Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Beach Report Card

Summer 2017 beach water quality grades are in. Heal the Bay’s Science Policy and Programs team report the latest findings, and encourage you to visit the California coast this fall.

Most of us might think that the hot days of summer beach-going season are over after Labor Day Weekend. However, many local Angelenos and tourists know that some of the best days for ocean lovers are from September through October.

Less people, easier parking, tepid water temperatures, and great weather, all make for a solid outing. In addition, the water quality this past summer has been fantastic at almost all beaches throughout California.

Despite all the rain in the Golden State earlier in the year, 96% of beaches (out of 400 sites) earned an A or B grade. 18 sites (4%) received a grade of C or lower, including 8 sites earning an F.

Find out more detailed water quality information about your favorite beach: download Heal the Bay’s Summer 2017 Beach Report Card for California.

As a reminder, you can always visit Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card website (or get your grades on-the-go and install the Beach Report Card app for iPhone and Android) to get the latest information on all California beach conditions throughout the year. (We publish the Beach Report Card on a weekly basis for the whole year, so can stay informed if you plan on swimming in the ocean beyond October).

Most people view Labor Day weekend as the last celebration of summer and a final opportunity to enjoy a relaxing water adventure either at the beach or the river. A last hurrah before settling into the fall season.  With that in mind, now is a good time to deliver a friendly reminder about water quality when heading to your favorite beach or stream.

First – let’s remember the basic safety tips.

These are some general rules to follow to lower your risk of getting sick when:

Going to the beach

  • Swim at least 100 yards from piers and flowing storm drains.
  • Because of poor circulation, water quality at enclosed beaches and harbors is often poorer than at open beaches.
  • Wait at least 3 days after a rainstorm before diving into the water (and wait at least 5 days before swimming at beaches near storm drains).

Going to the river

  • Do not drink the water.
  • After water contact, rinse off with soap and water.
  • Be aware of your swimming conditions (funny smells, homeless encampments, nearby drainages, posted signs) before entering the water.

Second – knowledge is power.

Heal the Bay has two great, if not awesome, sources of water quality information regardless of whether you are going to the beach or the river. In addition to practicing safe swimming, water enthusiasts should visit Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card to get the latest information on all California beach conditions. (We publish the Beach Report Card on a weekly basis for the whole year, so can stay informed if you plan on swimming in the ocean beyond Labor Day Weekend.)

If you plan to visit a swimming hole in Los Angeles County this coming weekend, then see our River Report Card to see updated water quality information about these swimming holes.

Our motto has always been, and always will be: KNOW BEFORE YOU GO!

Have a great Labor Day Weekend!

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This site is right in front of the luxurious five-star Ritz Carlton resort in Dana Point, but one-star water quality persists in the bird-ridden spot. Local agencies have argued that the meandering portion of Salt Creek has facilitated a greater bird population, and in turn increased the amount of bird feces at this location—ultimately leading to the poor water quality. A falconry program was implemented to reduce bird-related bacterial counts at the mouth of the creek. However, potential harm to federally threatened snowy plovers during their nesting season halted the program—a decision Heal the Bay supported. The City of Dana Point has also invested in an Ozone Treatment Facility to treat dry weather runoff.

Heal the Bay analysts assigned A-to-F letter grades to 416 beaches along the California coast for three reporting periods in 2016-2017, based on levels of weekly bacterial pollution. Some 96% of beaches received A or B grades during the summer.

But pockets of fecal bacteria still trouble our waters and threaten the health of millions of beachgoers. Here’s our look at the 10 most polluted beaches in the state – our annual Beach Bummer List.

To avoid illness, ocean-goers can check the latest water quality grades at their favorite beaches, based on the latest samples, each week at (or download the Beach Report Card app for Apple or Android). For more information, check out our Beach Report Card blog post or read the full report here.

Much-needed winter storms may have relieved California’s historic drought, but all that rain came at some cost – poor beach water quality.

Bacterial pollution at some of California’s most popular beaches spiked dramatically in 2016-17, according to Heal the Bay’s 27th annual Beach Report Card, which the nonprofit released today.

Heal the Bay analysts assigned A-to-F letter grades to 416 beaches along the California coast for three reporting periods in 2016-2017, based on levels of weekly bacterial pollution. Some 96% of beaches received A or B grades during the high-traffic summer season (April-October 2015), slightly above the statewide five-year average.

