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.
This is a developing story and we will update information as new details come to light.
UPDATE: 3:00 pm Pacific Time on April 13, 2022.
According to a new Daily Breeze article, “42 million gallons of sewage entered LA waterways in past 15 years. More than half of the total was spilled in 2021 alone. A nearly catastrophic disaster at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant and the sudden collapse of a sewer system in Carson last year combined to make it the worst since the beginning of the data set in April 2007. The two spills, roughly six months and 15 miles apart, led to the total release of 25 million gallons of raw sewage either directly into the ocean or into waterways that empty into it.”
It’s been nearly 8 months since the massive sewage spill from the Hyperion Treatment Plant and two key updates occurred recently.
First, we recently learned that Hyperion Treatment Plant has not been complying with air quality standards since the spill. This is alarming news considering that the plant emits greenhouse gasses hundreds of times more potent than carbon dioxide. While Hyperion is no longer discharging under-treated sewage into the ocean, the environmental impact of the sewage spill continues. We urge regulators to take prompt action and ensure Hyperion’s air emissions are in compliance.
Second, The City of Los Angeles, Board of Public Works assembled an advisory committee composed of government officials, academics, and NGO representatives. Our very own CEO, Shelley Luce, was on the committee. The committee was tasked with conducting an independent assessment of the spill, and their findings were recently released in February in a report along with recommendations for minimizing sewage spill risk in the future.
The report found that a series of missteps led to the sewage spill rather than a single sudden influx of debris that inundated Hyperion’s machinery, which was the original theory. Here is the series of events as we understand them:
The machines (bar screens) that Hyperion uses to remove trash and large items from our waste water became clogged because some of that trash was allowed to cycle back through those machines due to a design failure. It is also important to note that trash should not be flushed down the toilet.
When the trash removal machines became clogged, alarms were triggered, but they were not responded to in time and Hyperion’s headworks facility (building where trash is removed from our wastewater) began to flood.
Once the flooding began, it was too dangerous for workers to open an underground bypass channel that could have relieved the flooding. Opening this channel required workers to lift a large metal barrier out of the ground using a ceiling-mounted crane.
The sewage flowed to other parts of Hyperion, damaging critical equipment and systems, which further hampered their ability to respond to the situation.
Hyperion’s storm drain system, which feeds into the 1-mile ocean outfall, was eventually filled with sewage, resulting in 13 million gallons of sewage spilling into Santa Monica Bay.
The report recommended the following improvements and next steps:
Upgrade the trash removal equipment to reduce or eliminate the chance that trash is sent back through the machinery once it has already been removed from the wastewater.
Improve the alarm functionality by designing an alarm that will be immediately noticed.
Conduct additional staff training and revise protocols for alarm and flooding response.
Conduct additional recruitment to fill jobs in the headworks facility, which is where the flooding began.
We appreciate the creation of this report and we support its recommendations for improvements to Hyperion’s systems and processes. Heal the Bay’s additional recommendations for next steps in light of the report are:
Integrate the advisory committee report recommendations with the 30-day report (initial report released 30 days after the spill) recommendations. We need the findings from both reports combined so that all the information and data for the spill is in one place. Information on impacts to the public (e.g. beach closures, odors, public health impacts, economic impacts) as well as water and air quality violations should be included. And, this will help create one cohesive plan for improving Hyperion.
Prioritize the recommendations from both reports based on their significance and/or ease of correction. And each recommended action should be accompanied by a realistic timeline in which it can be addressed.
Provide stakeholders and the public with regular progress updates as improvements are made to the plant. At the very least, the Hyperion Recovery website should remain active and should be updated with such progress reports.
Heal the Bay is committed to working with LA City Public Works and Sanitation (as well as other agencies and groups) to make sure that the report recommendations are addressed promptly to protect the health and safety of Hyperion’s workers as well as the general public and the environment. Implementation of the recommendations along with the rebuilding of public trust will be paramount as Hyperion transitions to full wastewater recycling by 2035. This transition means that Hyperion will no longer discharge treated water to the ocean, but will instead recycle 100% of its water to provide for a reliable and local source of water in the face of ongoing drought and climate change impacts. Heal the Bay is a strong supporter of this effort to reduce our reliance on imported water as well as reduce impacts to the ocean – we will be tracking the issue closely to ensure that public health is prioritized along with sustainability.
UPDATE: 10:30 am Pacific Time on November 2, 2021.
We have some promising news regarding the Hyperion Treatment Plant. For the past few months, the plant has been operating in a diminished capacity due to the damage it sustained on July 11 that resulted in the discharge of 17 million gallons of raw sewage nearshore (1 mile out). Consequently, LA Sanitation (LASAN)was discharging wastewater from Hyperion Treatment Plant into the ocean (5 miles out) that did not meet regulatory requirements. We now have confirmation that the plant is fully operational according to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB).
After the July 11disaster, LASAN was issued a notice of violation by the LARWQCB for the discharge of raw sewage in violation of their permit, which will likely result in fines. Further, LASAN was required to conduct additional water quality monitoring by the LARWQCB, initially consisting of daily samples taken at multiple locations and depths, 5 miles offshore. In mid-September the LARWQCB approved a request by LASAN to reduce monitoring to three times per week and, just this week, approved LASAN’s request to cease all additional offshore monitoring. The LARWQB made this decision based on the water quality data and the reports that LASAN has been required to submit.We have also reviewed the data provided on Hyperion’s recovery webpage and found that contaminant levels in the wastewater discharged into the ocean do indeed meet regulatory requirements. However, we do have a few lingering concerns about individual events of water quality exceedances over the last month, as well as remaining maintenance work to be done.
We are relieved that Hyperion now appears able to properly treat wastewater before it is discharged into the ocean. However, we still do not know the cause of the flooding and subsequent sewage spill. Heal the Bay is part of an ad hoc group meeting to discuss the causes of the incident and the response by government agencies, and to make recommendations for improvement. The group meets nearly every week with the aim of producing a comprehensive report by the end of the year. Heal the Bay will continue to push for answers from LASAN because we must make sure events like this do not happen in the future. We also look forward to carefully reviewing the report that LASAN must submit to the LARWQB by November 8 as well as tracking and ensuring that there is enforcement of the violations.
UPDATE: 7:00 pm Pacific Time on October 4, 2021.
LA Sanitation recently released a report with an in-depth description of the events that led to the sewage discharge into the Santa Monica Bay on July 11 & 12. Here is a summary of what we learned.
The discharge occurred because the Hyperion Plant’s barscreens (trash filtration devices) clogged leading to a catastrophic flood event at the facility. Raw sewage flooded large swathes of the facility and damaged machinery and infrastructure necessary for the plant to function. Millions of gallons of this sewage were released through the 1-mile outfall and into Santa Monica Bay as an emergency measure to prevent further flooding and the plant going offline completely.
So far, no one has been able to determine the origin of the large amount of debris that clogged the barscreens that day. The flooding also made it impossible for Hyperion to determine the amount of debris that caused the blockages. These are two critical pieces of information for the incident investigation, and we are keeping up the pressure for some answers soon. Fortunately, the minute-by-minute account of July 11 & 12 in Hyperion’s report gives us some clues as to what went wrong that day and how events like this can be prevented in the future:
Hyperion’s barscreens have an automated system that clears blockages when they are detected. According to the report, this feature has never been used by the plant due to “unreliable level sensors.” The barscreens are instead operated manually, and workers clear any blockages that occur. Hyperion stated in the report that this process needs to be assessed and improved.
There is a barscreen bypass system in place at the plant which could have prevented the flooding. Unfortunately, workers at Hyperion were not able to use the bypass system in time – the flooding became too dangerous and they had to evacuate. In the report, Hyperion promised to review standard operating procedures and conduct emergency training for the bypass system.
Hyperion will develop flood risk mitigation strategies for certain facilities and equipment at the plant. This will ensure the plant can operate if a flood event happens in the future. Given the plant’s proximity to the ocean, Hyperion’s operators need to consider tsunami mitigation in their assessment.
While the origin of the barscreen-clogging debris is still a mystery, it is an opportune moment for Hyperion and water advocates to remind the public what can and cannot be flushed down the toilet (only flush bodily waste and toilet paper, nothing else). Hyperion stated that they will increase public education efforts, which Heal the Bay would be willing to assist with as we’ve done in the past.
