are still analyzing that data. These are cold water climates and here, things take a long time to change. So, even though we are reviewing the science every 10 years, and we will see some interesting things, this review isn’t going to definitively show an extremely different landscape from 10 years prior.
We don’t expect any major management adjustments during this first 10-year review, such as border changes, adding new MPAs, or removing current MPAs. If you have heard that this management review is going to determine whether or not we are going to keep our MPA network or not, that is not this case: this review isn’t like a pass-fail test.
What you CAN expect from this review is a very interesting narrative and look back on the past 10 years of MPA management. We will see the amount of effort that was needed to manage our MPAs and interesting ecological data and stories. We will see data on the human dimension, such as community science, socioeconomics, how communities have interacted with their MPAs, and a review of the resources that were put into the network. This review will help to show the international global significance of this network and how other managers are looking to us as an example.
How can folks get involved in the review process?
The state is working to involve all ocean users and MPA stakeholders in the review process. If you are interested in getting involved in the review, you can:
So, folks, there you have it! All the information you need on California’s 2022 MPA Decadal Management Review. To close, some words of advice from an MPA: Be adaptive, base your decisions in science, protect yourself, get by with a little kelp from your friends, and do your own decadal review!
Thank you to all who rushed to the beaches of Southern California on December 4-5, 2021 and January 2-3, 2022 to help us document the King Tide. Your observations were vital to preparing Los Angeles for a future affected by climate change.
The culminating point of the King Tide gave us a glimpse of what California’s sea-level rise may look like, while the low tide during this phenomenon showed us the gravity of a shifting ocean.
This allowed scientists and the public to observe first-hand the intertidal habitats that are threatened by rapid sea-level rise. These habitats can be observed during normal low tides, but the extra low tide experienced during the event allowed for even more opportunities to observe and explore. During the King Tide, images were captured of threatened sea life, and people getting up close to observe it.
Although the low tide revealed a new view of ecosystems most people don’t get to see, capturing the high tide was just as important. The USGS has noted that “as beaches decrease in height and width with rising seas, the already narrow intertidal zones—supporting invertebrates that help cycle nutrients by breaking down organic matter—shrink further.” (How Rising Seas Push Coastal Systems Beyond Tipping Points | U.S. Geological Survey (usgs.gov)).
Images collected during these past King Tide events will not only help illuminate what the future impact of climate change will have on our California communities, but they also bring to light what ecosystems are threatened as climate change moves past the tipping point.
Photos of Santa Monica Pier at the low point during King Tide. Taken by Michelle Zentgraf.
We are heartbroken and outraged. Crude oil spilled from a pipe into the ocean near Huntington Beach, Orange County in October 2021. Here’s how to take action. This oil spill has taken place in unceded Acjachemen and Tongva ancestral waters.
LATEST UPDATE as of 2/8/22
The government agencies responding to the oil spill announced last week that their cleanup operations have ended for the two ruptured pipelines off the coast of Huntington Beach. All coastal habitats are deemed to be clean of oil, and the phone number and email address for reporting tarballs have been disabled. The public has been advised to contact the National Response Center (1-800-424-8802) if more oil is observed on the beach or in the water.
While the cleanup has concluded, the response to the oil spill is far from over. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will now complete a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). The NRDA will financially quantify the damage done by the oil spill in terms of habitat and human usage. The assessment has required that Amplify Energy pay that amount in restitution. The CDFW will need to conduct multiple scientific studies to collect and analyze a large volume of environmental data, so expect the NRDA to take several years to finalize.
We will not know the full environmental impact of the oil spill until the NRDA concludes, but we do have some preliminary details. The first ruptured pipeline released 25,000 gallons of oil into the ocean, and cleanup crews managed to remove 9,076 gallons. That means over half the oil that was spilled remains in the ocean or on the beach. In addition, the oil that was recovered may have harmed wildlife before being cleaned up. In total, 124 animals (birds, mammals, herptiles) were found to be oiled, and only 36 survived. The second ruptured pipeline released less oil into the ocean, but there is currently no estimate for how many gallons. Cleanup crews for the second pipeline recovered 176-236 gallons of oil from the ocean, and no oiled wildlife was observed.