Wet weather was a different story, however. Record rainfall created billions of gallons of polluted runoff, which poured into storm drains and out to the ocean. Nearly 48% of California’s beaches received C to F grades, about 12% more than the statewide five-year average.

La Jolla Cove, a popular swim spot.

Polluted ocean waters pose a significant health risk to the tens of thousands of year-round ocean users in California. Those failing grades indicate a significant health risk to the tens of thousands of year-round ocean users in Southern California, who can contract a respiratory or gastrointestinal illness from one morning swim or surf session in polluted waters.

Beach Bummers

Heal the Bay’s infamous Beach Bummers List, which ranks the 10 most polluted beaches in the state, was split between Northern and Southern California. San Clemente Pier and La Jolla Cove are both making their first ever appearance on the Beach Bummer’s List. Clam Beach County Park, Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey and Santa Monica Pier have each been Bummers for the past four years. Check out our Beach Bummers Slideshow, which has more details about each of the Bummers.

  1. Clam Beach County Park, McKinleyville (Humboldt County)
  2. San Clemente Pier, San Clemente (Orange County)
  3. Cowell Beach, West of Wharf, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz County)
  4. Lakeshore Park, Marina Lagoon, San Mateo (San Mateo County)
  5. La Jolla Cove, La Jolla (San Diego County)
  6. Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica (Los Angeles County)
  7. Capitola Beach, Capitola (Santa Cruz County)
  8. Luffenholtz Beach, Trinidad (Humboldt County)
  9. Mother’s Beach, Marina del Rey (Los Angeles County)
  10. Monarch Beach, North of Salt Creek, Dana Point (Orange County)

Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey, a repeat Beach Bummer.

On a more positive note, 32 beaches in the state were named to Heal the Bay’s Honor Roll, meaning they were monitored year-round and received perfect A+ grades weekly, regardless of rain or dry conditions. Orange County boasted the most beaches on the Honor Roll, with 14 sites earning top marks.

Staying Safe at the Beach

“We want people catching waves, not bugs, when they head to the beach,” said Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s vice president and longtime ocean policy advocate. “The reassuring news is that if you swim at an open-ocean beach in the summer away from storm drains and creek mouths you statistically have very little risk of getting ill.”

Swimming or surfing at a beach with a water quality grade of C or lower greatly increases the risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and rashes.

Here’s how you can make sure that you stay safe at the beach:

  • Check for the latest water quality grades.
  • Avoid closed beaches
  • Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains and piers.
  • Wait at least three days after rainfall before entering the ocean.

Baker Beach, San Francisco.

How to Stem the Tide of Bacterial Pollution

California often swings from extended dry periods to shorter periods of intense, wet weather. Our region needs to do a better job of capturing runoff before it hits shorelines. Heal the Bay advocates for reusing that water directly for non-potable purposes or sinking that water back into our aquifers rather than letting it flow uselessly to the sea.

If Southern California cities had the infrastructure in place, then they could have captured and reused a bulk of the 100 billion gallons of stormwater that drenched our region last winter. That’s enough water to meet the needs of 2.5 million people each year – about a quarter of L.A. County’s population.

In response, Heal the Bay’s policy staff is advocating for public funding measures to build nature-based projects that capture, cleanse and reuse runoff rather than dumping it uselessly into the sea. The Our WaterLA coalition is working with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to place a funding measure on the ballot for innovative multi-benefit projects that will capture runoff and create public green spaces countywide. Look for the measure on the county ballot next year.

Heal the Bay to Forecast Water Quality

This summer Heal the Bay, Stanford University and UCLA are expanding their predictive beach water quality forecasting program. Using sophisticated statistical models, environmental data and past bacteria samples, the scientific team can accurately predict each morning when beaches should be posted with warning or open signs.

Promising results from the past two summers (at Arroyo Burro Beach, Santa Monica Pier Beach and Doheny Beach) demonstrated that agencies can post a warning notice immediately at pollution impacted beaches based on predictions rather than waiting days for test results. These new models will protect public health by providing more advanced water quality information to public health officials. This summer, Heal the Bay will run models for 10 beaches, from San Diego to Santa Cruz counties.