We appreciate the transparency and data that Hyperion has provided in their report and on their website. Nevertheless, there are still some big questions that need to be answered in addition to the origin of the barscreen debris. Hyperion has not made an official announcement that they are fully operational, and we would appreciate a timeline of when they expect that to happen. The Hyperion Recovery website is still listing some critical process equipment as currently being serviced, and there are reports that the treatment plant is almost fully operational. We are also seeking more information on the quality of the wastewater currently being discharged out the 5-mile outfall.
What was causing the foul odors near Hyperion? We are getting this question a lot, so we wanted to provide some more detail. Flooding at the plant damaged the pumps that move sewage from open-air holding tanks to the secondary processing infrastructure. For three weeks, excessive amounts of sewage built up in the holding tanks while workers repaired the pumps. The odors that have plagued South Bay communities came from these holding tanks. Hyperion stated that they have been processing this backlog of sewage, and air quality will continue to improve. We’ve also learned that Hyperion has ended the air filtration & AC unit reimbursement program for households impacted by the odors.
UPDATE: 10:20 am Pacific Time on September 23, 2021.
Here is what has been going on behind-the-scenes at Heal the Bay as a follow up to the massive sewage spill from the Hyperion plant back in July 2021.
We took a tour of the Hyperion plant to see the extent of damages from the incident, which is still under investigation. We learned about what’s happening to recover Hyperion as efficiently and safely as possible, and we met some of the hardworking people who have the enormous responsibility to treat LA’s wastewater day in and day out. We are working closely with LA Public Works to evaluate existing systems for repairs and upgrades at the plant where needed.
Recent data from the Hyperion 2021 Recovery website shows the effluent coming out of the 5-mile pipe from Hyperion is getting back to within regulatory limits for most water quality measurements. However, bacteria levels at the 5-mile outfall are consistently exceeding health limits, which is alarming. The public has not been provided with a timeline for when water quality improvements are expected. Fortunately, bacteria does not appear to be impacting our beaches – as indicated by beach water quality monitoring. According to the Clean Water Act, Hyperion should be fined for every day it is out of compliance with public health and safety standards. So far it has been 74 days since the spill first occurred.
An engineer points to how high the flooding water was during the catastrophic incident at the Hyperion plant on July 11-12.
When the spill occurred on July 11-12, there was catastrophic flooding within the Hyperion plant. Raw sewage permanently disabled plant electronics that control pumps and other functions at the plant, and equipment had to be replaced. For many weeks the plant could not complete the secondary phase of the treatment process, and the only option was to pump under-treated wastewater into the ocean. The replacement and repairs are mainly done and water quality is mostly back to normal. The elevated bacteria levels at the 5-mile outfall are still an issue and we are pushing the City to determine the cause and fix it as soon as possible.
The City of Los Angeles Sanitation and Environment Department (LASAN) submitted their 30-day action report to the Regional Board and US EPA, and we are reviewing it. We’ll provide an in-depth update about it soon. Recently at the request of LASAN, the Regional Water Board reduced the required sampling from daily to three times per week.
Our team continues to closely monitor water quality with the Beach Report Card and LA County’s Beach Water Quality Advisories website. The good news is, aside from the usual bummers, we’re seeing good grades at most of LA’s beaches for the past month. A couple sites with chronic water quality issues are the Santa Monica Pier and Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey — coming into contact with the water at these beach areas should generally be avoided, especially by young children, senior citizens, and people who are immunocompromised. Install our free Beach Report Card iOS or Android app so you can have the latest water quality grades in your pocket.
Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay CEO, is joining a virtual townhall hosted by The Board of Public Works to discuss water quality and health impacts from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant sewage spill in the Santa Monica Bay.
Our communities continue to have concerns and questions regarding the impacts of sewage in the ocean. Here we answer the top 5 questions we’ve been hearing on social media.
Where does the sewage magically go, which makes it safe for swimming?
Once the sewage is discharged, it travels where the ocean currents take it – that could be further out to sea, closer to shore, or it may remain in place.
Over time, fecal matter and urine will be consumed by microorganisms. This is not desirable because sewage discharges are not natural and may alter the food chain. The microorganisms consuming sewage may also consume chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and toxins contained within the fecal matter and urine. These chemical compounds might then get transferred up the food chain as other organisms consume the sewage-eating ones. Particulates like plastic and toilet paper may get ingested by larger organisms in the water or the material might settle into the sediment.
When it is deemed “safe to swim” does that mean the amount of toxins could still be above what’s normally acceptable?
Human fecal matter contains many microorganisms that can get humans sick from a single exposure. That is why our beaches are tested regularly for the presence of fecal matter, and it’s why California has strict fecal-indicator bacteria standards. Recreational water quality standards do not take into account other forms of pollution like toxins and chemicals because, in general, it takes many exposures over a long period of time to become sick from toxins and chemicals. Heal the Bay continues to advocate for increased water quality monitoring, especially for “forever chemicals” like PCBs and DDT.
How could this impact dolphins and other animals in the Bay?
We are concerned about all organisms in the Bay, including dolphins, fish, algae, and invertebrates living in the sediment. All organisms have a niche and play a role in maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem. The sewage discharges will likely change the abundance and distribution of smaller organisms first as they consume the sewage. Those changes to the bottom of the food chain may then impact species that are higher up on the chain like fish and dolphins. The other concern is that chemicals and pharmaceuticals contained in the sewage will also get transferred up the food chain as the sewage-eating microorganisms are consumed by larger organisms.
How often is water quality being tested? Who is conducting these water safety tests?
Right now, the beaches between Ballona Creek and Manhattan Beach are being tested every day. Under normal circumstances, all beaches in the Santa Monica Bay typically get monitored 2-3 times a week in the summer on average. Santa Monica Bay beaches are monitored for recreational water quality by four government agencies: LASAN, LA County Department of Public Health, Sanitation Districts of LA County, and the City of Redondo Beach.
How can we prevent this in the future?
There is an ongoing investigation into the cause of the damage to the Hyperion Treatment Plant in El Segundo, which triggered millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage to be released into the Bay. Once we know the cause(s) we can advocate for preventative measures. However, we don’t need an investigation to tell us what is obvious: the public was not sufficiently notified about the sewage discharge into the Santa Monica Bay. Heal the Bay is working to put pressure on LASAN and LA County Department of Public Health to investigate why public notifications were not forthcoming and how they can ensure more expedient public warnings.
Make your voice heard about the recent 17 million gallon raw sewage spill and the ongoing discharges of partially treated sewage into the Bay from Hyperion.
Tell the City of LA your concerns and that you demand they take immediate action to improve the emergency public notification protocols and implement preventative measures so this never happens again.
Act now: The City Council meeting starts at 10am on Tuesday, August 10.
Send in a comment to the Los Angeles City Council hearing tomorrow – use Council File # 21-0839: https://cityclerk.lacity.org/publiccomment/ -or- Call 1 669 254 5252 and use Meeting ID No. 160 535 8466 and then press #. Press # again when prompted for participant ID. Once admitted into the meeting, press *9 to request to speak.
Watch and listen to the council meeting here: Cable TV Channel 35 https://clerk.lacity.org/calendar (213) 621-CITY (METRO) (818) 904-9450 (VALLEY) (310) 471-CITY (WESTSIDE) (310) 547-CITY (SAN PEDRO AREA)
UPDATE: 10:25 am Pacific Time on August 4, 2021.
The City of Los Angeles Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) launched a new webpage that addresses sewage discharge at the Hyperion Plant in El Segundo. It briefly covers the cause of the catastrophic incident and the recovery effort underway.
We want you to be aware of the data table (with multiple tabs) at the bottom of the page. It shows the pollutant levels in the effluent (via sampling results of what Hyperion is discharging from the 5-mile outfall), equipment status, odor monitoring results, offshore monitoring results for bacteria, and links to other data, which don’t appear to be working or filled in yet. “Effluent” is the treated wastewater that Hyperion releases to the ocean. In other words, influent is what comes into the plant (raw sewage and other debris), and effluent is what goes out of the plant (typically treated wastewater that has to meet certain standards).
We will be reviewing the data closely and providing a deeper analysis for you. But, our first impressions are that exceedances (aka violations) are occurring for multiple parameters in the effluent since July 11-12, indicating that LASAN is violating their permit by continuing to discharge inadequately treated sewage into the Bay, and is still not able to fully treat sewage. What is even more concerning is that the levels of certain pollutants appear to be increasing over the last couple of weeks (the weekly average numbers are getting larger). These high levels of total suspended solids (TSS), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), settleable solids, turbidity, and oil & grease may have long-term negative impacts on marine life and ecosystems.
Our team will provide more information about the pollutants and what the potential impacts could be for the Santa Monica Bay later this week.