Both pipelines have been emptied, and they are no longer in operation. However, the pipeline operators appear to be intent on repairing the pipelines and using them in the future. The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is reviewing permanent repair plans for the pipelines. Please direct any questions about this process to email@example.com.
LATEST UPDATE as of 1/11/22
The agencies tasked with responding to the oil spill (U.S. Coast Guard, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, Orange County, and San Diego County), have ended their cleanup operations at all Orange County and San Diego County beaches. Tragically, a rupture was discovered in a separate but nearby pipeline on January 2, 2022. Crews were deployed to clean up the oil sheen, and protective booms were placed at the entrances to Orange County wetlands to absorb any floating oil. It is reported that no oil from the second pipeline rupture has reached the beaches. At this time, no fisheries closures have been recommended by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
The breach points in both pipelines have been identified and are being repaired. The remaining oil in the pipelines will be evacuated once repairs are completed. Cleanup crews will remain on call for an undetermined amount of time to respond to new incidents of oil sheens or tar balls. Oil and tar ball sightings should be reported to the National Response Center (1-800-424-8802) and California Office of Emergency Services (1-800-852-7550). For additional information about the oil spill, email firstname.lastname@example.org
After the Orange County Oil spill released over 25,000 gallons of oil in early October, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) recommended the closure of both commercial and recreational fishing to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The recommendation suggested a moratorium that would encompass the area from Huntington Beach to Dana Point. As of October 3rd, the closure prohibited the take of all fish and shellfish from an area that included over 20 miles of California coastline, with the boundary reaching 6 miles out to sea. The OEHHA had identified “that the threat to public health from consuming fish in the affected area was likely” and a few days after the original closure began, the CDFW expanded the prohibited territory to include bays and harbors from Seal Beach to San Onofre State Beach.
From October 14 to November 3, the OEHHA sampled seafood along this 650 square mile area to measure and evaluate polyaromatic hydrocarbon levels. PAHs are harmful chemicals found in oil and can accumulate along marine food chains, specifically in fish and shellfish caught for human consumption, “causing increased risk to cancer and other adverse health conditions.”
Three days ago, after extensive testing, the OEHHA announced that as of November 29, “there is no further risk to public health from seafood consumption in the affected area.” Following the OEHHA recommendation, Director Bonham of the CDFW signed a declaration lifting the ban on fisheries allowing fishing to resume no later than midday on November 30, 2021.
Beach and shoreline cleanup activities in Orange and Sand Diego counties are winding down as most beaches impacted by the spill have been deemed clear of oil by the spill response agencies (see here for how they determine this). There are still two segments of coastline in Orange County and three in San Diego County where there are ongoing cleanup activities. The US Coast Guard and Office of Spill Prevention and Response will respond to any new reports of oil on the coastline even at beaches where cleanup operations have ceased.
LATEST UPDATE as of 10/29/21
It has now been nearly 3 weeks since the Orange County oil spill.
Monitoring and cleanup continues by the Unified Command. More than 5,000 gallons of oil have been recovered by skimmers and over half a million pounds of oily sand and debris have been removed thus far. Based on a recently released water quality report, there appears to be very little detectable toxins in the water and all beaches and harbors are now open. Heal the Bay strongly believes that more monitoring is needed for the affected area and we encourage all beachgoers to continue checking the Beach Report Card before heading to the water.
The Talbert Marsh still has floating barriers in place, but all other barriers have now been removed. Boat decontamination stations are available in harbors and all affected boats can be cleaned at the expense of the responsible party. The oiled wildlife that were recovered alive are doing well, and fewer in number than originally feared. Of the 33 oiled birds recovered alive, 20 have already been released. The total number of animals affected is just under 100 and includes birds, marine mammals, and fish.
Tar balls still may occur on beaches, and can be reported to CDFW at email@example.com. Questions still remain about when and how the damage to the pipeline occurred, the exact amount of oil spilled, when and how the response began and how effective that response has been in properly informing and protecting the public. It does appear that less oil was spilled than the first estimates, and the minimum estimate is now just over 25,000 gallons in total.