Nov. 15, 2016 — After its second season predicting water quality in California, Heal the Bay’s NowCast program will hibernate until 2017. It’s a fitting moment for reflection by our fabulous beach water quality scientists, Ryan Searcy and Leslie Griffin.

Many would say that there are two distinct seasons in Southern California: summer and not-summer. By this way of thinking, it’s been hard to tell which season we’re currently in. We did see a bit of rain a few weeks ago, and it is certainly brisker in the mornings (hello fall sweaters!). Surf’s up in a way that whispers ever-so-slightly, “winter is coming.” But ocean water temperatures around here are still warm, and there is still plenty of sunshine, perhaps making the date-challenged among us wonder if Labor Day has indeed passed. You California dreamers out there can keep hanging on, but for those of us in the water quality business, the end of the AB411 season means it is officially not-summer.

State Assembly Bill (AB) 411 requires coastal agencies to sample water quality at popular beaches at least once per week from April 1 to October 31, and to notify the public of high concentrations of bacteria in those samples. Water quality samples measure the amount of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) present in the water, organisms that are known to be associated with the presence of harmful human pathogens. If FIB levels are found to be above the prescribed state standards, that beach is required to be posted as hazardous to swimmer health.

Fortunately for us in Southern California, most of our beach agencies sample water quality year-round. But despite increased testing, these water quality samples have a serious draw-back: because bacterial culture methods (FIB tests) take 1-2 days to process, beachgoers never actually know if the water is safe on the day they visit the beach. This is a serious problem, and it is one that we’ve been trying to remedy for many years.

Historically, the Beach Report Card has only been able to report on how water quality has been at a beach according to the week’s bacteria sample data and the geometric mean of a handful of recent samples. It is still a great guide for beachgoers because it provides more information about beach water quality than any other system on the West Coast. But we wanted to make it even better, and that is why we have worked with Stanford University and UCLA to develop the California Water Quality NowCast system.

Our NowCast system uses statistical models to provide daily water quality information during the AB411 season. These models predict the concentration of bacteria in the water every morning, and are derived from years of water quality data and a whole lot of environmental variables that impact bacteria levels. NowCasting helps us answer what we don’t readily know – how much bacteria is likely in the water each morning, and thus if it is safe to swim – by looking at what we do know – what was the weather like yesterday, were there a lot of waves this morning stirring up the water, is the nearby river a’ flowing, etc. All of this data crunching and statistical hog-wrestling boils allows us to predict whether beach bacterial concentrations are likely to be safe or hazardous each morning.

This was our second summer implementing the NowCast program. In 2015, we provided daily predictions for three beaches in Southern California: Arroyo Burro in Santa Barbara, Santa Monica Pier, and Doheny State Beach in Orange County. This year, we added East Beach in Santa Barbara and Belmont Pier in Long Beach to the program, and were able to make over 120 consecutive days of predictions for these five beaches. These predictions were available every morning by 10AM (including weekends) on our Beach Report Card site and mobile app. The beach agencies we worked with also took our results and posted them on their own sites and telephone hotlines.

And now that the Summer 2016 season is over, we are able evaluate our findings and to see how well our models did compared to the ‘current method’ of using days-old samples to make daily beach management decisions.

The first major finding of the season was expected: the drought continues to positively impact beach water quality. Think about it like this: less rain means less runoff which means less bacteria in the waves. And as Californians continue to conserve water, there is less dry-weather runoff from outdoor watering (nice work, by the way!). Every beach in the NowCast program (except at the Santa Monica Pier) recorded water samples that came back under sample limits (the levels of bacteria below which it is reasonably safe to swim), much cleaner than those beaches’ historical trends! This is great news for California beachgoers – they were able to enjoy cleaner than average conditions this summer at the NowCast beaches, something that we were able to inform them of on a daily basis.

However, since beach conditions were so clean, it makes it difficult to see how we would have done at predicting dirty conditions. Except for Santa Monica Pier, there simply were no dirty samples available to do this. While this is a frustrating for those of us who want to look at the statistics, we can find solace in the fact that the models provided daily water quality predictions to the public (rather than weekly, like most sites).