Despite this alarming data, recent beach water quality tests have indicated the water in the Santa Monica Bay is safe for human recreation. All beach advisories, except for Avalon Beach on Catalina Island, have been lifted because water samples have not exceeded State water quality standards. This is good news for beachgoers, but we recommend that you always check the latest beach conditions at theLA County Department of Public Health’s website and Heal the Bay’sBeach Report Card.
LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) released an update last night that ocean water samples collected at the following locations have met State water quality standards and beach advisories have been lifted:
Dockweiler State Beach
Ballona Creek (Near Dockweiler Tower 40)
Culver Blvd storm drain
Imperial Highway storm drain
Westchester storm drain
Pico-Kenter storm drain (Santa Monica Beach)
Topanga Canyon Lagoon (Topanga Canyon Beach in Malibu)
A warning is still in place for Avalon Beach at Catalina Island (50 feet east of the pier). The Department of Public Health continues cautioning all to be careful of swimming, surfing, and playing in this area.
The discharge contains bacteria and viruses as well as organic matter that causes low oxygen levels in ocean waters – the impacts on human health and marine life can be significant and very damaging. LASAN should have notified the public and stakeholders who have been tracking the spill results closely for the last two weeks. We don’t know if LASAN has increased monitoring to assess the impacts of the partially treated discharge – that needed to start immediately – and going forward we need transparency in order to ensure appropriate actions are taking place to assess impacts, protect people and wildlife, and pursue fines and mitigation measures to the maximum extent.
Heal the Bay was founded in the 1980s by local activists who refused to accept partially treated sewage being dumped into the Bay by Hyperion. It’s now 30 plus years later – great progress has been made, but without watchdogs we’re at risk of repeating past mistakes.
The LA Regional Water Quality Control Board has taken immediate action to boost monitoring in the Santa Monica Bay.
Last night we received a notice from the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) issuing an order to the City of Los Angeles LA Sanitation and Environment (LASAN) Hyperion Treatment Plant to provide monitoring and reporting related to the discharge of sewage on July 11 and 12.
The order details how the flooding at the plant led to non-operational equipment resulting in reduced efficiency of treatment and a reduction in the quality of the discharge from the 5 mile outfall. The order documents that since the initial incident, Hyperion has violated its discharge permit by releasing effluent that is in exceedance of limits for parameters including total suspended solids (TSS), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), turbidity, and settleable solids.
These exceedances will result in fines – however, they could have negative impacts on human health and the marine environment. We are glad to see that the Regional Board is requiring daily offshore monitoring and submission of daily monitoring and status reports. The offshore monitoring appears to include four stations, each to be tested at three depths (<1m, 15 meters, and at the outfall depth). Testing at these locations must be done for 12 parameters, including bacteria levels, which are indicative of impacts to human health.
The latest advisory from the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) states that they are continuing to test shoreline bacteria levels daily.Heal the Bay scientists and experts will be reviewing the locations and frequency of testing today by DPH and LASAN to ensure that the frequency and spatial coverage is protective of public health. And we will continue to ask for rapid methods to be used for detection of bacterial pollution – the methods being used now take 18-24 hours to obtain results and then additional time for that information to get to the public. Rapid methods would allow for more real-time results to be available to the public.
The LA County Board of Supervisors and LA City Council members have initiated a full investigation into the 17 million gallon spill and continued discharges from Hyperion.
In addition to the Water Board’s actions outlined above, the LA County Board of Supervisors has requested a full investigation within 30 days (scroll down to our last update on 7/29 for more info). And the LA City Council is demanding a detailed report and action plan too, which includes instructing LASAN to “look for engineering opportunities during repairs to begin transforming the facility to recycle 100% of wastewater as part of the city’s Operation NEXT,” according to the Daily Breeze.
Is it safe to swim in the Bay today?
If you are deciding whether or not you should go into the water at LA’s beaches this weekend, we want to be clear: there are potential health risks at some locations.
Water quality tests from sites across the Bay have indicated high bacteria levels around El Segundo, Dockweiler, and Venice beach areas. These beach areas are under an advisory and should be avoided until tests indicate the water quality is good.
If you are heading to other areas in the Bay, we recommend that you check the latest beach conditions at the LA County Department of Public Health’s website and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card (so you can avoid beach areas impacted by bacterial-pollution issues). Conditions can change rapidly, so pay attention to beach postings and remember there is a 24-hour lag between water testing and posted warnings.
Message us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or contact us online if you need any help getting started with our Beach Report Card website or app — or if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.
UPDATE: 11:00 am Pacific Time on July 29, 2021.
One week after the massive raw sewage spill in the Santa Monica Bay from the Hyperion Plant in El Segundo, the LA County Board of Supervisors met and heard an update on what went wrong, particularly related to notification protocols, and what next steps are needed. Heal the Bay staff called in to the hearing to speak on the item, but we were not able to because they cut off public comment after 1 hour for all items on the agenda. We were glad to hear at least three people speak passionately on the issue. We did send in a letter, supporting the motion as well as offering additional recommendations. You can read our letter and other public correspondence on the item here: http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/160317.pdf
The agenda item was heard around 3:15pm and included a brief presentation on the expedited report from CityGate that Supervisor Hahn requested right after the massive release of raw sewage. The findings of the report are quite disturbing and highlight multiple failures in communication and notification, primarily by the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH).
Next, Supervisor Hahn asked a series of questions of Dr. Barbara Ferrer (Director, LA County Dept Public Health), Gary Jones (Director, LA County Dept of Beaches & Harbors), and Fernando Boiteux, (Chief, LA County Lifeguard Division). Dr. Ferrer started by apologizing to the Board and the public; she took full responsibility for the failures and stated that DPH has already made fixes and will continue to improve training, processes, and protocols. Dr. Ferrer said that what happened was unacceptable and that it will never happen again. We appreciated hearing this apology and DPH taking responsibility for their actions (or lack of actions) and the commitment to do better.
Supervisor Hahn asked Dr. Ferrer about ensuring that public health – both in the water and in the community – continue to be protected as the Hyperion plant recovers from the major failure and undergoes construction to get back fully online. El Segundo neighborhoods are bearing the brunt of unbearable odors and LASAN is offering vouchers for air conditioners and hotel rooms for those affected. Dr. Ferrer assured Supervisor Hahn that water quality would continue to be tested and that the DPH team would be conducting door-to-door outreach in the community to ensure that affected residents know how to contact them, report odors, and get access to resources.
Gary Jones from Beaches & Harbors and Fernando Boiteux from County Lifeguards also answered questions about when they received notice of the sewage discharge, what could be improved in communications, and how beach closures should ideally proceed.
The motion was passed, which will result in a more in-depth After Action Report to be produced in 30 days. This follow-up report will detail what happened, where the failures occurred, and recommendations for fixing failures and ensuring this never happens again.
Heal the Bay greatly appreciated the updates and the transparency and accountability that the report and hearing provided. We will be actively following this issue and are engaging with Supervisor Hahn’s office and agencies to offer our recommendations and participate in the process. We will continue to hold agencies accountable and ensure that there are appropriate repercussions for the multiple failures that occurred.
A report was released this week, and made public today, about the recent 17-million gallon sewage spill from the Hyperion plant in El Segundo. “The handling of this release and the necessary public notification were failures, the initial report concluded.
The LA County Board of Supervisors will be hearing this expedited report on Tuesday, July 27 starting at 9:30 am. The Board will be voting on a motion to get this update as well as to request a more detailed “After Action” report within 30 days. Heal the Bay will be supporting this motion by sending in a letter and calling in to give oral testimony at the hearing. We will be suggesting additional recommendations, such as implementing rapid testing methods for water quality and tracking the plume through satellite imagery and other methods.
Watch the hearing, send in an email or a letter, and try to call in to the hearing to speak (this can be challenging to do as speaking time is limited).
We appreciate Supervisor Hahn’s leadership on this and hope to work collaboratively with County and City agencies to ensure this never happens again. And, if it does, that the public is notified immediately and effectively.
UPDATE: 9:10 pm Pacific Time on July 14, 2021.
This evening the LA County Department of Public Health lifted beach closures at Dockweiler State Beach and El Segundo Beach because water samples taken over the past two days have not shown dangerous levels of fecal-indicator bacteria. Based on these results, it appears safe at most locations in the Santa Monica Bay, but we urge you to exercise caution by regularly checking the LA County Department of Public Health website for water conditions and beach closures at PublicHealth.LACounty.gov/Beach and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card.
