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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: 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, Latinx, 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

Learn More:



Surfrider Beach Third Point, Malibu. Photo by The California Coastal Commission 

On November 15-16 and December 13-15, 2020, head to the beach during the King Tides to catch a glimpse of what our future coast will look like with sea level rise.

King Tides occur when the Moon aligns with the Sun, and is also at its closest position relative to the Earth. This exerts cumulative gravitational pulls on Earth, resulting in the most extreme high and low tides of the year. In California, experts say that King Tides today are what we can expect our daily high tide to look like in the next few decades under climate change and sea level rise predictions.

For many people, it’s hard to see everyday impacts of climate change locally and difficult to understand real-life impacts that are here or coming. King Tides give us the opportunity to visualize firsthand what a higher sea level will be like, and it’s impact on California cities. This is also an opportunity to get involved as a community scientist and document the #KingTides through photos. These photos can be used by scientists, government agencies, and decision makers to understand, plan for, and educate about climate change impacts.

As sea levels rise, flooding and erosion along the coast will increase, putting people’s homes, freshwater aquifers, and critical infrastructure (like roads, bridges, wastewater treatment plants) at risk. Sea level rise is also predicted to result in the loss of 31-67% of SoCal’s beaches. However, the impact of sea level rise does not stop at the coast. As ocean water flows farther inland, it displaces groundwater, pushing it closer to the surface. Eventually, that groundwater can break the surface and damage roads and homes, and release toxins and pollution that would otherwise remain trapped in the soil.

There are actions that we can take today to minimize and prepare for coming climate change impacts. For instance, individuals can reduce their carbon footprint by driving less, adopting a plant-based diet, and demanding action from elected officials. Individuals and agencies can support and advocate for restoration of coastal wetlands, such as the Ballona Wetlands, which sequester carbon and buffer communities from sea level rise and storm surges. Governments can update their Local Coastal Programs (a planning document to guide development) for sea level rise and climate change adaptation.

You can take part in community science and take photos for the Coastal Commission’s Project and USC Sea Grant’s Urban Tides Program.

Want to learn more about climate change? Request a speaker from Heal the Bay to give a virtual climate change presentation to your school, club, or group.

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Mother's Beach, Marina del Rey 2019. Photo by The California Coastal Commission

Helpful resources for King Tides:



A note from Heal the Bay President & CEO, Dr. Shelley Luce

SoCalGas has supported Heal the Bay’s programs since 1991. For nearly 30 years they have helped to fund our student curriculum, beach cleanup efforts, and bring students to our aquarium.

It’s never been a problem before. We rely on the philanthropy of companies and individuals to uphold our mission: protect California’s coasts and watersheds, and make them safe, healthy, and clean. We have never allowed any corporate contributor to influence our advocacy, and we never will.

However, after great consideration and consultation with my team, I have made the difficult decision to stop accepting contributions from SoCalGas from this point forward.

Turning down funding is never an easy decision, but it is a particularly difficult time for me to make this announcement. As President of an organization that employs close to 40 people in a year when many of us are forced to tighten our belts, it was not easy, but I know that it is the right thing to do.

In order to mitigate climate change, we must transition to renewable energy systems across the board – including the electricity, transportation, residential and industrial sectors, and we must do so swiftly. Sea level rise, ocean acidification, extreme heat, wildfires, and drought will all be more severe unless we drastically reduce our production and consumption of natural gas and, at the same time, prioritize and invest in nature-based projects that sequester carbon and cool our cities. Such projects include living streets, wetland restoration, and the creation of parks that capture and treat stormwater. The intentional obstruction of these goals will have severe consequences, which will be most devastating to frontline communities locally and around the world. We demand a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels now.

Several recent investigations by the Los Angeles Times have brought to light that SoCalGas is not a good-faith partner in our critical effort to enact sensible climate systems in California. They have sued the state of California to obstruct climate policy and used ratepayer money to evade safety protocols and lobby for the expansion of gas consumption.

This behavior has made it clear that SoCalGas will not take the actions necessary to phase down the consumption and distribution of gas unless they are compelled to do so. It is up to us as an environmental advocacy group to hold them and our public officials accountable so that we continue our progress towards meeting our climate goals. That is why we joined the Los Angeles City Council meeting this morning, to give public comment in support of Councilmembers Bonin, Lee and Koretz in their call for a feasibility study to explore options for the closure of the Playa Del Rey Gas Storage Facility.