That being said, we did have one site with more issues than the rest: Santa Monica Pier. The Pier has a chronic history of water quality problems. From 2008-2015, it experienced 28% and 10% exceedance rates for fecal coliform and Enterococcus standards respectively (two types of FIB) in the summer months. This season, it exceeded those FIB standards 41% and 10% of the time respectively, despite drought conditions. This suggests that water quality at Santa Monica Pier is especially affected by other factors in addition to rainfall. Because our models consider wave action, wind speed and direction, and tides, the fecal coliform model for Santa Monica Pier was able to predict 71% of actual exceedances, and 17% more exceedances than using days-old samples in the months of July, August, and September. This was the big result that gives us confidence in our models.

However, in October, the models did miss some exceedances at the Pier, highlighting why we reassess and refine our models every year as conditions change at our beaches, and why we try to incorporate new sources of data into the modeling process. For example, we learned that water quality at Santa Monica Pier is affected by nearby storm drain flows and seabird populations, both things that we currently don’t have a good way to get daily data on. In time, we hope to incorporate these factors into our models, creating more robust and accurate predictions.

Looking forward, we’re excited for the California NowCast program to enter its third year. We’ve got a whole bunch of good stuff up next on the menu. For the Summer 2017 season, we are looking to add up to eight new beaches to the program. NowCasting will eventually expand farther along the California coastline, creating a truly statewide program. Winter models at beaches with heavy year-round use are also on our radar (in case you surfers out there were wondering). We’re designing new NowCast beach signage to post on days where water quality is predicted to be poor. And keep an eye out for our groovy new Beach Report Card website and mobile app, an update launching in 2017 that will look and function better than ever, giving beachgoers up to date water quality information on the fly.

When you go to the beach, we want you to catch waves, not a bug, and hopefully our NowCast program helped you do that this summer. Thank you to everyone who used and participated in the NowCast program in 2016, especially our beach agency partners across the state. Enjoy not-summer, and see you next year!

Aug. 2, 2016 — A day at the beach shouldn’t make you sick, writes Ryan Searcy, our new beach water quality modeler. He’s totally stoked about NowCasting — our new method for predicting pollution levels at popular beaches.

Curious what the weather in Big Bear will be like this weekend? Whether there will be good surf at Malibu this evening? How bad traffic will be on the 405 during your morning commute? It’s easy to get answers to these questions, thanks to your trusty mobile device.

Well ocean-lovers, we have some good news to share: you can now add water quality at beaches across the state to the list of on-demand forecasts that are easily accessible from your phone!

Heal the Bay, in partnership with Stanford University and UCLA, has officially rolled out its NowCast tool in California, a new water-quality forecasting system that promises a whole new way of keeping swimmers safe at their favorite beaches. Thinking of hanging out at the beach near Santa Monica Pier this weekend? Now you can find out that same day if it’s safe to swim or not before making the long drive (or Metro trip) out west.

NowCast Excel SpreadsheetNowCasting is a technique that uses predictive statistical models to forecast water quality at a beach based on observed environmental conditions — such as rainfall, waves, tides and past bacteria concentrations. Just as the weatherman on the 11 p.m. news predicts if it will be sunny for your birthday tomorrow, Heal the Bay’s staff scientists are able to predict if it is safe to swim at a given beach on any given morning.

Under the current monitoring protocol, health officials determine if a beach is safe or not by sampling for indicator bacteria (organisms whose presence suggests that other, more harmful bacteria and viruses are also present). Unfortunately, monitoring results do not come back from the lab for 24-48 hours.

In that time, beach conditions may very well have changed from when the sample was taken, potentially exposing ocean users to bacterial pollution. Additionally, most beaches in California are only sampled for bacteria once a week, leaving it to the public to decide whether to recreate or not based on days-old information.

Our new NowCast program fills these gaps.

Using years of environmental and bacteria sampling data, our team has developed complex models to predict the concentration of indicator bacteria on a daily basis. If the bacteria level is predicted by the NowCast system to be above the acceptable standards set by the state, then water quality is assumed to be poor, and a beach posting is recommended. A new prediction will then be made the following day. And the day after that…

Arroyo Burro Beach, courtesy of Damian Gadal, FlickrThese models are also more accurate than the current method of waiting 24 hours for results to come back from the lab. We launched a pilot program last summer as a proof-of-concept test, and the results were very positive. While we don’t (yet) have the telekinetic powers to predict sewage or oil spills, our models still do a pretty good job of notifying the public each day about local beach conditions.