Orange County beaches are open, but please be cautious.
Orange County officials re-opened all beaches on Monday, October 11 after a week-long closure due to the oil spill. The decision to open the beaches appears to be based on a water quality report recently conducted by a third-party contractor. They collected water samples and measured the amount of harmful petroleum compounds present in the water. All sampling locations showed non-detectible amounts of petroleum compounds, and one site at Bolsa Chica State Beach had a non-toxic level of certain compounds.
While the results are encouraging, Heal the Bay believes this report alone does not provide enough information to confidently re-open beaches, and we would like more information before we recommend people head out to the beach. Therefore, we continue to have an advisory listed on our Beach Report Card for Orange County beaches. Here are some facts about the report that we would like you to consider before going in the water:
The report only includes water quality data. Given that petroleum-related fumes pose a health risk to humans (page 2 of report), we would like to see air samples taken as well.
The data in the report is only from one day of sampling. The City of Huntington Beach has stated that monitoring will take place twice a week, and results will be posted on their oil spill website.
Only Huntington Beach beaches were sampled. We would like to see data from every beach along the Orange County coast impacted by the spill.
If you do decide to go to the beach, please do the following:
Avoid contact with visible oil on the sand or in the water.
It began with reports from community members smelling gas on Friday afternoon, and evidence of a visible oil slick on the ocean surface by Saturday. The official announcement of the spill came later Saturday evening: 126,000 gallons of crude oil gushed from a seafloor pipe into the surrounding ocean. The pipeline (owned by Amplify Energy) transports crude oil from the offshore oil platform Elly, located off the coast of Orange County in federal waters, to the shoreline in Long Beach. According to the LA Times, US Coast Guard criminal investigators are now looking more closely into the events leading up to the spill and potential negligence in the delayed response.
Oil spills are terrifyingly toxic to public health and marine life. Beaches are closed, and dead and injured birds and fish are already washing on shore. Marine mammals, plankton, fish eggs, and larvae are impacted too, as this toxic crude oil mixes with the ocean water, spreading both across the water surface and down into deeper water. As of 1:45 PM on October 5, only 4,700 gallons of the 126,000 spilled gallons had been recovered. Sadly this oil has also reached the sensitive and rare coastal wetlands at Talbert Marsh, a critical natural environment not only for wildlife habitat, but also for improving water quality by naturally filtering contaminants from water that flows through; however, this wetland cannot filter out oil pollution on such a scale.
(Photo by City of Huntington Beach)
Major oil spills keep happening because oil companies prioritize profits over the health of people and the environment. This is evidenced by the fact that the oil industry has continuously sought to skirt regulations and loosen up restrictions on oil extraction. The danger posed by the oil industry’s pattern of reckless behavior is augmented when you consider that much of the oil infrastructure in California is decades old and deteriorating. This is the second major pipeline leak in 6 years. The last one in 2015 was the Refugio oil spill that resulted in 142,000 gallons of oil damaging our coastline in Santa Barbara.
Oil spills are part of a much larger pollution problem. The impacts of fossil fuels are felt at every stage, from extraction to disposal.
Major oil spills are disastrous, yet somewhat intermittent. But air pollution from fossil fuel extraction sites and oil refineries located on land have a harmful impact every single day for fenceline neighborhoods. Low-income communities and communities of color are exposed to disproportionate health and safety risks due to a history of abundant drilling within close proximity to where community members live, work, and go about daily life.
So, what does all this risky drilling get us? In the end we are left with products like gasoline, which contributes to the climate crisis when burned, or plastics that are used once (or not at all) and then thrown “away,” ultimately ending up right back here, polluting our neighborhoods and ocean.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
It is still unclear what caused the oil spill as well as exactly when it started and when it stopped. Divers are conducting an ongoing investigation, which will give us more information about what caused the rupture that led to thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the Pacific Ocean.
