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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Climate Change

THE CALIFORNIA COASTLINE consists of various habitats including kelp forests, estuaries, wetlands, rocky reefs, and rocky intertidal zones (also known as tide pools). All of these habitats are vital natural resources that support thriving ecosystems, which in turn support healthy communities; provide economic and recreational value; and offer a natural form of climate resilience by dampening effects of sea level rise as well as absorbing the majority of our fossil fuel emissions and the extra heat as global temperatures rise.  

“… to promote the public safety, health, and welfare, and to protect public and private property, wildlife, marine fisheries, and other ocean resources, and the natural environment, it is necessary to protect the ecological balance of the coastal zone and prevent its deterioration and destruction.” – CA Coastal Act 

Oceans have served as a climate buffer for decades, but this has come at great cost because the climate crisis, accelerated by human activities, has altered the oceans’ natural processes. We see increasing ocean acidification, higher water temperatures, more frequent harmful algal blooms, disruption of ocean circulation, and rising sea levels that physically alter coastal habitats. In addition to these impacts from the climate crisis, stormwater pollution, plastic, and other contaminants affect our rivers, lakes, and ocean every day. Even now, in the 50th year of the Clean Water Act, half of US waters remain too polluted to serve their intended beneficial uses, such as water supply, recreation, habitat, and more.  

For more information about local impacts, check out Heal the Bay’s 2021 Climate Change Aquarium Tour where our Senior Education Manager, Kelly Kelly, explains the climate impacts on the coastal and intertidal habitats of the Santa Monica Bay.  

 

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@healthebay – Climate Change Aquarium Tour

In spite of all of these destructive impacts, our coastal and marine ecosystems persist. Without even having to get into the water, we can observe this incredible resilience within intertidal ecosystems. Tide pool habitat conditions shift throughout the day as the tides rise and fall, from exposure to dry air and UV radiation, to complete submergence in ocean water. The organisms that live in these habitats have evolved to thrive under constantly changing conditions – dry vs. wet, hot vs. cold, exposed to land-based predators vs. not, and fluctuations in salinity as well. They may even survive as sea level rises, but only if they are given enough time to adapt, and enough room to move up shore. That part is up to us. If we drastically reduce our fossil fuel emissions, and even work to draw carbon back out of the atmosphere with nature-based solutions, we can slow climate change enough to allow for adaptation within these coastal ecosystems, as well as in our own human communities through practices such as managed retreat and protection through living shorelines. Slowing the rate of climate change will take immense and immediate action.  

Take the Climate Challenge 

We know that that majority of fossil fuel emissions (71%, in fact!) are from big corporations and extraction operations. But we are not powerless in this climate crisis. Individual action adds up and provides us with a daily reminder of why this fight matters. Beyond that, individual action can also take the form of supporting the systemic change and resilient policies that we need to tackle the biggest sources of emissions. Whether you have money, time, creativity, passion, or something else entirely your own, we all have a unique role that we can play. You can start with small changes at home, or do your part for critical systemic change by signing petitions or calling political representatives. Together, our actions can make huge waves. 

Get involved this weekend by joining Heal the Bay’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) Watch team for an early morning tide pool tour and bioblitz – a biological survey recording the species living within a designated area — to document the current state of this critical intertidal ecosystem.  

Want to do more? Consider the skills, experiences, and resources you have to offer and create a personal list of climate actions. Spring into Action today by doing one thing on this list, and then use that momentum to do what you can, when you can, with what you have all year long.  

Here are some ideas to choose from to get you started with your personalized climate challenge… 

Where We Live 

  • Pick up trash around your neighborhood 
  • Ditch single-use plastic and switch to reusables at home
  • Refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle our waste – yes the order matters!
  • Remove any hardscape or lawn on your property and replace it with a vegetable garden or drought tolerant native vegetation
  • Start or join a community garden
  • Sign up for Green Power if you live in the City of LA, or opt into 100% renewable energy if your city is part of the Clean Power Alliance
  • Reduce your energy needs
    • Turn off lights, unplug unused electronics, and swap out old lights with LEDs (once the bulbs burn out)
    • Bring in a professional to insulate your home, or find simple swaps around the house like adding thick curtains around your windows
    • Set your thermostat for maximum energy (and cost) savings, or regulate temperature without a thermostat by opening/closing windows and using those thick curtains
    • Wash clothes in cold water, and hang dry rather than using the dryer
  • Decrease your water usage

How We Commute 

  • Telecommute if it is an option 
  • Choose public transportation 
  • Walk or skateboard for shorter distances 
  • Ride a bicycle 
  • Support projects that improve access to alternative and active transportation  
  • If you must drive… 
    • Carpool 
    • Invest in a hybrid or electric vehicle 
    • Use car sharing services with electric vehicles 
    • Make sure your vehicle is in tiptop shape for optimal efficiency (secure gas cap, inflate tires, etc.) 

What We Eat 

What We Learn 

How We Vote 

  • Vote in local, statewide and national elections! 
  • Support just and equitable environmental policies in support of:   
    • Climate resiliency 
    • A tax on carbon 
    • The end of fossil fuels 
    • Regenerative agriculture 
    • Renewable energy 
    • A reduction in plastic waste 
  • Be an advocate 
    • Attend and give public comments at local Agency, City Council, or County Board of Supervisor meetings  
    • Send a letter to your representatives so they know climate action is important to you, because they may represent you on the global stage (COP26) 
    • Participate in public demonstrations and rallies with groups like Youth Climate Strike Los Angeles 
    • Sign petitions 
    • Create climate inspired art and share it with the world 

Questions about any of these possible actions?  Contact Annelisa Moe here at Heal the Bay for more information or support in your advocacy work! 



Join community scientists in California to observe and document the King Tides on January 2-3, 2021. This extreme high tide event provides a glimpse of what we face with climate-driven sea level rise. Your images will contribute to a better understanding of how to adapt to and combat the climate crisis. UPDATE: Get a glimpse of the King Tide this winter.

The King Tide is back for 2022

Thank you to all who rushed to the beaches of Southern California on December 4-5, 2021 to help us document the King Tide. Your observations were vital to prepare Los Angeles for a future affected by climate change and we need your help once more. This tidal phenomenon is predicted to return on  January 2-3, 2022 and we are calling all of those who love the California coast, once again, to help capture the King Tide.

Sea Level Rise

Before we get into the details of this year’s King Tides event, let’s begin with the larger context of sea level rise. Humans are polluting Earth’s atmosphere with greenhouse gases (GHGs) like CO2, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels, driving average global temperatures up at an unprecedented rate.

Oceans have helped to buffer this steady pollution stream by absorbing 90% of our excess heat and 25% of our CO2 emissions. This, among myriad impacts, has increased sea temperatures, causing ocean water to expand. The combination of ocean water expansion and new water input from the melting of landlocked glaciers results in rapid sea level rise.