Over the last few decades, water quality in the Santa Monica Bay (and across the state) has improved dramatically. However, there is still much work to be done to clean up our beaches and reduce the number of swimmers, surfers, divers and other ocean users that get sick.

Predictions are made every morning during the summer based on current environmental conditions. Local health agencies can then use these predictions to notify the public of water conditions before most people arrive to the beach. For the remainder of this summer, you can find NowCast predictions for the following five beaches:

  • Arroyo Burro (Hendry’s) in Santa Barbara
  • East Beach (near Mission Creek) in Santa Barbara
  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Belmont Pier in Long Beach
  • Doheny State Beach in Orange County

Arroyo Burro, Santa Monica Pier, and Doheny State Beach were on our radar last year, and all had models that performed well. East Beach and Belmont Pier were added on this year because of good data availability and plenty of willingness from the local health agencies to help implement the program. Over the next three years, we plan to add an additional 15-20 beaches and expand the program across California — from the breezy beaches of San Francisco to the classic surf spots of San Diego.

Ryan Searcy - Beach Water Quality ModelerOur philosophy at Heal the Bay is that no one should get sick from a day at the beach. To make a decision about which beach is best for them and their family, people should be armed with the most accurate and timely water quality information available. Think of the water quality NowCast just as you do sunscreen – protect yourself from poor water conditions before you get in the water. You should be catching waves, not bugs!

Download our beach report card app on your mobile device or head to to find daily predictions for all of the NowCast beaches mentioned above. You can also access the lastest grades for our full complement of beaches that we monitor each week statewide — more than 400 beaches up and down the coast!

Download the Beach Report Card App from the App StoreDownload the Beach Report Card App from Google Play

Heal the Bay has received many questions from concerned residents in Southern California about potential health and environmental impacts along the California coast that may result from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. Here is our perspective about possible radiation dangers, gleaned by consulting the scientific community:

What is the source of potential radiation?

On March 11, 2011, a massive 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a series of tsunami waves that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant located in Okuma, Fukushima. The emergency generators designed to cool the six onsite reactors and prevent nuclear meltdown were severely damaged during the disaster.

For the past two and a half years, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has been trying to cool the three reactors impacted by the tsunami. Japanese workers are constantly flushing the failing reactors with water and storing this now radioactive water onsite. Many of these onsite storage tanks have documented leaks; Tepco officials reported this month that as much as 300 metric tons of radioactive water is reaching Japanese waters through surface and subsurface flows on a daily basis. In addition to storage tank problems, groundwater contamination from building damage is predicted to reach the Pacific in the near future. The Japanese government has recently taken control of the cleanup, with a promise to stop groundwater from seeping into contaminated plants by sealing it off via a miles-long subterranean wall.

What are the concerns of some California residents?

Media reports have some people worried that a giant plume of radiated water will soon make its way to the California shoreline, exposing swimmers to radioactive water. Others are nervous that local diners might become contaminated by consuming imported fish caught off the Japanese coast. Some wonder if migratory predator fish will make their way from polluted waters in Japan and be caught in local waters, eventually winding up in the regional food supply chain.

Are those fears founded? Is it safe to swim in Southern California?

In terms of human health, the latest academic findings suggest that swimmers off the West Coast of North America face no radiation risks by entering the water. Radioactive concentrations harmful to humans quickly drop below World Health Organizations safety levels as soon as they leave Japanese waters, according to Dr. Erik Van Sebille, a physical oceanographer at the University of New South Wales. Open ocean currents, due to their strength and size, will dilute radioactive concentrations within four months of their release from Japan. Sebille and colleagues also conclude that It is estimated that radioactive material will take three years to travel from Japan to coastal areas along the eastern Pacific (United States, Canada, Mexico).

The bottom line, according to researchers: It is currently safe to swim along our local beaches. Experts also believe that beachgoers will not need to worry about radioactive contamination from the disaster in the future, due to dispersion currents in the open ocean.

Are fish that I get at the store or a local restaurant safe to eat?