There are four sites in the Santa Monica Bay that currently do exceed State standards and coming into contact with water at these locations could cause illness – it is unclear if these exceedances are due to the sewage spill, recent rainfall, or something else:
Topanga County Beach at the Topanga Canyon Lagoon
Will Rogers State Beach at the Santa Monica Canyon storm drain
Santa Monica State Beach at the Santa Monica Pier
Manhattan County Beach at the 28th Street storm drain
Heal the Bay won’t let up on pushing for improvements that prevent sewage spills, advance water quality testing methods, and ensure public notifications happen swiftly and equitably. Thanks to everyone in the community for reaching out, voicing concerns, asking questions, staying informed, and most importantly protecting each other by sharing critical updates. This community is strong. It is amazing to see us spring into action. Thank you.
More to come on next steps, so you can take action to hold polluters accountable and to prevent this from happening again.
We have some preliminary good news to share — but don’t rush back to the water quite yet.
Water samples taken on Monday, July 12 by LA City Bureau of Sanitation & the Environment (LASAN) and LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) do not show high levels of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). FIB, in significant quantities, indicate the presence of harmful pathogens in the water. Samples were taken at numerous locations at the shoreline and offshore, at various depths.
While this is good news, the beaches are still closed and will remain closed until two consecutive days of sampling show safe water quality. So, samples were taken again today and if they show low levels of bacteria, closures will be lifted tomorrow.
These results are very preliminary since the samples were taken Monday morning and early afternoon. Tides, currents and wind continue to move water around and we don’t know where the contamination may have ended up.
We also don’t know what the water quality was before the samples were collected – i.e. on Sunday evening and early Monday morning. It is possible that bacteria levels were higher then, and that people who got in the water were unknowingly exposed to poor water quality.
We appreciate that LASAN and DPH have been forthcoming with us on the results, but we feel strongly that this information should be spread widely to the general public, as early as possible. LA County DPH is responsible for notifying the public of dangerous levels of contamination. Given the significant amount of raw sewage released, nearby beaches should have been closed immediately. Delaying public notification by 12-24 hours is not acceptable.
We have heard from many concerned folx that they were at the beaches on Sunday evening and Monday all day without any knowledge of the spill, or any ability to take precautions. We will be working with City and County agencies to establish protocols that better protect public health. We also urge LASAN and DPH to use rapid methods to detect contamination more quickly. DNA-based lab methods like PCR are readily available and provide reliable results in minutes or hours, rather than the 24-hour process required for traditional bacterial monitoring. Using methods like these, in addition to traditional methods, as long as they are accompanied with good public notification, would help get critical information to our many ocean users much more quickly and could prevent significant harm to LA residents and visitors.
You can check the status of beach closures and conditions on LA County’s recorded information hotline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-525-5662. Information about beach closures and conditions is also available online at: PublicHealth.LACounty.gov/Beach.
We will continue to track this issue and keep you informed.
When did the spill occur? The sewage spill started at 7 pm on 7/11/2021 and stopped at about 5 am on 7/12/2021. We are told by City of LA’s Bureau of Sanitation that the spill was stopped early this morning at around 5 am and all sewage is now being treated normally.
How much was spilled? We understand 17 million gallons of raw sewage were spilled through the 1-mile outfall, which is directly offshore from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in El Segundo.
What should the public do to protect themselves? We recommend the public stay out of the water in the Santa Monica Bay until further notice. Also, check the Beach Report Card for the latest ocean water quality alerts in California, and review the River Report Card for water quality information about freshwater swimming holes in Los Angeles County.
What issues does this cause to people and to ocean wildlife? Bacteria and viruses in raw sewage are extremely dangerous to people and can carry a variety of diseases. Debris such as tampons and plastic trash, when released into the Bay, can harbor bacteria and can cause entanglement of wildlife, but it seems in this case those debris were successfully filtered out of the spill before it made it to the Bay.
Why did this happen? We understand the inflow to the Hyperion plant in El Segundo was severely clogged and flooded the facility. The sewage left the facility untreated through the 1-mile pipe and outfall.
What is the source and how can we hold them accountable for pollution? This is fully the responsibility of the City of LA and their Bureau of Sanitation. The City normally does a very good job of containing and fully treating hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage every day – but when spills happen the City must move quickly to warn the public, and must discover and fix the cause to prevent future spills.
How can sewage spills be prevented? Proper maintenance as well as people not flushing trash items such as plastic trash into the system are the best preventative measures.
How often do sewage spills occur? The last major sewage spill in Los Angeles County was in 2015. However, smaller sewage spills are not an uncommon occurrence. In 2020 to 2021, seventy-five sewage spills sent a total of 346,888 gallons into rivers, lakes, and streams within Los Angeles County. One 222,542 gallon spill in February 2021 closed all the beaches in Long Beach; this area is monitored by Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card. A total of 39,621 gallons of sewage were spilled into the Los Angeles River, and 140 gallons were spilled into Las Virgenes Creek; both waterways are monitored by Heal the Bay’s River Report Card.
For more information about sewage spills, visit LA County Department of Public Health’s website.
On the heels of the 17-million-gallon sewage spill in the Santa Monica Bay on July 11-12, Heal the Bay and the World Surf League—two Santa Monica-based organizations—are partnering to expand Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card with NowCast to give beachgoers more information, more swiftly, about potential risks from poor ocean water quality at California’s most popular beaches and surf spots.
Heal the Bay and the World Surf League (WSL) are announcing a multi-year partnership in support of Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card, activating local surfers to protect the health of 150 million beachgoers in California, and increasing surfing community outreach through social media and local competition events in California.
Summer is here, temperatures are hot, and more people are flocking to the beach. With roughly a thousand miles of shoreline, California has one of the longest and also most diverse coasts of any state in the USA. California offers an incredible array and variety of beaches and waves. Several offer pristine bays with 30-feet visibility underwater, others iconic views and world class waves.
While the waves may look clear, many beachgoers have no idea they might be swimming in a bacteria-polluted area, especially near piers, storm drains, and enclosed harbors with poor water circulation. One in 25 beachgoers will get sick swimming or surfing in polluted water near a flowing storm drain. Youth and seniors are particularly vulnerable to illnesses related to bacterial pollution.
“As a surfer, I have spent a ton of time in the water since I was a little kid. The water quality at my local beaches is something I have always been observant of. Unfortunately, there have been many times where the water quality has seemed very low and I’ve gotten sick from surfing in dirty water. I’m thrilled the World Surf League is partnering with Heal the Bay on the Beach Report Card for California. Everyone deserves access to clean water to surf, swim, and enjoy this precious resource – our one ocean!” says Conner Coffin, WSL Championship Tour surfer.
The Beach Report Card is Heal the Bay’s education, advocacy, and public health notification tool for people concerned about the water quality at their favorite beaches across the state of California. The latest beach water quality grades are displayed alongside historical trends. The program also has science and policy initiatives to improve water quality, advance water quality testing methods, and ensure beachgoers have equitable and immediate access to beach water quality information through environmental and public health legislation and regulation.
Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay CEO & President says, “We’re excited to announce our partnership with the World Surf League. Clean ocean water has multiple benefits. It sustains healthy ecosystems and thriving wildlife, it mitigates impacts from the climate crisis, and it provides a safe place to enjoy the outdoors and cool off. We thank our partners at the World Surf League for working together with us to protect clean water starting in Santa Monica, stretching up and down the California coastline, and rippling out globally.”
The World Surf League is sponsoring the Beach Report Card for three-years, supporting the popular Annual Report, which highlights the coveted Honor Roll list as well as the notorious Beach Bummers list. The World Surf League is also investing in the growth of NowCast, Heal the Bay’s daily water quality prediction program.
“The WSL is incredibly proud to partner with Heal the Bay to provide tools and resources such as the Beach Report Card for all ocean lovers to be informed about water quality prior to heading to their favorite beach. As a global sports league, the future of our sport depends on a healthy ocean. Our focus as a league is to protect the ocean and beaches by inspiring climate action, preventing pollution, and conserving our coasts through campaigns like We Are One Ocean,” said Erik Logan, WSL CEO.
Heal the Bay is expanding NowCast to include 40-50 beaches over the next three years.
About Heal the Bay and the Beach Report Card
Heal the Bay is an environmental nonprofit dedicated to making the coastal waters and watersheds in Greater Los Angeles safe, healthy, and clean. We use science, education, community action, and advocacy to fulfill our mission.
Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is the only comprehensive analysis of coastline water quality in California. We provide water quality grades for more than 700 beaches weekly from Washington to Mexico during the peak beach-going season, with approximately 500 locations in California. Each location is assigned an A to F grade based on the health risks of swimming, surfing, and entering the water at that location.