Take a look at images from the NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer. Light blue shows areas expected to flood consistently as sea levels rise. Bright green shows low-lying areas vulnerable to flooding from groundwater upwelling as seawater intrusion increases. 

According to the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, sea level will rise 2 feet by 2100 even if efforts are made to lower GHG emissions, and possibly as much as 7 feet by 2100 if we continue with “business as usual” (i.e., burning fossil fuels at the current unsustainable rate). Rapid sea level rise threatens beach loss, coastal and intertidal habitat loss, seawater intrusion into our groundwater supply (which could contaminate our drinking water supply and cause inland flooding from groundwater upwelling), as well as impacts from flooding or cliff erosion on coastal infrastructures like roads, homes, businesses, power plants and sewage treatment plants—not to mention nearby toxic sites.

King Tides: A Glimpse of Future Sea Levels

Ocean tides on Earth are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon (and the sun, to a lesser extent) on our oceans. When the moon is closest to Earth along its elliptical orbit, and when the moon, earth, and sun are aligned, gravitational pull compounds, causing extreme high and low tides called Perigean-Spring Tides or King Tides. These extreme tides provide a glimpse of future sea level rise.

Image courtesy of NOAA National Ocean Service.

In fact, King Tides in Southern California this December and January are expected to be 2-3 feet higher than normal high tides (and lower than normal low tides), providing a clear snapshot of what the regular daily high tides will likely be by 2100.

 

What is being done

Many coastal cities in California have developed Local Coastal Programs in coordination with the CA Coastal Commission to address sea level rise. The Coastal Commission is also developing new sea level rise guidance for critical infrastructure, recently released for public review. Unfortunately, if we continue with “business as usual,” the rate of sea level rise will occur much more quickly than we can adapt to it, which is why we need bold global action now to combat the climate crisis and limit sea level rise as much as possible.

What you can do

Motivated people like you can become community scientists by submitting King Tides photographs the weekend of January 2-3 to contribute to the digital storytelling of sea level rise. These photos are used to better understand the climate crisis, to educate people about the impacts, to catalog at-risk communities and infrastructure, and plan for mitigation and adaptation. Join the Coastal Commission in their CA King Tides Project!

Get involved in the January 2-3 #KingTides event

Instructions from the CA Coastal Commission:
1) Find your local high tide time for one of the King Tides dates.
2) Visit the shoreline on the coast, bay, or delta.
3) Be aware of your surroundings to ensure you are safe and are not disturbing any animals.
4) Make sure your phone’s location services are turned on for your camera and then take your photo. The best photos show the water level next to familiar landmarks such as cliffs, rocks, roads, buildings, bridge supports, sea walls, staircases, and piers.
5) Add your photo to the King Tides map either by uploading it via the website or by using the Survey123 app.

 

In the Los Angeles area? Here are some areas we expect will have noticeable King Tides:

In Palos Verdes, we recommend: Pelican Cove, Terrenea Beach, White Point Beach, and Point Fermin. In Malibu, we suggest: Paradise Cove, Westward Beach, Broad Beach, El Pescador State Beach, and Leo Carrillo State Beach.



On December 3, 2021 our local water agency leaders gathered together to discuss the major water challenges impacting Greater Los Angeles and how to solve them at Heal the Bay’s first-ever ONE Water Day event.

ONE Water Day at Will Rogers State Beach

The sun was shining, the DJ was playing the hits, and our Heal the Bay team was setting up for a cleanup (while dancing in the sand) as we welcomed over 200 attendees to a first-of-its-kind networking opportunity at Will Rogers State Beach. ONE Water Day  brought together many prominent heads of local government agencies and engineering companies to meet and discuss the future of water in Los Angeles. There were more than 26 different organizations represented at this networking event, sparking countless partnerships, and raising over $120,000 for Heal the Bay.

The Cleanup

ONE Water Day attendees participated in a scavenger hunt to clean the beach and experience what trash and debris ends up at our beaches from all over our local watersheds.

After guests had time to mix and mingle, the day started off with a land acknowledgement to recognize the Tongva and Chumash tribal ancestral lands where the event was being held. Then attendees were invited to participate in a Heal the Bay scavenger hunt for trash. This hands-on and team-oriented beach cleanup was an opportunity for individuals from different organizations to collaborate and observe first-hand the realities of pollution.

In just 30 minutes, 19 teams collected 200 buckets of trash along two miles of the Pacific Palisades coastline. Amongst an eclectic array of waste, more than 600 cigarette butts were collected, with Team 12 taking home first place prizes for the most items captured.

After the cleanup, a panini lunch was served by the fantastic team of Critic’s Choice Catering, giving attendees a chance to recharge and enjoy the many event exhibitors and perfect beach weather on a winter day.

The Panel

ONE Water Day Panel, guest speakers from left to right; Martin Adams, Robert Ferrante, Adel Hagekhalil, Dr. Shelley Luce (host), Mark Pestrella, Barbara Romero, Dave Pedersen.

Next on the agenda was a panel conversation hosted by Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay CEO and President. The panel guest speakers included six influential leaders speaking on the topic of Los Angeles water. All were eager to discuss systemic water quality issues, the impacts of climate change, and the cooperative solutions they envision for Los Angeles.

Speakers included: Adel Hagekhalil, General Manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; Barbara Romero, Director and General Manager, LA Sanitation and EnvironmentRobert Ferrante, Chief Engineer and General Manager, Los Angeles County Sanitation DistrictsDave Pedersen, General Manager, Las Virgenes Municipal Water DistrictMartin Adams, General Manager and Chief Engineer, LA Department of Water and Power; Mark Pestrella, Director of LA County Public Works.

Energy was high and the feeling was hopeful as the ONE Water Day panel shared their visions for the future. Guest speakers from left to right; Adel Hagekhalil, Dr. Shelley Luce (host), Mark Pestrella, Barbara Romero.

Takeaways from the ONE Water Panel from Dr. Shelly Luce

ONE Water Day was a unique event. The panel was a rare honor and opportunity to question each of the guest speakers on their plans for building a sustainable water supply for Los Angeles in this time of extreme drought and climate change.

 We learned so much from our panel speakers at the event. The Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation and the Department of Water and Power are collaborating to recycle treated wastewater for drinking water. The LA County Sanitation Districts and the Las Virgenes Metropolitan Water District are doing the same in their respective areas, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. And, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works is collaborating with cities throughout the region to capture and treat urban runoff, aka stormwater, so it can be infiltrated into groundwater or reused for irrigation.

 This massive shift to conserving and recycling our water has taken place incrementally over decades. It requires a level of collaboration among agencies that has never occurred before.