It is important to understand the origin of the fish you consume. Much of the fishing that took place in and around Fukushima has stopped since the disaster. Even so, a recent study from the Woods Hole Institute found that the majority of marine species found in and around the Fukushima area do not contain radiation concentrations harmful for human consumption. But avoiding fish species caught in Japanese waters may be a good idea for those that have heightened concerns. We suggest that if you are worried about eating fish with elevated radioactivity, you should avoid fish coming from Japan. Fish caught off our local coastal waters as well as our northern and southern borders are safe to eat. Open ocean currents disperse radiation throughout the Pacific and will not impact local, non-migratory fish stocks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently screening all imported goods from Japan for radiation and does not anticipate any public health effect on seafood safety.

Are fish species found in the Pacific Ocean now radioactive?

At the moment, it is difficult to make scientific conclusions about the radioactivity of fish in the Pacific. Large predatory species, such as Bluefin Tuna, and bottom-dwelling species can bioaccumulate contaminants more readily and may be more prone to having higher concentrations of radiation in their bodies when compared to other species. Also, fish species may test positive for radiation from sources other than Fukushima (e.g. nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s). Additionally, the Woods Hole study found that radioactive contamination levels have not declined in fish following the initial radiation release at Fukushima, suggesting radiation is still present near the disaster site.

Is it safe to pick up trash found on the beach? Could this trash have washed up from the Japanese tsunami?

Yes, trash on the beach is safe, according to federal officials. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the relatively few items of debris originating from the tsunami found on shorelines along the U.S. West Coast have been tested for radiation, and no contamination was found. Heal the Bay is involved with NOAA’s Marine Debris Monitoring Program, where we monitor areas in Southern California for marine debris accumulation along our coast, as well as scout for debris that may be from the Fukushima disaster. Since we began the program in 2012, we have not found any debris on our local beaches originating from the disaster. If you believe that marine debris has washed up on one of our local beaches from the Fukushima event, proceed with caution and contact NOAA states that marine debris from the tsunami is unlikely to hold harmful levels of radiation and should not be of public concern.

Who is monitoring for radiation issues associated with the Fukushima disaster in the U.S.?

Three major federal agencies are currently monitoring the radiation from the Fukushima disaster: NOAA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. NOAA monitors marine debris and atmospheric dispersion of radioactive particles; the FDA tracks Japanese imports to insure food safety; while the EPA monitors air and water for radiation that is harmful to human health.

How can I stay updated on the latest developments?

Heal the Bay is keeping up to date on the most recent news and scientific studies on the Fukushima disaster in order to inform the public and best protect our coastal waters. We will provide updates on our website and social media channels (Facebook and Twitter) on the issue as more information becomes available.

Read Heal the Bay’s recommendations on how to stay healthy while swimming or fishing in Santa Monica Bay.

Japanese tsunami marine debris beach survey noaa radiation nuclear fukushima

Heal the Bay staff monitoring for tsunami debris along our local beaches.

Just in time for the last hurrah of summer, beachgoers on the West Coast can head to the shore this Labor Day secure that they’ll be swimming and playing in healthy water.  According to the 2013 End of Summer Beach Report Card®, beach water quality in California, Oregon and Washington was excellent for the fourth consecutive summer.

We collected water quality data at more than 640 monitoring locations along the West Coast between Memorial Day and Aug. 21, 2013. Then we assigned an A-to-F grade based on bacterial pollution levels. Nearly 96% of California beaches earned an A or B grade. Washington earned A or B grades at 91% of its beaches, and Oregon earned all A grades for the fourth consecutive year. 

To find out which beaches didn’t make the grade and how your county stacks up, consult our 2013 End of Summer Beach Report Card®:

Beachgoers can find out which beaches are safe, check recent water quality history and look up details on beach closures using our Beach Report Card. On the go? Download a free Beach Report Card mobile app for iPhone or Android.

It’s not every day that we get to report some good news.  But today, reflecting on the last 14 years, we can confidently say that our local beaches and creeks are on a solid path for improved water quality.

