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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Beach Report Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our new NowCast program fills these gaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

What is the source of potential radiation?

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

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

What are the concerns of some California residents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are fish species found in the Pacific Ocean now radioactive?

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

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

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

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

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

How can I stay updated on the latest developments?

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

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

Japanese tsunami marine debris beach survey noaa radiation nuclear fukushima

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–  Kirsten James

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

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

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

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

Science

Marine Protected Areas and Fisheries

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

Stream Team

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

Malibu Creek Watershed

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

Predicting Beach Water Quality

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

Education

Youth Summits

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

Teacher Opportunities

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

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

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

Classroom Enrichment

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

Advocacy

A “Yes” for Clean Beaches

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

Plastic Bag Bans

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

Community Action

Zero Waste Cleanups

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

Compton Creek

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

A Park in South L.A.

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

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

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



So maybe we’re a little late popping the bubbly on January 17, versus on New Year’s Eve, but we have a lot to celebrate this week!

First, Moët & Chandon and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, along with supporters like you, helped Heal the Bay win $11,000 through Moët & Chandon’s #Toast4aCause at the Golden Globes on Sunday. The champagne company pledged $10,000 to the charity with the most re-tweets by Monday at midnight. Julia – who serves on Heal the Bay’s Board– nominated us, earning us $1000. Then we asked you to help get the word out, and you did it! We won! Thank YOU and thank you Moët & Chandon.

We’ll be able to do a lot of good with that amount of money, which will help support our programs. Again, thank you (and happy birthday!) to Julia, who remains a frequent and constant champion of our cause.

Our Beach Report Card also received significant support this week from LAcarGUY. We thank them for their ongoing commitment to protecting our coastline.

Holiday thank you “leftovers” in 2013 include local businesses Bedhead Pajamas and Earth Scents, for helping us kick off the giving season.

And since we’re still in the NYE spirit, we also thank the Basement Tavern @ The Victorian in Santa Monica for donating the proceeds from their New Year’s bash to Heal the Bay and the California Heritage Museum. 

Want to see your name here? You and/or your company can also support Heal the Bay’s work to keep our local waters healthy and clean.



“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Each year on the federal holiday marking Dr. King’s birthday, Americans celebrate his legacy by working together to serve our neighbors and communities, making the third Monday of January more than just a day of sales at the mall, but a national “MLK Day of Service.”

Come keep your community clean, by joining Heal the Bay this MLK Weekend on Saturday in Venice for our first Nothin’ But Sand beach cleanup of 2013. We are striving to go “Zero Waste” at our cleanups, so please bring your own reusable gloves, buckets or bags from home. And, if you didn’t know already, our monthly beach cleanups are perfect “get involved” opportunities for the ENTIRE FAMILY – an introduction to a lifetime of making a difference.

Nothin’ But Sand runs from 10 a.m.-noon, which gives you just enough time to get over to Heal the Bay’s  Santa Monica Pier Aquarium to celebrate Underwater Parks Day, 12:30-5 p.m. The annual event recognizes Marine Protected Areas (aka “MPAs”) and the aquatic life they safeguard. Visitors will receive a free canvas tote bag to decorate and have a chance to join various fun activities designed to teach ways to improve the ocean’s health.

With the new year, we encourage you to join Heal the Bay as a member. We are only as effective as the folks who band with us to solve local water quality problems. Help us protect our coastal waters and watersheds and join 12,000 other active members to help fund our education, science and advocacy programs. We’ll keep you up-to-date on work and you’ll enjoy member benefits, such as FREE passes to our Aquarium, Beach Report Card emails and other special offers.

Discover more ways to get involved with Heal the Bay.

The MLK Day of Service is a part of United We Serve, the President’s national call to service initiative. It calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems.



On January 8, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the suit, Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council, which was initiated by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Los Angeles Waterkeeper in 2008. The suit focuses on the issue of liability for the discharge of toxic pollutants under the District’s municipal storm water permit (“MS4”). 

The Court ruled very narrowly on the case and remanded it back to the 9th Circuit Court. 

The good news is that the Clean Water Act’s enforceability has not been changed as a result of their decision.

For more information please see the NRDC and LA Waterkeeper’s press release and this blog post on the Center for Progressive Reforms Page.

Learn more about the Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure which would reduce harmful pollution from getting into our waterways.

Stay up-to-date on our clean water advocacy work, follow us on Twitter.



The EPA released its final National Recreational Beach Water Quality Criteria this week. After many years of fighting for strong protections, we are greeting the new standards with mixed emotions. The criteria, which hadn’t been updated since 1986, basically determine the allowable levels of illness-inducing bacteria in our nation’s waterbodies. They are a critical tool for ensuring that people don’t get sick when they take a swim at their local beach or lake.

On the positive side, the new guidelines are more protective of public health in several respects than those floated in a surprisingly weak draft document last December. These improvements are thanks to the efforts of Heal the Bay and other environmental organizations.   