 Adel Hagekhalil, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District, stated it perfectly:

We take water for granted, and we forget that water is essential to firefighting, to drinking, to our health and our safety; hospitals don’t run without water. Fire cannot be fought without water. Businesses cannot run without water Schools cannot be schools without water. Homelessness cannot be addressed without water. So, water is life,” Hagekhalil said. “Sometimes we’re willing to pay $200 for our cell phone, but are we willing to pay that money for the future of our water?”

 To demonstrate this commitment, Hagekhalil asked everyone at the event to stand and pledge to work every day toward the ONE Water goals. All did so, willingly and enthusiastically. It was a great moment for all of us who care deeply about our sustainable water future to affirm our commitment.

Thank You

A huge thank you to the amazing ONE Water Day Sponsors, our proud partners of Heal the Bay, and organizations that are leading the way in their commitment to environmental sustainability:

AECOM, WSP, Metropolitan Water District, LA Sanitation and Environment

 

Thank you to all the guests in attendance. Your initiative and dedication are vital toward building a bright and equitable future for water in Los Angeles.

See Event Pictures

 

 

Los Angeles has major water challenges to solve, and Heal the Bay sees events like this as an opportunity to upload the value of collaboration and accountability, to continue conversations that lead to solutions, and to create opportunities for partnerships like never before. This Heal the Bay event is the first of its kind for our organization, but is certainly not the last.

 

Want to support our ongoing efforts for for One Water?      Donate Here



2021 was a turning point for environmental legislation in California.

Following a legislative season of major challenges for the environment during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, our assemblymembers and senators were able to push through some exciting new laws and regulations this year to tackle plastic pollution, water quality, and climate change. Despite some successes, there is much more work to be done. Our team of scientists and advocates breaks it down for you below so you can stay in the know.

A Big Win for Water Quality: AB 1066 (Bloom)

This year, Heal the Bay sponsored Assembly Bill 1066 which passed with flying colors through the legislature. We firmly believe that inland water recreation areas, where people swim, boat, and wade in the water, should have the same health protections as coastal areas. AB 1066 takes the first steps toward addressing water quality monitoring disparities between ocean and freshwater sites by requiring that the California Water Quality Monitoring Council develop recommendations for a uniform statewide freshwater monitoring program. Learn more about this bill and what it means for freshwater quality monitoring.

The California Circular Economy Package: Wins for Fighting Plastic Pollution

This year, a suite of bills dubbed the California Circular Economy Package was introduced by a variety of California decision-makers. While not all of the bills made it through the harrowing process to become law, these five did, and they mark some major wins for tackling plastic pollution and toxins in California.

✅ SB 343 (Allen) expands on California’s truthful labeling law and limits the use of the “chasing arrows” symbol to products and packaging that are actually recycled in California, reducing consumer confusion and recycling contamination.
✅ AB 881 (L. Gonzalez) reclassifies mixed plastic exports as disposal instead of recycling while still allowing for truly recyclable plastics to be counted towards our state’s recycling goals.
✅ AB 1276 (Carrillo) requires foodware accessories to only be given to customers upon their explicit request, reducing the waste of “zero-use” plastics like utensils and condiment packets.
✅ AB 1201 (Ting) also requires truthful labeling for compostable products, only allowing the word “compostable” to be used on products and packaging that are truly compostable in California, increasing effective composting and reducing toxic chemicals in packaging materials.
✅ AB 962 (Kamlager) paves the way for refill systems in California by allowing reusable glass bottles to be returned, refilled, and reused as part of California’s Beverage Container Recycling Program.

Climate Wins (and losses)

The climate crisis is here. In 2021, numerous extreme weather events across the world brought increased urgency to the issue along with the realization that these “extreme” events will become increasingly more common and will affect each and every one of us. Let’s take a look at the big wins of 2021.

✅ SB 1 (Atkins) formally recognizes sea level rise as an urgent need to be addressed by the California Coastal Commission, establishes cross-agency coordination to tackle sea level rise, and establishes a $100 million grant program for local governments to prepare for rising seas.
✅ Climate Resilience Package included in this year’s state budget invests $15 billion – the largest investment to date – in addressing an array of climate change concerns, including wildfires & forest resilience, rising heat, and sea level rise.

California is leading the charge for addressing climate change in many ways, but still has a long way to go. Let’s take a look at the places where California fell short on addressing the climate crisis.

❌ SB 467 (Limon and Weiner) would have banned oil and gas production across California and required a 2,500-foot buffer between drilling sites and sensitive receptors such as homes and schools. We were devastated to see this bill die in the Senate this year but are working closely with environmental justice groups across the state to tackle this issue with creative solutions.
❌ AB 1395 (Muratsuchi and C. Garcia), also referred to as the California Climate Crisis Act would have set ambitious climate goals for the state, including strict emissions standards and accelerated efforts to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

Other Environmental Wins of 2021 

Plastics and Climate Change aren’t the only challenges our communities and environment face. The legislature had a few other successes this year in tackling pollution.

✅ AJR2 (O’Donnell) calls on Congress and the United States Environmental Protection Agency to take action on the recently uncovered dumping of DDT and other waste into the deep ocean between the coast of Los Angeles and Catalina Island. This resolution is a great first step and Heal the Bay looks forward to continued work in 2022 on securing state funding for work on DDT and pushing for a community oversight committee on the issue to ensure transparency and accountability.

✅ SB 433 (Allen) expands the authority of the California Coastal Commission to enforce the 1976 Coastal Act through fines. Previously, the Coastal Commission could only levy fines for violations related to public access but now, with SB 433, the Commission can impose fines for violations related to impacts to wetlands, beaches, and coastal wildlife and waters. Coming on the heels of the devastating oil spill in Orange County, we are thrilled to see increased accountability for those who cause damage to our precious coastal resources.

✅ AB 818 (Bloom) requires clear and conspicuous labeling on disposable wipes that states “DO NOT FLUSH”. All too often, disposable wipes that are not intended to be flushed end up down toilets and in municipal wastewater treatment facilities where they can wreak havoc and cause blockage and spills. Especially after the disastrous sewage spill at the Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Center in Los Angeles earlier this year, legislation like this is important to both reduce consumer confusion and protect our local water bodies and wastewater treatment workers from harm.

Looking Forward: 2022

As we plan for the year ahead, we are hoping for a much stronger and more progressive year in passing regulations to tackle the climate crisis and water pollution issues, and we already know some items on the table. Heal the Bay will be strongly supporting these measures:

  • SB 54 (Allen) is a bill you have heard us mention before – a massive plastic pollution reduction bill that would comprehensively tackle plastics through reduction measures and recycling reform. Next year will be the 4th year this bill is attempting to make its way through and we are committed to supporting it.
  • The California Plastic Waste Reduction Regulations Initiative is an initiative eligible for the November 8, 2022 ballot that would enact a massive plastic pollution reduction program, including a “pollution reduction fee” holding producers financially accountable for the pollution they create. Keep an eye out for it on your ballot next year!