Established in 1976, the World Surf League is the home of the world’s best surfing. A global sports, media and entertainment company, the WSL oversees international tours and competitions, a studios division creating over 500+ hours of live and on-demand content, and via affiliate WaveCo, the home of the world’s largest high performance, human-made wave. Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, the WSL has regional offices in North America, Latin America, Asia Pacific, and EMEA. The WSL is dedicated to changing the world through the inspirational power of surfing by creating authentic events, experiences, and storytelling to inspire a growing, global community to live with purpose, originality, and stoke.
Heal the Bay releases scientific reports and annual bacterial-pollution rankings for hundreds of beaches in California and dozens of freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County during 2020 – 2021.
The thirty-first annual Beach Report Card study assigns A-to-F letter grades for 500 California beaches based on levels of fecal-indicator bacterial pollution in the ocean measured by County health agencies. In addition, we ranked water quality at 28 freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County during summer 2020 and shared findings from the third annual River Report Card.
Highlights from the Beach Report Card
Hotter days are here! Beach days and river trips are at an all-time high. The good news is California beaches had excellent water quality in summer 2020. 93% of the California beaches monitored by Heal the Bay received an A or B grade, which is on par with the five-year average.
Even so, our scientists remain deeply concerned about ocean water quality. Polluted waters pose a significant health risk to millions of people in California. People who come in contact with water with a C grade or lower are at a greater risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, and rashes.
Beaches and rivers usually have high-risk water quality following a rain event. Less rain typically means that reduced amounts of pollutants, including bacteria, are flushed through storm drains and rivers into the ocean. However, this wasn’t the case this past winter. Rainfall across coastal counties in California was 41 percent lower than the historical average. Yet only 57% of California beaches had good or excellent grades during wet weather, which was worse than average. The lower grades are in part due to the high percentage of “first flush” samples in the wet weather dataset.
“As a surfer, I have spent a ton of time in the water since I was a little kid. The water quality at my local beaches is something I have always been observant of. Unfortunately there have been many times where the water quality has seemed very low and I’ve gotten sick from surfing in dirty water. I’m thrilled the World Surf League is partnering with Heal The Bay on the Beach Report Card for California. Everyone deserves access to clean water to surf, swim, and enjoy this precious resource – our one ocean!” –Conner Coffin
California’s Beach Bummer List Heal the Bay’s Beach Bummer List ranks the most polluted beaches in California based on levels of harmful bacteria in the ocean. The 2020-2021 Beach Bummer List includes beaches in San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Humboldt, and Santa Cruz Counties.
Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, Tijuana River mouth – San Diego County
Foster City, Erckenbrack Park – San Mateo County
Capitola Beach, west of jetty – Santa Cruz County
Foster City, Gull Park – San Mateo County
Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach, between Lifeguard Tower and Boat dock – Los Angeles County
Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, 3/4 miles north of Tijuana River – San Diego County
Clam Beach County Park at Strawberry Creek – Humboldt County
Foster City, Marlin Park – San Mateo County
Candlestick Point, Windsurfer Circle – San Francisco County
East Beach at Mission Creek – Santa Barbara County
California’s Beach Honor Roll List Heal the Bay’s Honor Roll List includes 35 California beaches that scored perfect water quality grades year-round (compared to 42 beaches in the prior year). Most beaches on the Honor Roll are in Southern California because many Counties in Central California and Northern California do not sample frequently enough during the winter months. Orange County had the most beaches on the Honor Roll. Los Angeles, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Alameda Counties also had beaches with perfect water quality grades.
Crown Beach, at Sunset Rd. – Alameda County
Royal Palms State Beach – Los Angeles County
Leo Carrillo Beach, at Arroyo Sequit Creek – Los Angeles County
Puerco State Beach, at creek mouth – Los Angeles County
Las Flores State Beach, at Las Flores Creek – Los Angeles County
Broad Beach, at Trancas Creek – Los Angeles County
Escondido State Beach, at Escondido Creek – Los Angeles County
Nicholas Beach, at San Nicholas Canyon Creek – Los Angeles County
Newport Bay, Promontory Point – Orange County
Crystal Cove (CSDOC) – Orange County
Newport Beach, at Orange Street – Orange County
Newport Beach, at 52nd/53rd Street – Orange County
Balboa Beach Pier – Orange County
Balboa Beach, The Wedge – Orange County
Crystal Cove – Orange County
1000 Steps Beach, at 9th St. – Orange County
North Aliso County Beach – Orange County
Treasure Island Beach – Orange County
Carlsbad, at Encina Creek – San Diego County
Carlsbad, at Palomar Airport Rd. San Diego County
Solana Beach, Tide Beach Park at Solana Vista Dr. – San Diego County
Guadalupe Dunes – Santa Barbara County
El Capitan State Beach – Santa Barbara County
China Beach, at Sea Cliff Ave. – San Francisco County
Ocean Beach, at Lincoln Way – San Francisco County
Sewers at Silver Shoals Dr. – San Luis Obispo County
Morro Bay City Beach, at Atascadero – San Luis Obispo County
Pismo State Beach, 330 yards north of Pier Ave. – San Luis Obispo County
Hollywood Beach, at Los Robles St. – Ventura County
C.I. Harbor, at Hobie Beach Lakeshore Dr. – Ventura County
Oil Piers Beach, south of storm drain – Ventura County
Silverstrand, at Sawtelle Ave. – Ventura County
Ormond Beach, 50 yards north of Oxnard Industrial drain – Ventura County
Ormond Beach, at Arnold Rd. – Ventura County
Faria County Park, at stairs – Ventura County
Highlights from the River Report Card
Heal the Bay graded 28 freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County within the L.A. River, San Gabriel River, and Malibu Creek Watersheds during summer 2020. 70% of the freshwater grades indicated a low risk of illness, 17% indicated a moderate risk of illness, and 13% indicated a high risk of illness.
L.A.’s Freshwater Fails List Top 9 river recreation sites in Los Angeles County that are high-risk places to swim or boat.
1. Tujunga Wash at Hansen Dam – Upper L.A. River Watershed
2. L.A. River at Rattlesnake Park – L.A. River Watershed: Recreation Zones
3. San Gabriel River Below North and West Forks – San Gabriel River Watershed
4. L.A. River at Middle of Sepulveda Basin Recreation Zone – L.A. River Watershed: Recreation Zones
5-6. Bull Creek – Upper L.A. River Watershed
5-6. Lake Balboa Boat Ramp – Upper L.A. River Watershed
7. Lake Balboa Outlet – Upper L.A. River Watershed
8. L.A. River at Balboa Blvd. – L.A. River Watershed: Recreation Zones
9. Switzer Falls – Upper L.A. River Watershed
L.A.’s Freshwater Honor Roll List Top 10 river recreation sites in Los Angeles County that are low-risk places to swim or boat.
1-8. San Gabriel River East Fork at Graveyard Canyon – San Gabriel River Watershed
1-8. L.A. River at Benedict St. (formerly Frogspot) – L.A. River Watershed: Recreation Zones
1-8. Gould Mesa – Upper L.A. River Watershed
1-8. Hansen Dam Lake – Upper L.A. River Watershed
1-8. San Gabriel River Lower North Fork – San Gabriel River Watershed
1-8. Sturtevant Falls – Upper L.A. River Watershed
1-8. San Gabriel River Upper North Fork – San Gabriel River Watershed
1-8. Big Tujunga Creek at Vogel Flats – Upper L.A. River Watershed
8-10. San Gabriel River Upper East Fork – Upper L.A. River Watershed
8-10. San Gabriel River Upper West Fork – San Gabriel River Watershed
Equity and Access The COVID-19 pandemic, a record-setting wildfire season, and extreme heat during summer 2020 highlighted the dire need for equity in our waters, and exposed major systemic failures; open spaces, including beaches and rivers, are not equally accessible to all people. Low-income communities of color tend to be the most burdened communities, bearing the brunt of environmental pollution and limited access to open space.
“A day at the beach and the river shouldn’t make anyone sick,” said Dr. Shelley Luce, President and CEO of Heal the Bay. “With the closures, stress, and uncertainty of the pandemic, it is no surprise that people sought out our local waters in 2020. While we’re thrilled about the excellent water quality across California, our marine ecosystems are still threatened by climate change and other pollution sources. This is alarming as we expect people to increasingly seek out ocean shorelines and freshwater swimming holes to cool off as temperatures rise. Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card and River Report Card give access to the latest water quality information and are a critical part of our science-based advocacy work in support of strong environmental and public health policies that improve the health and resilience of our ocean, our rivers, and our communities.”