In fact, earlier this month, we reached a big milestone in the effort to clean up our local waterways.  July marks the end of a 14-year consent decree that resulted from a 1999 legal settlement among USEPA, Heal the Bay, NRDC and Santa Monica Baykeeper (now LA Waterkeeper).  Through the consent decree USEPA committed to approve Total Maximum Daily Loads or “TMDLs” for an extensive list of water bodies in the Los Angeles Region (Los Angeles and Ventura counties). 

What is a TMDL?  TMDLs are a calculation of the maximum amount of pollution that a waterbody (river, lake or the ocean) can handle before it can no longer meet its beneficial uses (i.e. habitat and recreation).  By developing and implementing TMDLs, water quality improves. In fact, TMDLs are arguably the most useful tool in the Clean Water Act toolbox environmental groups like ours have to actually clean up Southern California’s coastal waters and watersheds.  Prior to the consent decree, we hadn’t seen any quantitative or enforceable limits developed. 

As a result of this effort, 57 TMDLS have  been established for over 175 water bodies that address numerous pollutant impairments including elevated bacteria, metals, pesticides, PCBs and trash. Heal the Bay provided technical input on all of these TMDLs.  In addition, we had a major success late last year when the TMDLs were placed within the municipal stormwater permit, and therefore, became enforceable. 

Most importantly, as a result of these TMDLs, our creeks and beaches are on the path towards getting cleaner.  We see success stories throughout the region.  For instance as we noted in the last two Heal the Bay Beach Report Cards, low flow diversion projects implemented by the City of Los Angeles have resulted in much improved beach water quality at those locations (A and B grades, up from D and F grades).  Also the trash TMDLs have prevented millions of pounds of trash from reaching the Santa Monica Bay.

We still have a long way to go – many of the TMDLs will be implemented for years to come (some 20+ years into the future!).  For instance, we look forward to the implementation of Malibu Creek and Lagoon TMDL for Sedimentation and Nutrients to Address Benthic Community Impairments that was the final TMDL to be adopted under the consent decree.  Heal the Bay has been focused  on the Malibu Watershed for over a decade, and our data collection efforts highlighted this impairment.  

Heal the Bay will continue to push the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to ensure that this TMDL and others are implemented and enforced.  We will also ensure that the TMDLs that are reconsidered uphold the strongest scientific backing (for instance the Marina del Rey Harbor Toxics TMDL and Ballona Creek Toxics and Metals TMDL are being reopened in the coming month.)

 But it is gratifying to look back over the past 14 years and see that our hard work and the efforts of many other stakeholders, including USEPA and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, have paid off.

–  Kirsten James

—  Heal the Bay’s Science and Policy Director, Water Quality

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As representatives of Heal the Bay, we often get asked: “Is the bay healed yet?” People know we’ve been at this a long time (more than 25 years). While the answer is a qualified “yes,” we still work every day to fulfill our mission to make southern California’s coastal waters and watersheds, including Santa Monica Bay safe, healthy and clean. Our tools?  Science, education, community action and advocacy.

Each year we discuss where we’ve been, where we’re headed and how we’re going to get there. It’s a valuable process requiring that we all know what our HtB colleagues are up to: whether we’re teaching school kids at our Aquarium, coordinating our next advocacy campaign or analyzing water samples in Malibu Creek.

Here’s what we came up with for our goals of 2013:


Marine Protected Areas and Fisheries

In 2013, we plan to continue to build our MPA Watch program. We will review data collected by MPA Watch volunteers and interns, and share it with management, enforcement, and other monitoring agencies to help understand and evaluate how local Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are being used. We also plan to inform and evaluate the development of fisheries management plans for key southern California fisheries, including spiny lobster. Additionally, in 2013, we will work with local and statewide partners to advance the statewide sustainable seafood policy developed by the Ocean Protection Council (with Heal the Bay’s involvement) and local efforts to promote sustainable seafood. On the education front, we are playing a leadership role in creating new MPA curriculum for teachers with the Southern California Aquarium Collaborative.  

Stream Team

Heal the Bay will continue to develop our Stream Team program. We plan to begin evaluating watershed impacts associated with agricultural development in the Santa Monica Mountains, including vineyards. Additionally, we hope to inspire residents and recreationists in the watershed to become Creek Stewards, and help scout for watershed health impacts throughout these mountains.