With the COVID-19 pandemic still creating a massive public health crisis in California and globally this year, environmental legislation once again struggled to make significant progress. Heal the Bay is prepared and ready to help make up for lost time next year by pushing as hard as we can to pass regulations and laws that reduce production and pollution of plastics, end oil and gas drilling both onshore and on land, and protect our communities, waters, and watersheds from the climate crisis. Stay tuned for how YOU can help us get there.




An aerial view over the Scottish city of Glasgow, looking eastwards up the River Clyde.

Global leaders met in Glasgow at COP26 from Oct. 31 – Nov. 13, 2021, to discuss the climate crisis and how to address it. Failed promises and delayed action in the face of immediate impacts led many attendees and observers to protest and demand more from their leaders. Some positive steps were taken, but we need more ambitious goals, comprehensive plans, actual implementation now, and equitable support for climate mitigation and adaptation.   

The Climate Crisis 

Worldwide, we are spewing 152 million tons of human-made global warming pollution like CO2 into our atmosphere every day, causing average temperatures to rise. The largest source of this global warming pollution is the burning of fossil fuels. Earlier this year, CO2 levels passed 420 parts per million for the first time. This unfortunate milestone means we are rapidly approaching the threshold of 1.5°C temperature increase, a climate tipping point that will make it more difficult to sustain healthy natural systems. It also means that climate change is already here. We see evidence around the globe and in Los Angeles with ocean acidification, sea level rise, intense droughts and wildfires, record-breaking storm events, and more frequent deadly heatwaves. While we are all impacted by these rapid changes, a history of racially discriminatory land and environmental policies has caused an unjust and disproportionate impact on overburdened communities of color.

COP26 

The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) brought countries together this year to discuss the climate crisis and commit to action toward achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement – primarily to limit global temperature rise to 1.5° C and provide support for climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries*. But it was not only global leaders and decision makers who traveled to Glasgow for this summit. Activists from across the world turned out for this critical event, demanding action.  

“A lot of people ask me, what are my hopes for COP? And honestly, I don’t have any hopes. I have expectations and I have demands, because we are tired of hoping. We don’t need hope. We need action.” 

– Mitzi Jonelle Tan, climate activist from the Philippines 

Wealthier countries*, often the ones contributing the most global warming pollution, have failed to deliver on promises made in the original Paris Agreement to build clean energy systems and provide support to pay for climate related damages in under-resourced countries. Developing countries* are impacted most acutely by the climate crisis as are communities of color.

“There is an odd duality that comes with being one of few environmentalists of color in such an exclusive space. On one hand, we understand the privilege we’ve been granted to represent our people and advocate for our livelihoods. On the other hand, we have to deal with not being fully valued or actually listened to.” 

Leah Thomas, intersectional environmentalist from the United States

Yet they are underrepresented at COP26 and other similar conferences that are supposed to be coming up with global solutions. This gap in representation in the conversations and negotiations that impact them the most has a compounding negative effect for developing countries who also have a lack of access to resources to adapt to the changing climate.

“I am tired of applauding my people’s resilience. True resilience is not just defined by a nation’s grit but by our access to financial resources.”  

Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji 

There have been a number of exciting announcements to come out of COP26. World leaders have committed to end deforestation by 2030. The US joined the pledge to reduce methane emissions (another critical greenhouse gas), backed by new EPA regulations. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a global coalition of cities committed to cutting emissions in half by 2030 and achieving net-zero emission by 2050. And recent pledges from wealthier counties* have narrowed the gap in achieving the $100 billion funding commitment made in the Paris Agreement to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries*.  

The COP26 report also claims that the goal to stay below a temperature increase of 1.5° C remains in sight, but evidence shows that our current trajectory is way off course. The most recent IPCC report proves that this goal is still possible, but it will require immediate and drastic action. Countries will need to commit to much more stringent goals, develop comprehensive and transparent plans to get there, and (most importantly) follow through on those promises. Considering the lack of progress, it is no wonder that activists turned out en masse to demand more from their world leaders.   

“They are pledging for the future, yet we are experiencing the crisis right now. We want them to act now. We want solutions, not promises. We want implementations, not pledges. Their negotiations are running on how not to top 1.5, but 1.2 is already hell to us.” 

 – Patience Nabukalu, climate activist from Uganda

Demand Climate Action Now 

Heal the Bay is committed to climate action, and believes we need bold global action now to combat the climate crisis, and for us, this starts at home. The United States has made plans and has entered agreements, yet our leaders continue to approve new oil drilling leases. LA is home to the largest urban oil field in the US. There are so many groups in Los Angeles and California fighting for climate action and environmental justice. One of those groups is VISION (Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods). You can join VISION and submit your own comment letter today to fight against fossil fuels. Tell California Officials: No Drilling Where We’re Living! 

Join VISION to call for: 

  1. A 3,200-foot setback for new oil and gas wells 
  2. No redrilling of existing wells within the 3,200-foot setback 
  3. Ban all new permits within the 3,200-foot setback until the final rule is in effect 

For more climate action tips and information, check out Heal the Bay’s Climate Challenge blog.  

 

*The phrases ‘wealthier countries’ and ‘developing countries’ are used in the COP26 report and the Paris Agreement without definition. The lack of specificity in these classifications further highlights inequities in the global approach to solving climate change. 



Large plumes of smoke rise from the Woolsey Fire burning in Malibu, California. Camera angle is looking across Santa Monica Bay towards Malibu and Santa Monica Mountains.

Wildfires rage in California year after year, with increasing frequency and intensity. This is driven by the climate crisis creating hot, dry conditions for wildfires to start, spread, and burn out of control. Spring comes earlier, melting snow more quickly, and reducing water availability during summer, which is lasting longer with more extreme temperatures. Less frequent but more intense rain along with with the extra snowmelt in spring triggers vegetation growth; then the long, hot summers dry out that vegetation, covering the state with kindling. These climate impacts, coupled with a systemic departure from smart tribal land management practices like controlled burns, leaves us setting new wildfire records every single year, destroying ecosystems and devastating communities. 

2021 has been the worst wildfire season to date, with over 1.5 million acres burned across California already, and the season has just begun. So far this year, the Pacific Northwest has felt the brunt of this wildfire season, but Los Angeles is not out of the woods. The fire season for Southern California typically spans October through December, which is why Los Angeles officials urge residents to be prepared 

Wildfires, particularly the extreme events that we are experiencing more and more each year, have both immediate and long-term impacts on the health of people and the environment. But did you know that wildfires also impact the health of our waterways? Heal the Bay interviewed two experts this week on the impacts of wildfires on public health and on water quality.  