We support the feasibility study for three reasons:

  1. Its long-term existence stands counter to the urgent need to address the Climate Crisis.
  2. The Gas Storage Facility is located in a densely-populated area of our city, making it a health and safety risk to the communities of Playa Del Rey, Westchester, Marina Del Rey, Playa Vista and beyond.
  3. It abuts the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, affecting native species and endangered wildlife.

The Playa Del Rey facility stores gas that is used by the Chevron refinery and coastal power plants that deliver electricity to homes across the LA area. It is up to all of us to reflect on our personal consumption habits and do everything in our power to reduce our impact. It is up to our political leaders to regulate the fossil fuel industry and guide us to a renewable-powered, climate-stabilized future.

We would like to thank SoCalGas for their decades of support and ask that they change course to meet the urgent demands of the climate crisis.

Shelley Luce

 

 

 



Take Action for Our Ocean

Our ocean needs our help—from fighting for environmental justice and urgently addressing the climate crisis that impacts People of Color and low-income communities at disproportionate levels, to blocking a new federal attack on Marine Protected Areas that dampens progress for wildlife biodiversity, to stopping fossil fuel development and single-use plastic manufacturing that pollute our water, air, soil, and bodies. There is so much work to do.

Together, we need to tune in to the waves to recognize how much our ocean provides for us and raise awareness about our individual and collective duties to protect safe and healthy water for all people and marine life.


Support Ballot Initiative Against Plastic Waste

We have a chance to bring a groundbreaking plastic pollution reduction act directly to voters on the 2022 ballot in California, but to get it there we need signatures from people like you.

The California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act is on track to qualify for the statewide 2022 ballot thanks to signatures from hundreds of thousands of Californians. This act would require a 25% source reduction of single-use plastics by 2030 AND hold Big Plastic financially accountable for their pollution.

Help us get this on the ballot and up for a vote: Print. Sign. Mail. Done.

GET PLASTIC ON THE BALLOT

 


Fight the Federal Rollback on a Marine Protected Area

Our nation is in crisis. Yet quietly, in the background and for the first time in history, the federal administration has rolled back protections on a National Marine Sanctuary. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument protects ocean biodiversity and is invaluable to marine resource protection.

Sign this petition and urge for the reintroduction of protections for this marine protected area.

PROTECT MPAs

 


In Solidarity

Heal the Bay stands in solidarity with the Black community demanding justice for ongoing tragedies caused by systemic racism as well as social and environmental injustices.⁣⁣⁣

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color need to be protected. Black lives matter. The fight for this protection starts in our hearts by examining our own privileges and roles in systemic racism.

Environmental and social justice issues are intertwined. And it must be acknowledged that the hard work to dismantle systemic environmental and social barriers should not be a burden that continues to fall on BIPOC and marginalized communities who are most impacted by these issues.⁣⁣ We, who have access to a clean and safe environment, must fight for access, equity, and safety for all.⁣⁣

READ OUR FULL STATEMENT

 


Journey to Environmental Justice

In our latest two-part blog series, Heal the Bay Outreach Coordinator Danielle shares her environmental justice journey and what equality, equity, and justice can look like in the environmental movement.

READ: EJ JOURNEY

READ: EQUALITY, EQUITY, JUSTICE

 


Tune In to the Waves

Today’s Knowledge Drops webinar is all about the history of #WorldOceansDay and the Giant Sea Bass. Dive in with us to learn more about the ocean’s benefits, all the life it supports, and our duty to use its resources sustainably and equitably. Tune in at 1:30PM PDT.

REGISTER

 



Luke Ginger, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, discusses our disappearing Los Angeles County beaches due to climate change, and what we can all learn from the COVID-19 pandemic as local beaches begin to reopen. Luke fights for the environment’s rights by advocating for water quality regulation and enforcement. But he’s also looking out for the humans who go to the beaches, rivers, and streams by managing the Beach Report Card with NowCast and the River Report Card.