Avoid shallow, enclosed beaches and freshwater areas with poor water circulation.
Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains, creeks, and piers.
Stay out of the water for at least 72-hours after a rain event.
Follow all local health and safety regulations, including all local pandemic-related regulations.
Check in with the lifeguard or ranger on duty for more information about the best places to swim.
About Heal the Bay Heal the Bay is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1985. We use science, education, community action, and advocacy to fulfill our mission to protect coastal waters and watersheds in Southern California. Heal the Bay Aquarium, located at the Santa Monica Pier, welcomes 100,000 guests annually and hosts a variety of public programs and events that highlight local environmental issues and solutions. Learn more at healthebay.org and follow @healthebay on social media.
About Beach Report Card Beach Report Card with NowCast, in partnership with World Surf League, is Heal the Bay’s flagship scientific water quality monitoring program that started in the 1990s. For thirty years, the Beach Report Card has influenced the improvement of water quality by increasing monitoring efforts and helping to enact strong environmental and public health policies. Learn more at beachreportcard.org and download the free app on iPhone and Android devices.
The Beach Report Card is made possible in part through generous support from SIMA Environmental Fund, Swain Barber Foundation, SONY Pictures Entertainment, and World Surf League.
About River Report Card Currently, there is no statewide water quality monitoring mandate for rivers and streams in California, like we have for the ocean as a result of the Beach Report Card. Heal the Bay started the River Report Card in 2017 to push for new public health protections for freshwater areas in addition to serving the immediate need for increased public awareness about the risks at popular freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County. Learn more at healthebay.org/riverreportcard.
The River Report Card is made possible in part by generous support from Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust and Garfield Foundation.
Las playas de California tuvieron una excelente calidad de agua durante los meses de verano del 2020. De más de 500 playas en todo el estado, el 93% obtuvieron buenas calificaciones (A y B). Las precipitaciones del año pasado estuvieron drásticamente por debajo del promedio, lo que generalmente conlleva a una mejor calidad del agua debido a las cantidades reducidas de contaminantes que fluyen hacia el océano. Sin embargo, las calificaciones durante la temporada de lluvias fueron peores al promedio en este año, probablemente debido al hecho de que la mayoría de los datos durante la temporada de lluvias se recopilaron cuando se registraron las primeras lluvias (que son las más importantes) las cuales llevan más contaminación.
• La desembocadura del río Tijuana y la playa que se encuentra a menos de una milla al norte se encuentran en nuestra lista de las Peores Playas. Estas playas se ven afectadas por las aguas residuales que fluyen desde el río Tijuana y de la Planta de Tratamiento Punta Bandera. Las aguas residuales tienen su origen en la infraestructura del alcantarillado deteriorado e insuficiente en la ciudad de Tijuana.
• El condado de San Mateo continúa luchando con la calidad del agua, ya que tres playas en el área de Foster City se encuentran en la lista de las Peores Playas: Erckenbrack Park, Gull Park y Marlin Park. Erckenbrack Park apareció en la lista de las peores playas el año pasado junto con otras cinco playas del condado de San Mateo. Cuatro de esas peores playas del 2019 no fueron monitoreados en absoluto en 2020. Esto es alarmante ya que este tramo de costa ha experimentado altos niveles de contaminación fecal y es muy popular entre los bañistas que ahora no tienen información sobre la potencial contaminación.
• Capitola Beach en el Condado de Santa Cruz es la playa número tres en la lista de este año. El arroyo de Soquel Creek desemboca en el océano cerca de esta playa, descargando bacterias contaminantes de toda la cuenca. Esta playa ha sido un fastidio desde que se lanzó el Boletín de Calificaciones de Playas.
• La unica Peor Playa del condado de Los Ángeles es la palaya Mother’s Beach en Marina Del Rey, que no es ajena a la lista de las playas más contaminadas del estado. Esta playa está encerrada y experimenta poca acción de las olas, por lo que la contaminación bacteriana no se elimina facilmente.
• Clam Beach en el condado de Humboldt ha recibido el estatus de la Peor Playa en siete de los últimos 11 años. La calidad del agua en esta playa del norte de California se ve afectada negativamente por la escorrentía agrícola que fluye hacia el océano a través de los arroyos de Patrick Creek y Strawberry Creek.
• El Candlestick Point de San Francisco en Windsurfer Circle regresa a la lista después de una pausa de siete años. Candlestick Point se encuentra en la Bahía de San Francisco, y aunque no es un área encerrada, es probable que no experimente tanta circulación de agua como una playa de mar abierto.
• East Beach en Santa Bárbara está haciendo su primera aparición en la lista de las Peores Playas. La contaminación bacteriana del área de Santa Bárbara fluye en el océano hacia la playa de East Beach a través del arroyo de Mission Creek.
Las playas de Oregon no fueron monitoreadas con la frecuencia suficiente para recibir una calificación este verano, y no se monitorearon sus playas durante los meses de invierno. Solo cuatro condados de Oregon recibieron calificaciones durante la temporada de lluvias, que fueron mediocres y muy por debajo del promedio en temporada lluviosa del estado de 82% que recibieron calificaciones de A y B.
Las calificaciones durante la temporada seca de verano en el estado deWashington fueron excelentes y el 96% de las playas recibieron calificaciones de A y B. Las calificaciones en temporada lluviosa fueron excepcionales y por encima del promedio, con un 91% que recibieron calificaciones de A y B. Las playas del estado de Washington no fueron monitoreadas durante los meses de invierno, por lo que no se pudieron calcular las calificaciones durante la temporada seca de invierno.
El verano 2020 fue el primer año en que las playas de Tijuana, México se incluyeron en el Boletín de Calificaciones de Playas. Las playas de El Faro y El Vigía recibieron una B para las calificaciones durante la temporada seca de verano, mientras que Playas Blanca recibió una D. Las calificaciones durante la temporada seca de invierno mostraron un patrón similar donde El Faro y El Vigía recibieron una D, y Playas Blanca recibió una F. Las tres playas recibieron F para la temporada lluviosa. Este tramo de costa recibe a millones de visitantes cada año y se ve muy afectado por la contaminación de las aguas residuales durante todo el año, incluso durante la temporada seca. La fuente principal de contaminación es la planta de tratamiento Punta Bandera ubicada al sur de Tijuana, que regularmente libera aguas residuales no tratadas o parcialmente tratadas al océano.
El Boletín de Calificaciones de Playas se enfoca en la calidad del agua de las playas océanicas. Sin embargo, monitorear la calidad del agua en los sitios de agua dulce, como ríos, lagos y arroyos, y hacer que esa información esté disponible para el público también es importante para proteger la salud pública en sitios recreacionales. Heal the Bay creó el Boletín de Calificaciones de Ríos (River Report Card) para informar al público de la calidad del agua en nuestros ríos y arroyos. Heal the Bay recolecta muestras y analiza la calidad del agua en seis sitios recreacionales en el condado de Los Angeles, recopila datos de monitoreo de 22 stios adicionales del condado de Los Ángeles; y transforma los datos en grados codificados por colores de fácil comprensión. Antes de dirigirse a una área de recreación de agua dulce en el condado de Los Ángeles, consulte nuestro River Report Card en , que se actualiza regularmente durante los meses de verano.
Heal the Bay también patrocina el Proyecto de Ley 1066 de la Asamblea (Bloom) en California, que es el primer paso para garantizar que los sitios de recreación de agua dulce en el estado sean monitoreados para detectar contaminación fecal y que se informe a la comunidad.
For the seventh straight summer, Heal the Bay is posting daily water quality predictions for California Beaches at the Beach Report Card with NowCast. To make daily predictions, we use computer models to examine correlations between environmental conditions (such as temperature and tide) and historical bacteria concentrations. Our NowCast models then predict with a high accuracy how much bacteria could be present in the water given the current local conditions at the beach.
A day at the beach should not make anyone sick. That is why health officials across the state monitor water quality at the beach every week during the summer. And when officials detect high levels of bacteria, they issue a public health advisory. By the time traditional water quality samples are processed, a minimum of 18-24 hours have passed and the information is already outdated – and with samples taken only every 7 days, a weekly water quality grade may not provide the most useful or updated information as water quality can fluctuate rapidly. Heal the Bay believes that we need daily water quality information in order to better protect public health – our NowCast program does exactly that, issuing daily water quality information for 25 beaches.
NowCast predictions appear on the Beach Report Card website and app with the symbols seen below. A Blue “W+” symbol indicates that there is a low risk of illness by coming in contact with the water, and a Red “W-” symbol indicates that there is a high risk of illness by coming in contact with the water.