We learned a lot from these experts. By removing vegetation, wildfires increase sediment and pollution runoff, which can affect both recreational and drinking water. Wildfires also release smoke pollution into our atmosphere with contaminants that are harmful to public health. These airborne contaminants eventually settle out onto surfaces like streets, sidewalks, and rooftops, where they remain until stormwater washes it all into our waterways. Scroll down to find links to these recorded interviews or to check out the transcripts for both of these conversations.  

We urge you to take climate action now, whether through global systemic change, or directly in your home or your neighborhood to prepare for emergencies and make your community more climate resilient. Take the climate challenge with us – start by picking one action you can take today. But don’t stop there! Consider the skills, experiences, and resources you have to offer, and create a personal list of climate actions.  

One action you can take right now is to sign up and join Heal the Bay virtually at 6 PM on Monday August 30th to learn about the Cool City Challenge, and how to become a Cool Block Leader to make real change in your neighborhood to tackle the climate crisis.  

Thick layer of smog and haze from nearby brush fire obscuring the view of downtown Los Angeles buildings in Southern California.   Shot from hilltop in popular Griffith Park.

INSTAGRAM LIVE INTERVIEWS: ASK AN EXPERT 

1: What impacts do wildfires have on water quality, and what are the solutions? 

 

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Host: Alex Preso (Manager of Outreach, Heal the Bay) 

Expert: Marisol Cira (Graduate Researcher in Civil and Environmental Engineering, UCLA) 

Alex: Please introduce yourself and provide a little background on some of the work you do. 

Marisol: I am a graduate researcher at UCLA in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, where I study the impacts of wildfires on beach water quality. 

Alex: How does a wildfire impact water quality, specifically in the Ocean? 

Marisol: Wildfires remove vegetation and alter the soil. When it rains, the vegetation and the soil that remain can no longer filter and retain the water like they used to. This increases the sediment and runoff that carry harmful contaminants and eventually make their way into our reservoirs, rivers, and oceans.  

Alex: That is definitely not ideal! Would that have any impact on our freshwater and drinking water, too? 

Marisol: Yes, wildfires do impact both recreational and drinking water quality. For example, they contaminate our groundwater because the contaminants can reach the water table, and the loss of vegetation can affect the aquifer recharge. In addition, the amount of sediment and runoff that flows into our reservoirs increases the maintenance needs and costs for that reservoir. Similarly, for our drinking water treatment plants, they might have to change operations to meet the water quality standards, and that also increases cost. Lastly, the contaminants that reach the beaches can be harmful to beachgoers and to wildlife.  

Alex: Would you mind expanding on what kind of contaminants those are, and how they end up getting into our water? 

Marisol: Studies have reported increases in nutrients, metals, water temperature, and turbidity, among other things. Following the 2018 Woolsey Fire, which burned approximately 100,000 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains, researchers reported increases in fecal indicator bacteria at beaches in Malibu. Although the fecal indicator bacteria are not harmful themselves, monitoring agencies do use them to indicate the presence of pathogens in water. What may be happening is that the wildfires, and the debris flows that follow, damage and disrupt the sewage infrastructure which contaminates downstream water quality with fecal matter. And, as mentioned earlier, the vegetation and the soil can no longer filter and retain these contaminants.  

Alex: Heal the Bay tracks water quality testing at over 500 beaches statewide. Are wildfires impacting water quality right now?  

Marisol: Water quality may return to normal within hours, or it could take up to 10 years, depending on the severity of the burn, the precipitation, and the contaminants. Specifically for fecal indicator bacteria, researchers reported elevated levels for up to 6 months. However, these levels are still being monitored as the burn area recovers.  

Alex: I’ll give you a few more minutes to talk a little bit more about the research that you are doing, and the recent findings.  

Marisol: We saw increases in the fecal indicator bacteria and turbidity following the Woolsey Fire, specifically after rain events, which is a concern for the health of beachgoers and wildlife. We hope that this research is able to help agencies protect our oceans and treat these contaminants.   

Alex: Do you have any advice on how other people can get involved? 

Marisol: Wildfire activity has increased globally and here in the Western US due to climate change. The frequency, duration, and season length are longer. It is important that we support candidates and measures that address climate change, and that we do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint. 

2: How is this unprecedented wildfire season impacting watersheds and public health? 

 

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Host: Kayleigh Wade (Associate Director of Campaigns and Outreach, Heal the Bay) 

Expert: Gilmar Flores (Senior Manager of Programs and Research, Breathe Southern California) 

Kayleigh: Please introduce yourself. What’s your name, and what is your role at Breathe Southern California?  

Gilmar: Thank you so much for having me on today. Hello everyone, my name is Gilmar Flores and I am the Senior Manager of Programs and Research at Breathe Southern California.   

Kayleigh: What is Breathe Southern California’s mission? Can you give us a quick run-down of your organization? 

 Gilmar: Breathe Southern California is a non-profit organization. Its mission is to promote clean air and healthy lungs. We do that through education, research, technology, and advocacy. Our organization has over 50 programs that target with our mission of clean air and healthy lungs. We offer this through youth programs in regards to asthma, environmental factors, and vaping; and through community programs in regards to wildfires, asthma, and lung disease. We also have a professional membership society called the Trudeau Society, where professionals in the field can attend lectures and network.  

Kayleigh: That is important information to know. Every year we have a wildfire season, so thank you for sharing those resources. How does wildfire smoke play a role in the air pollution problems facing Southern California?  

Gilmar: Back in 2019, California was home to 15 of the 30 places in the United States with the worst air pollution. Out of those 15, San Diego ranked #10; Los Angeles, Long Beach and Anaheim ranked #6; and Riverside and San Bernardino ranked #2. On an average day, the air quality index of these cities in Southern California were in the moderate levels. For those who do not know what the air quality index is, it is an index that ranges from good, moderate, unhealthy, very unhealthy, and hazardous. So if you think about that, an average day in those cities were not even in the good section of air quality. We’re in the moderate section. So when wildfires burn within 50 or 100 miles of those cities, it causes the air quality to be 5 to 15 times worse than normal, and often 2 to 3 times worse than normal even on a non-fire day. So during these wildfire seasons, the air quality index in these parts of the country can reach hazardous levels, which are very unhealthy not only for the vulnerable populations, but for everyone.  

Kayleigh: What is the connection between environmental injustices, public health, and wildfires?  