However, there are some major steps backwards from the 1986 criteria.  For instance, the new criteria allow for states to choose between two sets of standards based on two different estimated illness rates. Giving the states the option of selecting between two illness rates makes no sense.

Letting states determine their own “acceptable illness rates” allows for major inconsistencies in public health protection among states. What state, if left the choice, would sign-up for stricter standards? The less relaxed standard of the two is clearly less protective of public health, though EPA inaccurately claims that either set of criteria would protect public health.  Further, we do not believe the illness rates that were selected (32 or 36 allowable illnesses for every 1,000  recreators) are protective enough of public health. 

The EPA also missed a major opportunity to encourage states to provide more timely water quality results, through testing known as rapid methods.

Standard testing of water samples now take between 18-24 hours to process, meaning that the public is getting day-old water quality information, at best. EPA developed a rapid method that would get us closer to real-time measurement, therefore increasing public health protection. However, this method cannot be used as a stand-alone process under the new criteria, therefore leaving little incentive for states to move forward with more timely measurement.

The EPA is also providing too much wiggle room to municipalities in the new guidelines by allowing them to employ unproven alternative criteria at certain sites. So-called Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA) allows agencies to assess potential human health risks based strictly on the presence of different fecal sources including humans, birds, cows, and dogs. in the beach water. However, much research has yet to be conducted on illness rates and risk associated with specific sources. The alternative criteria are premature to use at most sites. QMRA should only be pursued at remote beach locations (non-urbanized) with no known human sources or influences.

However, not all was lost. Heal the Bay worked very hard to change the draft criteria’s proposed 90-day geometric mean standard to 30-days, which is more indicative of the latest beach water quality, thereby more protective of public health.  This change was made in the final criteria.

In addition, we made some headway with the allowable exceedance threshold.  If a water sample exceeds the bacteria standard it means there is a potential public health risk. A lower allowable exceedance rate will trigger action from the polluter more readily and this will increase public health protection.

So it’s encouraging to see the EPA lower the previously proposed national water quality exceedance threshold from 25% to 10% (above the standard), which is more in-line with California’s current allowable exceedance rates. An allowable exceedance rate of 25% could mask chronically polluted beaches, therefore inhibiting future water quality improvement efforts.

Over the past year, Heal the Bay, along with a coalition of concerned environmental groups, fought tirelessly to strengthen the draft criteria. We submitted detailed comments including an extensive data analysis to EPA, attended countless meetings with EPA staffers, and created a campaign centered on submitting hundreds of petitions directly to EPA’s Administrator, Lisa Jackson, urging for criteria with strong public health protection. 

We also solicited the support of members of congress, such as Congressman Henry Waxman, who expressed concerns to USEPA about their approach. (Kirsten James, our Water Quality Director, traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby lawmakers on strengthening new recreational water quality criteria.)

We made several important steps forward to strengthen the EPA’s final revised standards. But we are concerned that having two sets of criteria could lead to confusion for the public and for those implementing the new criteria.  It may mean the status quo in some states, though hopefully states will choose the criteria more protective of public health.

To compound this, EPA’s Beach Grant fund, which allocates moneys towards state beach monitoring programs, may be completely eliminated in the near future. Absence of this support could lead to major backsliding of state beach programs. We are encouraging states to explore more sustainable funding sources in addition to implementing the more protective criteria, to better protect beach-goers from getting sick after a day at the beach.

Urge your congressional representative to support federal funding for beach water testing programs.



In the face of serious concerns from Heal the Bay, our environmental partners and the USEPA, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted the proposed stormwater permit for L.A. County on November 8.

Since the summer, the Regional Board had been mulling a new stormwater permit that contained weakened water quality protections, which Heal the Bay argued could result in dirtier water, and a higher risk of getting sick any time you swim or surf in our local waters.

At various public meetings we galvanized public support through our “Take L.A. by Storm” campaign and urged the Regional Board to keep strong protections that must require cities and dischargers to meet safe water quality standards.

Throughout this process, we disputed the ongoing and erroneous assertion that implementing stormwater pollution plans will cost regional cities billions of dollars. Numerous municipalities around the nation have undertaken innovative and effective stormwater projects that provide multiple benefits at limited expense.

While we are disappointed with the outcome and the lack of strong and enforceable numeric limits, there are some positives within the permit: Very strong low-impact development requirements, strict compliance with beach bacteria dry-weather TMDLs (Total Mazimun Daily Loads) and increased receiving water monitoring, for example.

We are grateful to everyone who supported “Take LA By Storm” over the last few months! Without everyone’s strong advocacy, the permit would be in a much weaker state and we wouldn’t have these strong requirements in place.

Rest assured that over the next few weeks, we’ll be working with our enviro colleagues to discuss options on how to proceed from here.

Read more about what we are up against in this fight for clean water.Take L.A. By Storm!

Sign up for our Action Alerts to stay up to date on the Take L.A. by Storm campaign, or follow us on Twitter for real-time updates with the hashtag #LAbyStorm.