Crude oil is a mixture of toxic chemicals including benzene and other carcinogens, and oil can come in a few different forms, which can have different impacts on the ecosystem. Unfortunately, we do not yet know the type of oil that was spilled, and proprietary trade laws allow oil companies to keep their oil and chemical mixtures a secret. We also do not know how cleanup progress will be monitored and if water quality testing will be included in that process or not. Based on previous spills, we expect the beaches to be closed for several weeks, and we expect environmental harm to last for years.
WHAT NOT TO DO
At this time, the best thing you can do is to stay away from the oil spill area for your own safety.
Stay clear of oil-fouled and closed beaches, stay out of the water, and keep boats far from the existing oil slick. As of October 4, Newport Harbor and Dana Point Harbor are closed, and a beach closure has been put into effect in Huntington Beach. Allow plenty of space for rescue workers and cleanup crews from the US Coast Guard and California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR) to access and work at the spill site. If you see any injured or oiled wildlife, DO NOT try to intervene on your own. Instead, report the animal to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 1-877-823-6926.
CDFW has issued an emergency fisheries closure between Anaheim Bay and San Onofre Beach. The closure extends 6 to 10 miles offshore. Any take of fish from this area is prohibited until further notice and CDFW is carefully patrolling the area. If you are an angler, check this detailed description and map to ensure you are staying outside the fishing closure for your own health and safety. Shellfish and fish may become contaminated from the oil and other chemicals in the water. Eating fish and shellfish from the contaminated area may make you sick, and it’s also hazardous to be out there fishing because of possible exposure to harmful fumes from the spill.
Heal the Bay’s Science and Policy team is working on a public call to action with specific policy demands that we will share soon on our blog and on our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook channels. In the meantime, there is still a lot that you can do while keeping a safe distance from the oil spill.
If you are local, you can volunteer with spill cleanup efforts. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is soliciting volunteers from the public to assist in volunteer tasks with the Unified Command.
You can contact the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 1-877-823-6926 to report oiled wildlife. Currently, only trained responders may assist in the cleanup efforts. However, if you would like to sign up to be trained for future emergencies, you can fill out this OSPR Incident Volunteer Form, or call the volunteer hotline at 1-800-228-4544 for more information.
You may encounter tarballs on San Diego and Orange County beaches. Oil contains hazardous chemicals, and for safety reasons we recommend not handling tarballs or any oil yourself. If you encounter tarballs, contact cleanup teams at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
This is NOT an exhaustive list; there are many organizations and individuals doing this hard work. If your group is working on the spill or fighting big oil and would like to be added to the above list, contact us.
If we continue to rely on fossil fuels, oil spills and air pollution are inevitable and their impacts will continue to be devastating. The only solution is to shut down this dirty industry and protect ourselves and our environment through a just transition away from an extractive fossil fuel economy.
On warmer days when people are spending time outdoors in Los Angeles, Heal the Bay is there too, collecting water samples from rivers, creeks, and streams. Our River Report Card has issued water quality grades for freshwater recreation sites throughout LA County since 2017. The grades are based on levels of bacterial pollution in the water, and help the public make informed decisions about whether it’s safe to swim there. Local college students (our ‘Stream Team’) collect water samples from Malibu Creek State Park and the LA River in the San Fernando Valley and north of Downtown.
This fantastic achievement would not be possible without the hard work of our Lower LA River Stream Team, which is composed of five students from CSULB and Long Beach City College (LBCC).
We asked the students to share their thoughts on the work they did this past summer – read on to hear their voices and what this experience meant to them.
“Throughout my entire experience with the Stream Team I learned so much about the activity surrounding the LA River. So many locals come out to enjoy the River and the space it has to offer. It made me realize how precious the River is to so many hidden communities and local families. Unfortunately, our samples collected from the lower part of the LA River yielded large amounts of E. coli and Enterococcus (which indicates the presence of fecal pollution). The River was not suitable or safe for any kind of in-water activities, so seeing locals try to catch fish or bathe in the water made our work feel needed and long overdue.