The beach has always provided me with happiness, fun, comfort, and adventure. As a kid, my parents had to pry me and my siblings away from the beach every time we went – we would have gladly tried our luck sleeping on the cold damp sand rather than get into our minivan. Two decades later, most of my beach days end with me reluctantly walking back to my Prius clutching my beach accoutrements with pruney fingers and purple lips from staying in the water too long. Only now I don’t have to convince anyone to stop for ice cream on the way home!

The ocean always has and always will be a fixture in my life. And, the same is true for many people living in SoCal. Beaches are where families gather, where people go to relax and have fun, and where anglers provide food for their families. The beach is a priceless resource woven into our lives providing us with happiness, memories, and sustenance. This makes it hard to accept the bitter reality that we will lose many of our beaches due to impacts from climate change and coastal development. 

Climate change is causing our oceans to warm up. When water warms up it expands, leading to sea level rise. The melting of glaciers and ice sheets also contributes to sea level rise. This puts our local beaches at risk because the ocean will gradually get bigger and eat up more sand and land. 

Our coastline is also shrinking because coastal development exacerbates beach loss by acting as a barrier to the natural movement of beaches inland as well as by cutting off natural sources of sand that would have nourished our beaches.

Depending on our response to sea level rise and our approach to coastal development, Southern California is predicted to lose between 31% and 67% of its beaches. What’s even more devastating is the fact that we cannot make that figure 0% because there has not been enough done to stem climate change both locally and globally. The hard truth is losing beaches is an inevitability due to humanity’s inaction to properly safeguard them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us a dire glimpse into what our future holds. It is telling that many beaches in California had to be shut down during the pandemic because too many people were drawn to them. The beach gives us opportunities to exercise and offers moments of mental peace and relaxation, especially during difficult times. While beaches in Los Angeles County start to reopen this week for active recreation activities only, we still face the reality that soon there will be less beach for all of us to enjoy. 

These facts are hard to live with. But, we need to harness our emotions and use them for action. Our actions now can ensure we give our disappearing beaches a fair chance at being saved.

Here’s what you can do right now to help save our remaining beaches:

  1. Become civically engaged! Support policies that reduce pollution and wane our dependence on oil and fossil fuels. Heal the Bay supports California Senate Bill 54/Assembly Bill 1080, which requires companies to reduce their single-use plastic packaging (derived from oil) by 75%. We also support the end of drilling in neighborhoods as well as on the coast. If there are no climate action policies to vote on, or if you can’t vote, become an activist and participate in local events like Fire Drill Fridays or volunteer with organizations like STANDLA.
  2. Change your behavior! Consider personal lifestyle changes such as eating more plant-based meals and reducing your dependence on single-use plastics. See our list of climate action tips to help you. If we all take steps to reduce our individual climate impacts, we can have a huge impact. But we can’t rely solely on our individual actions; we need policies at all levels of government that will reign in polluting industries. Learn more about why we need to make systemic changes along with personal changes.
  3. Volunteer with Heal the Bay! We offer many opportunities for individuals and groups to help make an impact on protecting the environment. Register for a virtual volunteer orientation. Once we are back up and running, you can join us for a beach cleanup, help educate the public at Heal the Bay Aquarium, and participate in our community science programs.  
  4. Enjoy the beach safely! Tackling climate change requires widespread public support and for all of us to adapt to new realities. Whenever you visit the beach, make sure you are following all signage posted in the area as well as health and safety guidelines. And before you go in the water, make sure you check the Beach Report Card for the latest water quality grades and information.
  5. Increase coastal access! Heal the Bay supports coastal access for all, and it concerns us that many local communities in California have no access to open space. Nature heals us, and everyone should be able to enjoy the outdoors. As we continue to prioritize the COVID-19 response, and look toward the gradual reopening of outdoor spaces and related services, it is crucial for our state to work with diverse stakeholders to set clear health and safety guidelines so our outdoor spaces can reopen to all people and for a variety of activities. You can take action by urging your local and state government to prioritize safety, equity, and access when creating reopening plans for our beaches, parks, and trails.


In part two of this two-part blog post, our Heal the Bay team dives into the causes and impacts of climate change. Check out part one.

Why is it critical for us to make a strong commitment to climate action now? Well, to start, we are emitting 152 million tons of green-house-gas (GHG) pollution into our atmosphere every single day. Oceans have been our buffer for decades, absorbing much of this air pollution and heat, not to mention all of the stormwater pollution, plastic, and other contaminants that end up washing out to the coast.