Malibu Creek Watershed

We will educate local partner groups and management agencies about the findings of Heal the Bay’s State of the Malibu Creek Watershed report. We will also work with watershed partners and policymakers to prioritize and implement recommendations detailed in the report aimed at improving local stream and watershed health.

Predicting Beach Water Quality

Heal the Bay will continue our partnership with Stanford University in developing a predictive beach water quality models. The models will use oceanic and atmospheric factors (i.e. tides, waves, temperature, wind direction etc.) as inputs to forecast indicator bacteria concentrations at beaches, as means of providing early “nowcast” warnings of human health risks (our current methods take 18-24 hours to process, leaving the public with day-old water quality information). We plan to develop simple models for 25 different California beaches that will rapidly “predict” when beaches are in or out of compliance with water quality standards. Additionally, these models will be helpful in identifying and prioritizing beach cleanup and abatement priorities.


Youth Summits

To take student learning beyond the classroom into community action and civic engagement, Heal the Bay will organize more youth summits. Students learn how to protect what they love through adjusting their own behavior, speaking publicly to businesses and governments and educating others in their local communities.  This year we will focus on scheduling these events quarterly, formalizing their structure, and expanding their reach throughout Los Angeles County high schools.     

Teacher Opportunities

Heal the Bay will expand our teacher education and professional development opportunities in 2013.  New workshops and field experiences will be offered to help increase teacher expertise in teaching environmental principles and concepts, marine and watershed science knowledge, and best practices for melding field and laboratory activities into their own classroom curricula. 

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

To further educate the 75,000-80,000 annual visitors to the Aquarium about water conservation, we plan to overhaul the Green Room, named after Heal the Bay’s founding president Dorothy Green, with a new exhibit in her honor. The education room will include interactive, bilingual exhibits on watershed education and the urban water cycle, as well as a space dedicated to Dorothy’s accomplishments and inspirational vision.

Classroom Enrichment

In 2013, we’ll expand our environmental education outreach to more low-income communities and to a wider range of age groups. Through our partnership with the Discovery by Nature program, we’ll be able to reach classrooms in underserved communities, where public education in the sciences — as well as field trip funding — are limited.


A “Yes” for Clean Beaches

In the new year, Heal the Bay will mobilize support for the Clean Waters, Clean Beaches funding measure, which will drive an extensive and multi-faceted water quality clean up and conservation program in Los Angeles County.  The proposed measure would address contaminated drinking water, polluted stormwater runoff as well as toxins and trash in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, among other challenges.

Plastic Bag Bans

In 2013, we will take a leadership role in advocating for a strong single-use bag ordinance for the City of Los Angeles that is consistent with several other policies adopted by local governments in the area. We will work with partner groups and City Council offices to conduct outreach to the community about the pending ordinance, and ensure that a final policy is adopted that eliminates single-use plastic bag usage in the City at grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores, and greatly reduces paper bag distribution from these locations.

Community Action

Zero Waste Cleanups

In 2013, Heal the Bay plans to run all Nothin’ But Sand monthly beach cleanups as Zero Waste events.  Building upon the success of the 2012 Zero Waste cleanups in October and November, we shall focus this year on not generating excessive waste in the process of performing large-scale public volunteer events. The hope is that the public will witness our commitment to practicing what we advocate, by going reusable and minimizing trash.

Compton Creek

Heal the Bay, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Goldhirsh Foundation, will complete a project to build trash capture devices in the concrete portion of Compton Creek, just upstream of the earthen-bottom, riparian section. Compton Creek is the last major tributary that feeds into the Los Angeles River before it ultimately reaches the ocean in Long Beach. The devices ‑- adjustable metal racks that will be bolted into the channel bottom — will capture trash from dry weather urban runoff and low volume producing storm events and go a long way toward improving water quality.  

A Park in South L.A.

Heal the Bay is partnering with Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists (WAYS) Charter School to complete the construction of the WAYS Reading & Fitness Park on the site of 4,000-square feet of unused City land in 2013. This park, located at the intersection of McKinley Avenue and 87th Street in South Los Angeles, will be on the leading edge of green technology, recycling street water to irrigate its own landscape.

Help us reach our goals this year, donate now and keep the field trips, advocacy campaigns and water testing afloat!

Read more about Heal the Bay and how we work to fulfill our mission.