Head to beachreportcard.org to find daily predictions for 25 beaches across California. Or download our free app on your iOS or Android device to get daily predictions on-the-go.
Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer 2021, we are excited to announce the 25 beaches in our NowCast program, with five new beaches added to the program in 2021:
Trinidad State Beach, Humboldt County *NEW
Luffenholtz State Beach, Humboldt County
Bolinas Beach at Wharf Road, Marin County
Aquatic Park, San Francisco
Ocean Beach at Balboa Street, San Francisco
Linda Mar Beach at San Pedro Creek, San Mateo County
Half Moon Bay State Beach, San Mateo County *NEW
Rio Del Mar, Santa Cruz County
Lover’s Point, Monterey County *NEW
Morro Bay at Atascadero Road, San Luis Obispo County
Hammonds Beach, Santa Barbara County *NEW
Promenade Park at C Street, Ventura County *NEW
Leo Carrillo, Los Angeles County
Venice Beach at Brooks Avenue, Los Angeles County
Venice Breakwater, Los Angeles County
Dockweiler/Toes Beach, Los Angeles County
El Porto, Los Angeles County
Manhattan Beach at 28th Street, Los Angeles County
Redondo Breakwater, Los Angeles County
Torrance Beach at Avenue I, Los Angeles County
Long Beach at 5th Place, Los Angeles County
Long Beach at 72nd Place, Los Angeles County
Seal Beach Pier, Orange County
Huntington Beach at Brookhurst Street, Orange County
Newport Beach at 38th Street, Orange County
Don’t see your beach on the map? Let us know if you have a beach we should consider for NowCast. We are continually refining and expanding this program and hope to cover more beaches in the future. Predicting water quality is complex and we want to make sure we get it right. This means we need access to a myriad of data sources in order to make accurate predictions, and when data are not readily available, we can’t make the prediction.
Communities looking to bring daily water quality predictions to their favorite beach spots can advocate for this cause in the following ways:
Advocate at town halls and city council meetings for increased funding toward ocean and environmental data observation, collection, standardization, and analysis programs.
Support Heal the Bay’s staff scientists efforts to expand monitoring programs and directly fund our work.
Stay informed about your local water quality and reach out to your representatives in California demanding improvements be made to protect public health and the environment.
If you can’t find NowCast predictions in your area, you can see the latest water quality grades issued to over 500 beaches on the Beach Report Card. In the meantime, we are working to expand NowCast, so check back soon to see if your favorite beach has water quality predictions.
A day at the beach should not make anyone sick. That’s why health officials across the state sample water at the beach weekly during the summer. And when officials detect high levels of bacteria, they issue a public health advisory.
The good news: by measuring the amount of bacteria in the water and sharing information with the public in real time, we can help you decide when and where it’s safest to go to the beach. Plus, it raises awareness about ocean pollution and brings much-needed attention to solving systemic waste and runoff issues.
The bad news: weekly samples aren’t enough. Water quality can fluctuate drastically from day to day, with real implications for people’s health. Heal the Bay believes that we need daily samples in order to better protect public health. In 2015, we launched our NowCast program within the Beach Report Card. NowCast supplements the weekly grades provided by public health officials by bringing accurate daily predictions to the public.
NowCast is able to predict concentrations of bacteria in the water on a daily basis, filling in the time gap of weekly bacteria sampling. NowCast consists of computer models that examine correlations between environmental conditions (such as temperature and tide) and historical bacteria concentrations. Our models then predict how much bacteria could be present in the water given the current local conditions at the beach.
NowCast predictions appear on the Beach Report Card with the symbols seen below. A Blue “W+” symbol indicates that there is a low risk of illness by coming in contact with the water, and a Red “W-” symbol indicates that there is a high risk of illness by coming in contact with the water.
Good Water Quality
Poor Water Quality
Head to beachreportcard.org to find daily predictions for over 25 beaches across California. Or download the free app on your iOS or Android device to get daily predictions on-the-go.
List of Beaches With Daily NowCast Water Quality Predictions
Ocean Beach (Balboa St.), San Francisco
Ocean Beach (Lincoln Way), San Francisco
Candlestick Point (Windsurfer Circle), San Francisco – NEW
Main Beach (Boardwalk), Santa Cruz County
Leo Carrillo, Los Angeles County – NEW
Will Rogers (Temescal Canyon), Los Angeles County
Will Rogers (Santa Monica Canyon), Los Angeles County
Santa Monica (Pico Ave.), Los Angeles County – NEW
Venice Beach Pier, Los Angeles County
Dockweiler/Toes Beach, Los Angeles County
El Porto, Los Angeles County – NEW
Manhattan Beach (28th St.), Los Angeles County
Hermosa Beach Pier, Los Angeles County – NEW
Redondo Breakwater, Los Angeles County
Redondo Beach Pier, Los Angeles County
Torrance Beach (Avenue I), Los Angeles County – NEW
Long Beach (72nd Place), Los Angeles County
Seal Beach (1st), Orange County – NEW
Seal Beach Pier, Orange County
Huntington Beach (Brookhurst St.), Orange County
Newport Beach (52nd), Orange County – NEW
Newport Beach (38th), Orange County
Aliso Creek Outlet, Orange County – NEW
Monarch Beach (Salt Creek Outlet), Orange County – NEW
Doheny State Beach, Orange County
San Clemente Pier (Lifeguard Tower), Orange County
Don’t see your beach on the map? We’re working on it! Predicting water quality is complex and we want to make sure we get it right. This means we need access to a myriad of data sources in order to make accurate predictions, and when data are not readily available, we can’t make the prediction.
If you’re looking to help monitor and improve the water quality at your favorite beach spots, here’s a few things you can do:
Advocate at town halls and city council meetings for increased funding toward ocean and environmental data observation, collection, standardization, and analysis programs.
Support Heal the Bay’s staff scientists efforts to expand monitoring programs and directly fund our work.
Stay informed about your local water quality and reach out to your representatives in California demanding improvements be made to protect public health and our natural environment.
If you can’t find daily NowCast predictions in your area, you can still see the latest water quality grades issued to over 500 beaches on the Beach Report Card Website. In the meantime, we are working to improve and expand the NowCast system so check back frequently to see if your favorite beach has water quality predictions.
Our 30th Anniversary of the annual Beach Report Card:
Thirty years ago people were getting sick from going in the ocean, and there was no way for them to know when or where they were at risk. Heal the Bay introduced the Beach Report Card in 1990-1991, a tool to help keep the public safe at the beach. It is also a powerful resource used to advocate for water quality policies and improvement projects.
Thirty years later, Heal the Bay is stoked to release the 30th annual Beach Report Card, because a day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick. This report assigns A-to-F letter grades for more than 500 California beaches, based on levels of bacterial pollution in the ocean.
So, what did our staff scientists find? Here are our major takeaways:
California beach water quality improved in 2019-2020, driven in large part by decreased rainfall. Rainfall across coastal counties in California was 12 percentage points lower than the historical average. Less rain means fewer pollutants, including bacteria, were flushed through storm drains and rivers into the ocean. Because of this pollutant flushing, only 65% of CA beaches received good or excellent grades during wet weather.
The notorious Beach Bummer list—a ranking of the ten most polluted beaches in the state—includes six bacteria-impaired beaches within San Mateo County. This is an unusually high number of beach bummers for a single county. The remaining four beach bummers are located in Southern California and are frequent pollution offenders. (View the Beach Bummers of 2020.)
While scientists remain deeply concerned about water quality issues, there is some good news for beachgoers. 92% of the 500 California beaches monitored by Heal the Bay received an A or B grade for the summer season. During dry weather in the winter season, 91% of beaches received an A or B grade, which was slightly better than average. (Go to pages 5-6 of the report for the full Executive Summary.)
Overall, 42 out of more than 500 monitored California beaches made it on Heal the Bay’s coveted Honor Roll this year, which is higher than last year (33) and the year before (37) likely due to lower than average rainfall. To make it on the Honor Roll the beach must be monitored year-round and score perfect A+ water quality grades each week in all seasons and weather conditions. Most beaches on the Honor Roll are in Southern California because many counties in Central California and Northern California do not sample frequently enough during the winter months. (For the full Honor Roll list, see pages 14-15 of the report.)