Our persistent and destructive actions have altered the oceans’ natural processes. Absorption of GHGs has changed the pH of our oceans causing ocean acidification, which negatively impacts the entire marine ecosystem. Rising ocean temperatures affect ocean circulation, which not only prevents efficient transport of nutrients but also makes it harder for the ocean to continue to naturally absorb our GHGs. 

As we continue to dump pollution into our environment, we have begun to feel the impacts of this climate crisis here on dry land, as well, with longer droughts, more intense storms, erosion along our shorelines from sea level rise, air pollution, more devastating fire seasons, and an increase in record breaking temperatures contributing to the impact of widespread heat islands (urban areas that are much hotter than their rural or natural surroundings because of human activity). As a result, we are facing heat and flood related deaths, food shortages, and an increased spread of disease. 

Professor Hugh Montgomery acknowledged climate change as a medical emergency back in June 2015, but the fact is we have been experiencing a climate induced emergency worldwide for decades. We are all impacted by climate change; however, the burden of these negative impacts is not distributed equally across communities. 

A history of racially discriminatory land and environmental policies has caused an unjust and disproportionate impact on overburdened communities. We are seeing this disparity in the current pandemic and it continues to be felt in the climate crisis.

Low-income communities of color have significantly less access to parks and green space, which exacerbates the heat island effect. And despite the fact that higher-income households have a larger carbon footprint, the highest concentration of oil wells in Los Angeles are in low-income neighborhoods whose residents face higher rates of health-related problems as a result. These disproportionate and location-specific rates of health-related problems like asthma and upper respiratory illness are direct consequences of systemic environmental racism, and the reason low-income communities of color are at a higher risk to contract and die from COVID-19. To amplify this burden, the same communities also bear significant socioeconomic impacts as a result of the response to this pandemic.  

Additionally, a lack of community representation in local government and decision-making processes makes adequate access to resources to prepare for and combat the impacts of climate change even more difficult. The compounding social, economic, and environmental impacts of climate change make just, sustainable, and immediate climate action vital. 

How is Heal the Bay Fighting for Systemic Climate Action?

In addition to calling for individual actions, Heal the Bay is taking our own climate action now by demanding systemic changes. 

We push for climate resilient policies within local city and county offices as well as many state agencies like the State Water Resources Control Board, the Fish and Game Commission, the Coastal Commission, and the Ocean Protection Council. We track the activities of each agency so that we can advocate for science-based climate actions such as creating sustainability plans, setting aggressive goals to address ocean acidification and deoxygenation, and approving a strong MS4 Permit to reduce the pollution that exacerbates those issues.

We also advocate for the restoration of our ecosystems that have the ability to buffer against climate change by sequestering carbon, reducing the heat island effect, and protecting us from flooding. Our work on Los Angeles River ecological health, Ballona Wetlands restoration, and Marine Protected Areas all serve to create healthy watersheds and a thriving ocean, natural climate buffers, and important natural resources on which we depend.

In addition, we engage in programs to implement environmentally friendly and sustainable projects like wastewater recycling and stormwater capture that provide multiple benefits (improving our water quality, increasing our water supply, restoring our watersheds, etc.). These projects not only help us prepare for the impacts of the climate crisis, but they also restore natural processes that can help us to fight climate change. In addition, we actively oppose expensive and environmentally harmful projects like ocean water desalination, so we can put our limited resources toward more sustainable multi-benefit projects.

And we work to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels by forcefully opposing offshore drilling in the Santa Monica Bay and in neighborhoods, negotiating with the City of LA for a just transition to renewable energy, and banning single-use plastic (a product of fossil fuel).

Of course, the greatest asset we have is YOU: people who read our blogs, people who volunteer at cleanups, people who come by our table at public events or visit Heal the Bay Aquarium, people who invite us to speak at schools and events, people who take the time to learn and then share their knowledge with others.

To overcome the climate crisis in a way that is just and sustainable, we need both individual action and systemic change. But, most importantly, we all must acknowledge how injustices in our communities affect the impact of, and our responses to, climate change in order to create a resilient future for all.