I grew up in Bell, California, just about a block from Riverfront Park. I remember hanging out by the River with friends, so I feel connected to the River in that it is part of my community and childhood. Joining the Stream Team helped me look at the LA River through different lenses. I can now see how the River is an integral part of the ecosystem there especially as we move closer to the ocean where the River ends. Animals were always a fun sight. We’d randomly find a snake, turtle, frog, and countless dogs. Each field day was its own new adventure.
I hope to continue my education in environmental science by attending graduate school so that I can take my knowledge and studies into helping watershed conservation and communities. I believe that the work the Stream Team does will prompt legislatures, other conservation groups, and the community to support efforts into watershed conservation and protecting the LA River for all its communities.”
“I was so excited to have the opportunity to work as part of the Stream Team this summer. Originally a Marine Biology major, I switched to Environmental Science & Policy in the fall of 2019 and while I was excited at the new prospect, I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly this field would have in store for me. Cue the Stream Team! When I heard about this opportunity, I was so excited and jumped at the chance to apply, and I was absolutely elated when I got the position. I’ve always felt a connection to Nature, especially water, so to be able to get down into the River and study it was so exciting!
This project meant a lot to me in many ways. Scientifically, I was able to get some hands-on experience by collecting and analyzing samples. I was able to use some of the skills I learned in previous Science classes that, while enjoyable, I really struggled with. So, it really made me feel good to see that I was able to pull from some of that knowledge and put it to practical use, despite my previous difficulties. I gained so much confidence in myself through working both in the field and in the lab, and this experience showed me a potential road that I am excited to continue down after school. I’m still not completely sure what I want to do when I’m finished, but I know I want to work with ocean conservation; having this experience will really help me with that goal in the future.
On a personal level, this project also meant a lot to me. Like a lot of people, COVID has been very difficult for me. My entire family lives over a thousand miles away in the middle of the country, so I felt the forced isolation especially hard. When I joined the Stream Team, though, and got to work with these amazing young women, I felt myself come alive again. The five of us all got along exceptionally well from the start, and we worked seamlessly as a team. Besides amazing teammates, I made four wonderful friends that I foresee being in my life for many years down the road.”
“Early morning air carries sounds of sweeping trucks on the 710 that mimic ocean waves, a foreshadowing of the eventual pelagic destiny of the Lower LA River runoff. We, the Stream Team, trudge in our waders and boots while taking note of cyclists and weekly algae bloom, watching dragonflies during the summer, and counting trash bags or shopping carts that decorate the concrete-floored watershed. Each site has its own expression of local flora, fauna, and activity. Families push strollers on the bike trail past the scattered duckweed and litter on the slopes of Riverfront Park’s riparian bank while Audubon Society members stake out at Willow (the furthest downstream site) to view Canadian geese or California terns taking a rest from migration commutes. As a part of Los Angeles history from early colonization to its present physical intertwinement that starts in Canoga Park, the LA River’s broad ecosystem spans time as well as the landscape with understatement. Shooting through downtown LA generally unnoticed and ending in Long Beach, it runs through and by us each day. The myth of nature as other erodes as we collect samples, commuting downstream, amongst the biodiversity and legacy of the LA River. We, as humans, are as much a part of this once wild river that’s laden with society’s trashy fingerprint as it is a part of us, as the watershed cycle flushes away our cityscape toxins like urban kidneys. Our connection is integrated, even interdependent.
Participating in routine, weekly visits cultivated an intimate relationship with each site, allowing us to more acutely observe seasonal shifts and differences in weather or time of day as patterns of the ecosystem. We learned to correlate these fluctuations with our lab analysis, excitedly putting into practice empirical observation along with the scientific method as we discovered the disappointing, but not so surprising, high levels of bacteria present in the River. This was each of our introductions to scientific field and lab work. Our worst fear was to feel intimidated, talked down to, or not smart enough to be there. Being an all-female team with varying abilities and backgrounds felt radically inclusive according to our understanding of the culture of STEM. With Heal the Bay’s encouraging support and example of relearning inclusivity in STEM, we intentionally empowered each other with compassionate accommodation that highlighted each member’s contributing strengths. Learning to practice consistency in standardized data collection and interpretive analysis as well as utilize unfamiliar lab equipment as a team allowed us to be more present, confident, and welcomed in the realm of science, transforming the fearful, projected legacy of competition into collaboration.