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended daily life around the world and has devastated households and communities. We must continue to practice physical distancing and other health and safety procedures, and to keep in mind that a large percentage of people can spread the virus without showing symptoms. The closure of beaches in many locations due to COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of beaches in our lives as open spaces for recreation, relaxation, exploration, and places to gather. But, COVID-19 has also exposed major systemic failures; open spaces, including beaches, are not equally accessible to all people and the public health impacts of health crises as well as poor water and air quality are not shared equally across communities. Low-income communities of color tend to be the most burdened and vulnerable communities, bearing the brunt of environmental and economic impacts. As we plan for the future post-COVID-19, we can and must do better to protect everyone. (Learn more on page 49.)
Heal the Bay is expanding the Beach Report Card to include three beaches in Tijuana, Mexico: El Faro, El Vigia, and Playa Blanca. These popular beaches in Mexico, along with Imperial Beach in California, US, are impacted by millions of gallons of raw sewage that flow into the ocean through the Tijuana River. As a result, the public is at a greater risk for getting ill and local beaches are often closed for months on end. Heal the Bay is partnering with Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental to help spread awareness about water quality in Tijuana. Margarita Diaz, Director of Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental, says “Showing the integration of what is happening on both the US and Mexican portion of our watershed is a long overdue requirement for understanding environmental health issues—particularly as they relate to water quality in our shared watershed—given that they are intrinsically connected.” (Learn more onpage 50.)
Avoid shallow, enclosed beaches with poor water circulation
Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains, creeks, and piers
Stay out of the water for at least 72-hours after a rain event
Wear a mask when not in the water and remain at least 6 -feet away from people not from your household at all times
Follow all local health and safety regulations, and check in with the lifeguard on duty for more information about the best places to swim
In analyzing the last thirty years of water quality data, one major finding we uncovered in California was the number of beach and coastal access days the public lost out on due to bacterial-pollution risks.
There have been 66,605 bacterial-pollution exceedance events at California beaches in the last 30 years (Summer Dry, Winter Dry, Wet Weather combined). That’s an average of 2,220 exceedance events per year in California. We estimate the bacterial pollution issue has resulted in 132,130 to 396,390 beach advisory days where the public has not been allowed to access the beach. See pages 22-27 to view an outline of the major policies that the Beach Report Card has influenced over the years as well as whether or not water quality has improved over time.
The annual Beach Report Card includes an analysis of water quality for three time periods: summer dry season (April through October 2019), winter dry weather (November 2019 through March 2020) and year-round wet weather conditions. The grading methodology is endorsed by the State Water Resources Control Board. All county health departments in California are required to test beach water quality samples for fecal indicator bacteria at least once a week during the summer season. Many counties also monitor heavily used beaches year-round. Heal the Bay compiles the complex shoreline data, analyzes it, and assigns an easy-to-understand letter grade.
In addition to providing weekly water quality grades for 500 beaches statewide, Heal the Bay scientists continue to expand NowCast, a daily water quality predictive service at 20 popular beaches in California. Using sophisticated machine learning, environmental science data, modeling, and past bacteria samples, Heal the Bay accurately predicts when beaches should post warning signs because of potential bacterial pollution. This new approach enhances public health protections by providing more advanced water quality information to public health officials and beachgoers.
Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is made possible through the generous support from SIMA Environmental Fund, Swain Barber Foundation, and Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Heal the Bay hosted a live conference on June 30 at Noon to reveal this year’s annual Beach Report Card findings. Speakers included: Dr. Shelley Luce, President and CEO at Heal the Bay, Luke Ginger, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, Frankie Orrala, Angler Outreach Program Manager at Heal the Bay, and Laurie Silvan, Director of the Board for Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental (PFEA). View recording: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/2147380701854201099
Every year, Heal the Bay staff scientists assign A-to-F letter grades to beaches all along the California coast. These grades are based on bacteria pollution and help inform public health. This year, 92% of 500 California beaches received an A or B grade for the busy summer season. However, several beaches are on our list of no-goes.
We’re announcing our 2019-2020 Beach Bummers List, a ranking of the ten most polluted beaches in the state based on levels of harmful bacteria. This year, six of the ten Beach Bummers are from San Mateo County and the remaining four are in Southern California.
The Beach Bummers of 2020
No. 1 – Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at San Vicente Creek Outlet (San Mateo County) Fitzgerald Marine Reserve has never appeared on the Beach Bummer list before. The beach generally has good summer water quality, but is impacted by dry weather runoff from San Vicente Creek. This beach is one of six San Mateo County Beach Bummers this year, which is unprecedented for one county.
No. 2 – Poche Beach at Creek Outlet (Orange County) Poche Beach is no stranger to the Beach Bummer list, appearing on the list in 2018, 2013, 2012, and 2011. The beach is impacted by the Prima Deshecha Cañada storm drain (referred to as Poche Creek), which carries pollution into the ocean even during dry weather from the Dana Point area.
No. 3 – Pillar Point Harbor at Capistrano Avenue (San Mateo County) Pillar Point Harbor at Capistrano Avenue is one of three Pillar Point Harbor Beach Bummers this year. There are several storm drains that carry pollutants into the harbor in dry weather, and the seawalls around the harbor prevent pollutants from getting flushed away.
No. 4 – Foster City, Erckenbrack Park (San Mateo County) Erckenbrack Park is a first time Beach Bummer; however, this area of the San Francisco Bay has had a known record of poor water quality. This beach lies within an engineered patchwork of enclosed channels that are impacted by dry weather runoff from the surrounding residential and commercial developments.
No. 5 – Topanga Beach at Creek Outlet (Los Angeles County) A 2014 study found Topanga Lagoon as the likely source of bacteria pollution at Topanga Beach. The lagoon sees high amounts of bird and dog fecal matter. When breached, the fecal matter flows into the ocean resulting in high bacteria concentrations. Planning for a lagoon restoration is underway and could mitigate poor water quality.
No. 6 – Pillar Point Harbor Beach (San Mateo County) Pillar Point Harbor Beach is the second of three Beach Bummers contained within the Pillar Point Harbor. Unfortunately, it appears that the entire harbor was more polluted than normal this past year.
No. 7 – Linda Mar Beach at San Pedro Creek (San Mateo County) Linda Mar Beach is making its third consecutive appearance on the Beach Bummer list this year, and is one of six San Mateo County Bummers. This beach is impacted by runoff during dry weather, which flows untreated into the ocean through San Pedro Creek.
No. 8 – Mission Bay, Vacation Isle North Cove (San Diego County) Vacation Isle North Cove is an enclosed beach in Mission Bay that is impacted by dry weather runoff from the surrounding commercial and residential developments. Pollutants are not easily flushed away from this enclosed beach, which is located within a deep cove.
No. 9 – San Clemente Pier (Orange County) San Clemente Pier is making its second consecutive appearance on the Beach Bummer list and is one of two Orange County Beach Bummers this year. This beach is impacted by untreated dry weather runoff that flows into the ocean through a storm drain.
No. 10 – Pillar Point Harbor at Westpoint Avenue (San Mateo County) Rounding out the Beach Bummer list is Pillar Point Harbor at Westpoint Avenue, which is the third Pillar Point Harbor Beach Bummer and one of six San Mateo County Beach Bummers this year. Untreated dry weather runoff appears to be causing significant water quality problems in this enclosed harbor.
For a detailed look at beach results by location, why some beaches are more vulnerable to higher levels of pollution, and more information about the Beach Bummers (pages 16-18), refer to our complete annual Beach Report Card 2019-20.
Polluted ocean waters are a significant health risk to beachgoers. We encourage all beachgoers to check the Beach Report Card when planning a trip to the ocean! Because a day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick.
Coming into contact with beach water that has a grade of C or lower greatly increases the risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, and rashes.
Every year, Heal the Bay staff scientists assign A-to-F letter grades to beaches all along the California coast. These grades are based on bacteria pollution and help inform public health. This year, 94% of 500 California beaches received an A or B grade for the busy summer season. However, several beaches are on our list of no-goes.
We’re announcing our 2018-2019 Beach Bummers List, a ranking of the 10 most polluted beaches in the state based on levels of harmful bacteria. This year, 5 of the 10 Beach Bummers are from Southern California, including Cabrillo Beach (harborside) and Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach in L.A. County.
Polluted ocean waters are a significant health risk to beach-goers. We encourage all beach-goers to use this list (and our Beach Report Card) when planning a trip to the ocean! Because a day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick.
Avoid shallow, enclosed beaches with poor water circulation
Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains, creeks, and piers
Stay out of the water for at least 72-hours after a rain event
Coming into contact with beach water that has a grade of C or lower greatly increases the risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, and rashes. For a detailed look at beach results by location, why some beaches are more vulnerable to higher levels of pollution, and more information, refer to our complete report.