Gilmar: There are a lot of connections, but one that I will cover today is the resource availability that these vulnerable populations tend not to have. One example that I will focus on is asthma. During fires, air quality management districts will urge people to stay inside with windows closed and doors closed until smoke levels subside. This is mainly targeted to vulnerable populations such as the elderly, those who have respiratory illness or cardiovascular illness, and also for children. But the problem is that keeping the windows and doors closed only helps if your windows and doors can actually close and keep the smoke out. There are blocks of old apartment complexes, either in Los Angeles, Riverside, or the Bay Area where smoke still comes through, and some of these complexes do not have installed ventilation systems that can help remove the indoor toxins from these settings. We know that in low-income communities, there tends to be a lot of chronic disease, like asthma. So these communities are usually more effected by the wildfire seasons. There are more examples. If we had more time, we could talk about native American tribes located in areas where fires are more prominent. We could also talk about farm workers in Ventura County who are exposed. They still have to work during wildfires, and don’t always have the proper masks while working, so cannot avoid the harms of wildfire smoke.  

Kayleigh: More often than not, people do not have access to those resources, especially in low income communities and communities of color. What are some tools you would recommend to promote wildfire resilience?  

Gilmar: There are several steps you can take to keep your family or yourself safe during wildfire seasons. But the primary way to be resilient would be to stop yourself from breathing smoke, especially when there is a wildfire nearby. A few steps that you can take is to check air quality. You can use websites such as https://fire.airnow.gov to check the air quality, avoid going outside, close windows and doors, run the AC for circulation and check the filtration, use air purifiers at home if possible, avoid frying foods while inside, wear N-95 masks (don’t just buy is and have it there – when you purchase it, test it out and make sure it fits well and covers your whole face), be aware of any evacuation orders, and be prepared to evacuate.  

Kayleigh: What are the long-term impacts of pollution from wildfires on communities that are already impacted by environmental racism?  

Gilmar: These communities are already experiencing health hazard burdens by just living near landfills, power stations, and major roads. They often struggle with contaminated water supply or elevated airborne particulate matter. And then these communities are exposed to longer harsher air conditions because of wildfires.  We see a correlation between these kinds of environmental exposures and cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes, pulmonary disease such as lung cancer and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), emphysema, pneumonia exasperated among children and the elderly, low birth weights, and premature deaths. 

Kayleigh: That information is very heavy, but thank you for sharing it. It is very helpful to pair that knowledge with the industrial activity that is happening in these communities. What types of pollutants, specifically, are found in wildfire smoke and ash?   

Gilmar: When wood and other organic materials burn in wildfires, it produces a mixture of fine particulate matter and dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide, or volatile organic compounds. One of the major pollutants found in wildfire smoke is particulate matter (P.M. 2.5), which is a mixture of tiny solid and liquid droplets suspended in the air, which can be inhaled deeply into the lungs. The concern is that these particles, which make up most of the plume of smoke from wildfires, can get deep into the lungs and cause biological damage. Particulates can also effect the cardiovascular system by causing inflammation, and can also effect the nervous system. Some of the smallest particles can even cross into the blood stream and travel through other parts of your body effecting other organs.  

 Kayleigh: At some point after a wildfire, the atmosphere eventually clears out. But just as throwing away a piece of trash does not actually mean that it is gone, all of that pollution must remain in our environment in some way. Where does all of that pollution go?   

Gilmar: Unfortunately, the pollution will eventually fall down to the ground. It’s going to fall onto the floors of our homes, onto vehicles, buildings, trees, and plants. It can even extend far beyond where the fire was actually burning. As an example, I visited Crater Lake up in Oregon back in 2019, and from the top of that mountain we could see the smoke from California crossing over, because it does not have any boundaries. So this pollution definitely will fall onto the ground and will either disburse into the soil or into water, and eventually make its way out to the ocean, effecting not only plant life but also the wildlife that lives in the ocean.  

 Kayleigh: It’s so important to remember that everything is connected, and there are no boundaries. Pollution will remain in our environment and continue to impact our health. What long-term effects does wildfire smoke have on the ability of our communities to be resilient to the climate crisis?   

Gilmar: Wildfires will have far reaching impacts and effects and will ripple through communities as climate change continues to occur. Habitats will continue to get damaged, both on land and also in to sea. Air quality will be degraded, causing long term health impacts not only for us humans, but also for other animals. There will also be drinking water supply contamination. However, communities can still employ a number of strategies to be more resilient to wildfires. This includes zoning and building policies, landscape regulations, vegetation and forestry management, and public education and preparedness campaigns.   

Kayleigh: Is there anything else you’d like to add or talk about that we didn’t already cover? 

Gilmar: Extreme wildfires are becoming a yearly thing, especially here in the west. There are a few websites that I want to mention so all of you can be prepared, not only for those who suffer from a  lung disease, but for everyone, especially if you have loved ones who do. A good website to follow is https://fire.airnow.gov, which provides you the air quality map index and smoke information when there are fires. It will show you what the air quality index is at that time and lets you know if you need to close the windows and stay inside. Another website is https://ww2.arb.ca.gov. They provide a lot of resources there. I know a lot of individuals do not have the luxury of owning an air purifier, so they provide examples of things you can do to still improve indoor air quality in your home during wildfire season. And you can follow Breathe SoCal on our social media platforms for awareness, and for additional information for workshops on lung disease, asthma, or environmental stewardship. 

Kayleigh: We actually have a question from the audience: Do either of you know why, in California, there isn’t more fire prevention even though it’s become a yearly phenomenon.  

Gilmar: There are preventative measures taken. Some examples include energy companies like SoCal Edison providing grants to non-profit organizations to provide those resources to communities. But one of the things that definitely has to happen is for folks to speak to elected officials and share your ideas, possibly for future legislation.  

Kayleigh: There is definitely a need for infrastructure and a need for policy if we want to be more resilient as a community as the climate crisis accelerates.   

 



Exciting advancements are happening right now when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. Global action continues to move forward with the Paris Climate Accord, as the US re-enters this agreement with a renewed focus on climate justice. California continues to push climate progress with legislation like SB467, which would ban the most dangerous types of oil drilling and fracking and introduce health and safety setbacks across the state. And right here in Southern California, the City of LA is finalizing plans to achieve 100% Clean Energy by 2035. But in each of these cases, the question remains: Are we doing enough? 

While we are excited about the progress that is being made globally and locally, we can still step back and question if our goals are robust enough to actually achieve climate resiliency and justice, if decision makers are doing what is necessary to achieve those goals, and if big industries (oil, gas, plastics, etc.) are being held accountable. 

Worldwide, we are spewing 152 million tons of human-made global warming pollution like CO2 into the thin shell of our atmosphere every day, causing average temperatures to rise and throwing natural processes off track. 