These embracing qualities have been so important to each of us as our initiating experience with scientific research. The opportunity to engage with science without feeling judged or insecure not only maintained a wholesome environment but has worked to affirm my own capacity, ability, and confidence to pursue a professional career in the STEM fields. Furthermore, as a Latinx, Long Beach native, relating data specific to my local ecosystems to the overarching narrative of climate change and environmental justice is a priority. Given this, my goal is to utilize my degree to advocate for Indigenous Land reclamation and stewardship in the process of decolonization along with environmental advocacy while continuing to nourish inclusivity in STEM. Working with Heal the Bay on the Lower LA River Stream Team has provided an incredible launching pad of curiosity, partnership, empowerment, and insight into the praxis of scientific pursuits. My experience with the LA River will always be a deep, personal reminder of the poetic resiliency and adaptive character of nature, moving me to remember that nature is not only all around us but more so, we have merely built ourselves around nature.”
“My time spent learning about the Lower LA River these last few months has been incredibly informative and inspirational. I was lucky to be part of the Stream Team which included a wonderful array of individuals that I learned from each day. Also training under Luke and meeting a community of like-minded individuals has been fuel to my already blazing need to work towards the health and protection of our natural environment.
I discovered that to understand the importance of monitoring the Lower LA River is to understand the importance of all the connecting waterways. The seriousness of a rainfall washing through these connecting channels bringing all the waste of our city to the ocean is one of the reasons it is instrumental in seeking ways we can make better changes. Not only were we able to see firsthand what rainfall does to the River but we were also able to quantify the difference it makes in our data. Monitoring the Lower LA River was challenging at times. Even though it holds the title of a river and is used recreationally, what we noted was a heavily impacted area not held to safe health standards. The qualitative data we recorded revealed that there is movement of birds as well as local activity using this area as recreational pathways. We saw fishes, insects, algae, vegetation, and life in and near the River. Our mission to the River was for the entirety. To advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves and to show the results of our current standing so that we can see positive improvements of the natural aspect of this area.
The direction of my personal and professional life has always been intertwined. As a first generation Latina college student, it was exciting being able to come home and explain to my parents the work I was doing in the River. My passion for my study came from their encouragement and compassion. I want to use my time and voice in ways that can be beneficial to the community and in the protection of the environment. I felt privileged to be able to do work that I loved at this point in my educational career. In addition, knowing that I would be gaining experience working with Heal the Bay who commits their time and resources to public health, climate action and education has been rewarding. I want to continue in this path that has been nothing but fulfilling. In educating others, as others have educated me. To advocate for an equitable future and use my training in ways that are going to help our diverse community flourish. I’ve been able to grow my confidence as well as knowledge of what it means to be a scientist thanks to an encouraging group putting work every day to see a better tomorrow.”
“Hi, my name is Jasmine Sandoval and I had an amazing time being a part of the Stream Team this summer/fall! I am currently working on my Bachelor’s in Environmental Science and Policy, minor in Geology, and GIS certificate at Cal State University of Long Beach so this opportunity was right up my alley. During this time, I learned a lot about how to use lab equipment, how to set up, clean up, and perform testing on water samples, and how to take proper samples that would not introduce any bias or obstruct the sample as a whole. I also learned how to properly record data that is being collected! Working with the entire Stream Team has been such a blessing as the colleagues I worked with helped create such a fun, supportive, and respectful work environment. This whole experience has been so meaningful to me as it has helped me see how capable I am as a person, how much I love the field I am getting into, and how much work there is to be done that I can be involved in. I will take everything I learned from this and apply it to my future endeavors and for that I am truly grateful!”
The Stream Team will be back to issuing water quality grades next summer. In the meantime, keep an eye out for our annual River Report Card, which will be released in late spring 2022. Here’s our last report from 2020.