CO2 levels passed 420 parts per million (PPM) for the first time in April 2021. This unfortunate milestone means we’re halfway toward doubling pre-industrial CO2 levels.⁠ And, we are rapidly approaching the 1.5°C climate tipping point that makes it more difficult to sustain healthy natural systems. If we continue “business as usual” we are on a fast-track to double our CO2 levels by 2060, and the world will be 3°C warmer on average, which would mean significant food shortages, more intense droughts and wildfires, and more frequent deadly urban heat waves.⁠

⁠Oceans have helped to buffer this steady pollution stream by absorbing ¼ of our CO2 emissions, but this has wreaked havoc on our marine ecosystems with sea temperature rise and ocean acidification.⁠

Tackling the climate crisis is a massive undertaking that may leave many of us with climate anxiety, wondering what one single person can do.

But the truth is that we are not alone. Together, our actions can make huge waves. Whether you are starting with small changes at home, or playing your part in critical systemic change by signing petitions or calling political representatives, your actions play an essential role in this transformative time! 

Take the Climate Challenge

As we continue our struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of life in general, it is a privilege to have the time, energy, and financial resources to make environmentally conscious choices and take action against climate change. Yet for many communities the decision to take climate action now or later can mean the difference between life and death. 

So let’s do our best to get creative and be intentional with our actions and resources. Whether you have money, time, creativity, passion, or something else entirely your own, we all have a unique contribution to make in the fight against climate change. 

Start by picking one action you can take today. 

Don’t stop there! Consider the skills, experiences, and resources you have to offer and create a personal list of climate actions. And because Every Day is Earth Day, take this list with you throughout the year, and do what you can when you can with what you have. 

Here are some ideas to choose from to get you started with your personalized climate challenge…

Where We Live

  • Pick up trash around your neighborhood 
  • Ditch single-use plastic and switch to reusables at home
  • Reduce, reuse, and recycle our waste – yes the order matters! 
  • Remove any hardscape or lawn on your property and replace it with a vegetable garden or drought tolerant native vegetation 
  • Start or join a community garden
  • Sign up for Green Power or install solar panels
  • Reduce your energy needs 
    • Turn off lights, unplug unused electronics, and swap out old lights with LEDs (once the bulbs burn out)
    • Bring in a professional to insulate your home, or find simple swaps around the house like adding thick curtains around your windows  
    • Set your thermostat for maximum energy (and cost) savings, or regulate temperature without a thermostat by opening/closing windows and using those thick curtains
    • Wash clothes in cold water, and hang dry rather than using the dryer
  • Decrease your water usage

How We Commute

  • Telecommute if it is an option
  • Choose public transportation
  • Walk or skateboard for shorter distances
  • Ride a bicycle
  • Support projects that improve access to alternative and active transportation 
  • If you must drive
    • Carpool
    • Invest in a hybrid or electric vehicle
    • Use car sharing services with electric vehicles
    • Make sure your vehicle is in tip top shape for optimal efficiency (secure gas cap, inflate tires, etc.)

What We Eat

What We Learn

How We Vote

  • Vote in local, statewide and national elections!
  • Support just and equitable environmental policies in support of:  
    • Climate resiliency
    • A tax on carbon
    • The end of fossil fuels
    • Regenerative agriculture
    • Renewable energy
    • A reduction in plastic waste
  • Be an advocate
    • Attend and give public comments at local Agency, City Council, or County Board of Supervisor meetings 
    • Send a letter to your representatives so they know climate action is important to you
    • Participate in public demonstrations and rallies
    • Sign petitions
    • Create climate inspired art and share it with the world
  • Join existing efforts by Heal the Bay and partner groups to demand climate action now 

Questions about any of these possible actions? Contact Annelisa Moe here at Heal the Bay for more information or support in your advocacy work!



We’re celebrating International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month by shining the spotlight on five environmentalists who inspire us.

Women of color are impacted by environmental issues like water pollution and climate change impacts at disproportionate rates as a result of systemic inequity and injustice.1 Racism and a lack of access to education, economic status, and health resources often leave women and people of color out of the conversations and decisions that impact them the most, specifically about land use, natural resources, and environmental policy.

Despite these challenges, women of color continue to create powerful and lasting change in their own communities and abroad.

We thank the environmentalists and activists who continue to fight for what is right despite facing opposition for their bold ideas and for simply being who they are. Women and girls are leaders in their communities and agents of change. Supporting and listening to them will benefit the health of our planet and people for generations to come.

Get to know five environmentalists who have an inspiring legacy of activism.

Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011), Kenya

Founder of the Green Belt Movement, which has planted over 51 million trees, Professor Maathai focused on environmental conservation and women’s rights. She studied biology in her undergraduate and graduate school programs and later won the Nobel Peace Prize for her vast contributions to sustainable development.

 

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Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores (1971 – 2016), Honduras

Berta Cáceres was an indigenous environmental justice activist and grassroots leader who created the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH) in Honduras. She fought courageously against illegal and harmful mining and logging as well as the construction of a dam that would cut off water, food and medicine for the indigenous Lenca people. Cáceres Flores was tragically murdered in 2016, sparking international outrage. The Cáceres family continues to demand justice for this corrupt violation of human rights. 2

 

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Isatou Ceesay (b. 1972), The Gambia

Isatou Ceesay is known as the Queen of Recycling in The Gambia, and rightfully so. Though she was kept from finishing school, she created the Njai Recycling and Income Generation Group, which turns plastic bag waste into purses, creating revenue streams for local women. Ceesay also educates and empowers women through environmental advocacy.

 

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Winona LaDuke (b. 1959), White Earth Indian Reservation

Founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project and Honor the Earth, LaDuke is an environmentalist and political activist with Indigenous communities. She focuses on sustainable development, renewable energy, climate change, and environmental justice. The White Earth Land Recovery Project is one of the largest non-profit organizations in the United States dedicated to recovering original land and maintaining tribal food, water, and energy rights. Follow Winona on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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Vanessa Nakate (b. 1996), Uganda

Vanessa Nakate founded The Rise Up Movement and uses her voice and platform to share stories about activists in Africa who are striking due to inaction against the climate crisis. Recently, she spoke at the COP25 event in Spain (the United Nations Climate Change Conference) and joined dozens of youth climate activists from around the world to publish a letter to attendees of the World Economic Forum in Davos urging them to take immediate steps to prevent further harm. Follow Vanessa on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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About the author: Mariana Estrada is a digital advocacy intern at Heal the Bay. She grew up in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles where she enjoys a lively community of close-knit families and great food. She became interested in environmental issues like air quality at an unusually young age due to living in the city. Estrada’s area of focus is combining humanities and environmental issues to create effective and meaningful storytelling that renders real results. She studies English Literature and double-minors in Environmental Systems and Society and Environmental Engineering at UCLA.

1 Gender and climate change-induced migration: Proposing a framework for analysis. Author Namrata Chindarkar. Published by School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, College Park, USA. Published on 22 June 2012. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254496452_Gender_and_climate_change-induced_migration_Proposing_a_framework_for_analysis
2 Berta Cáceres: 2015 Goldman Prize Recipient South and Central America. Published by The Goldman Environmental Prize. Retrieved from https://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/berta-caceres/



HEAL THE BAY WE ARE HERE FOR GOOD BLOG

A Note from our CEO

As the year comes to a close, we feel energized for what’s ahead. 2021 will not be business as usual. There is too much at stake. Now is our chance to take bold action for present and future generations.

Climate change must be slowed or much will be lost. Heal the Bay pushes government leaders to protect water and biodiversity from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Santa Monica Bay.

Clean water and safe, accessible open space are fundamental for public health. Heal the Bay fights for strong permits that require green solutions to our local pollution problems.

The toxic legacy of plastic production and waste impacts our everyday life. Heal the Bay supports a ban on disposables that harm our neighborhoods and wildlife habitats.

A better world is possible when we empower our youth. Heal the Bay gives students the tools to advocate for their future by testifying at hearings and writing letters to elected officials.

We must recover environmental policy rollbacks. Heal the Bay has the expertise to regain ocean, river, and wetland protections, and solve today’s problems by upholding the Clean Water Act.

We are living in a critical decade for our planet. The hard work in front of us won’t happen by itself. Your donation to Heal the Bay supports our mission of making the coastal waters and watersheds in Southern California safe, healthy, and clean through science, education, community action, and advocacy.

Amidst all the challenges, you can trust that Heal the Bay is here for good. We will not stop until we succeed.

Donate

Thank you for doing your part.

Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay President and CEO

Shelley Luce

Interested in learning more about Heal the Bay’s impact in 2020? View Shelley’s reflection on the year behind us.

 



Luke Ginger, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, recaps a tough summer for water quality monitoring at LA County’s freshwater recreation areas, and outlines the urgent need for equitable, climate-resilient communities in the face of a health pandemic, extreme heat, unprecedented wildfires, and beyond.

Heal the Bay concludes another summer of freshwater sampling and monitoring with the River Report Card. Over the course of the summer of 2020, we provided inland water-goers with water quality grades for 27 freshwater recreation sites across Los Angeles County, California. This included 5 sites in Malibu Creek State Park and the LA River, where Heal the Bay staff collected water quality samples. We updated grades on a weekly basis and posted them online to be viewed by the public. 

Summer 2020 was filled with many challenges that impacted our program. Due to COVID-19, Heal the Bay was unable to hire local college students to monitor water quality at recreation sites and storm drains like in previous years. Instead, Heal the Bay’s permanent staff carried out water sampling. This was a major blow to our program because one of our main goals has always been to provide knowledge, skills, and career training to emerging professionals. Additionally, without a full crew, we sampled fewer recreation sites and storm drains, leaving the public with less information on how to stay safe.

We also had to take extra precautions while sampling – wearing masks at all times, driving in separate vehicles, and sporting extra protective gear (face shields and extra-long gloves) to reduce exposure to potentially contaminated water. These were necessary precautions because the research on the risk of contracting COVID-19 from recreational waters is still ongoing. 


Photo by Alice Dison

There were also major changes in accessibility and use this summer at the sites Heal the Bay monitored. Malibu Creek State Park was open all summer, but the swimming holes (Rock Pool and Las Virgenes Creek) remained closed due to concerns over the ability to maintain proper physical distancing. However, this closure was not clearly enforced as we saw many swimmers throughout the summer. The official LA River recreation zones were open from Memorial Day until the end of September, but kayaking was not allowed due to safety concerns around COVID-19.   

Monitoring efforts by LA Sanitation, Council for Watershed Health, and San Gabriel Regional Watershed Monitoring Program were impacted this summer as well. There were weeks where certain recreation sites in the Upper LA River Watershed and San Gabriel River Watershed were not monitored due to park closures or overcrowding concerns. According to LA Sanitation officials, Hermit Falls was not monitored this summer because it is a particularly crowded area that posed a health risk to the water quality monitors. Worker safety is incredibly important, as is the health of all Angelenos and visitors. Unfortunately, these tough decisions resulted in critical water quality information not being available at a very popular location all summer. LA Sanitation instead sampled the Vogel Flats picnic area, which is a new addition to the River Report Card. Toward the end of the summer, monitoring in the San Gabriel River Watershed and some of the Upper LA River Watershed was cut short due to the Bobcat Fire and the subsequent closure of Angeles National Forest. 

This summer, the pandemic, a record setting wildfire season, and extreme heat culminated into one even larger public health crisis. The pandemic forced people to stay local and opt for close-by areas to take a swim. Because of this, as well as the reduced risk of contracting COVID-19 outdoors, people flocked in unusually high numbers to ocean beaches and freshwater recreation sites to stay active and cool. Unfortunately, if outdoor crowds become too big and dense, there is an increased risk of COVID-19 spread. The fact that so many people sought respite outside made clear the importance of open space for physical and mental health. But, the benefits of open space are not equally experienced by all. Black and Latinx communities have been systemically denied access to parks and nature, and there is a lot of work to do to provide justice for these communities. LA City and County must work hard to meet their target of 65% of Angelenos living within half a mile of a park or open space by 2025 (and 75% by 2035). 


Photo by Alice Dison

The summer’s extreme heat waves coincided with the largest wildfires in California’s history, which created harmful air quality across the entire west coast. Many people endured hazardous outdoor air quality in order to cool off at rivers, streams, and beaches. Tragically, exposure to wildfire-induced poor air quality exacerbates the harmful health effects of COVID-19. So for low-income households without air conditioning, it was impossible to escape harm; people were either subject to extreme heat at home or subject to harmful air quality outside. We must acknowledge that in the United States, the communities facing the brunt of climate change impacts like extreme heat and wildfire are disproportionately Indigenous, Black, Hispanic, and Asian people.

Summer 2020 was a tough time for many, and it underscores the need for immediate and equitable action to address the climate crisis and environmental justice.

Looking forward, Heal the Bay will continue to advocate for water quality improvements across LA County, so everyone is protected from waterborne illness. And, we will continue to push for nature-based policies that stem the impacts of climate change and make our communities climate resilient.


Summer 2020 Results

Here are the water quality results from the sites Heal the Bay monitored during summer 2020.

Malibu Creek State Park

Rock Pool – did slightly better than last year

  • 64% Green
  • 35% Yellow
  • 0% Red

Las Virgenes Creek – worse than last year

  • 0% Green
  • 93% Yellow
  • 7% Red

Los Angeles River

Sepulveda Basin at Burbank Ave. – slightly better than last year

  • 31% Green
  • 69% Yellow
  • 0% Red

Rattlesnake Park – worse than last year

  • 15% Green
  • 33% Yellow
  • 51% Red

Steelhead Park – same as last year

  • 64% Green
  • 33% Yellow
  • 3% Red

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