Cabrillo Beach is seen empty after the city of Long Beach closed the beaches due to a report of a spill of between two and four million gallons of untreated sewage into a canal in Carson, in Long Beach, California, US. December 31, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. (REUTERS / DAVID SWANSON – stock.adobe.com)
A massive and dangerous sewage spill happened late last week in Carson. Millions of gallons of raw sewage flowed through residential areas, into storm drains, in the Dominguez Channel, and out to the ocean.
Some Long Beach beaches, OC beaches and LA beaches are closed and will remain so until daily water quality testing for fecal-indicator bacterial pollution shows contaminants have reached an allowable level.
Heal the Bay is calling on officials and agencies to increase water quality monitoring during emergencies and to prevent sewage spills from happening by rapidly updating aging infrastructure.
The sewage spill is now estimated to be between 6 and 7 million gallons. A spill of this magnitude is dangerous and unacceptable, and we need to understand what happened. The recent storm undoubtedly contributed, but we need infrastructure that doesn’t fail when it rains. pic.twitter.com/OC1h5Mg2vl
A federal grand jury has filed charges against the Houston-based oil company responsible for the Orange County Oil Spill that dumped 25,000 gallons into the Southern California ocean coastline. Is this a step forward for environmental justice, or just barely enough?
Amplify Energy and two of its subsidiaries were charged on December 15, 2021 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for negligence that led to the oil spill off the Orange County coast in October 2021. The energy company’s actions that led to the charges include:
Failing to properly respond to eight alarms from the pipeline’s leak detection system, and subsequently allowing oil to flow through a damaged pipeline for over seven hours.
Operating an oil pipeline with an understaffed and fatigued crew that was not properly trained on the leak detection system.
These charges come with a maximum penalty of five years of probation for Amplify Energy and potential fines, which may reach millions of dollars. We do not yet know what probation would look like for Amplify Energy, but in general, the judge presiding over the case can require them to change their operation or conduct if the corporation is placed on probation.
This action, while positive in that it highlights the extreme negligence that occurred, is unfortunately not enough of a deterrent for oil drilling companies to improve their practices or to go so far as to consider ending drilling. The fines are a drop in the bucket for an industry that generates over $100 billion annually, and indictments target the corporations and not the individuals in charge of the corporations, again softening the accountability blow.
The only way to prevent another oil spill from happening is to end oil drilling. It is clear that the system we have for overseeing and penalizing oil extraction companies is not sufficient for protecting our priceless and increasingly endangered ecosystems as well as fenceline communities and public health. Oil extraction companies continue to operate recklessly knowing that they can quickly recover financially.
To enact meaningful change we must phase out oil extraction all together whether it’s happening in the ocean or in our neighborhoods. We are excited to see the legislation that Senator Min will be introducing in January, which promises to end all drilling in California state waters. Ending offshore oil drilling does not mean that we can expand drilling on land – we must transition to renewable energy as soon as possible to address the climate crisis and the environmental injustices that the oil industry has inflicted on fenceline communities.
Urge the California State Government to place a buffer between oil and gas operations and our homes.
Get involved with local organizations working to end oil extraction in our neighborhoods.
Find out who your representatives are and ask what they are doing to protect the public and environment from oil extraction.
Our gift guide below features some goodies, that give back to Heal the Bay’s mission, which can be delivered instantly or picked up locally. All proceeds support our work to keep the coastal waters and watersheds of Greater Los Angeles safe, healthy, and clean.
Need a last-minute gift for the person in your life that is, let’s say, particular? Our Heal the Bay Shop gift cards are delivered digitally, and can be used on tee-shirts, hats, reusable bags, sustainable utensil kits, and more.
For someone who loves to volunteer with Heal the Bay, a special hoodie or hat with our iconic logo on it is a super thoughtful gift that keeps giving.
Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year from all of us at Heal the Bay!
P.S. — We encourage you to make your gift wrapping sustainable (use an old tee-shirt, reusable bag, or newspaper), to shop locally and support small businesses, and to be mindful that the best gift you can give is your presence.