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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Locations


Cabrillo Beach is seen empty after the city of Long Beach closed the beaches due to a report of a spill of between two and four million gallons of untreated sewage into a canal in Carson, in Long Beach, California, US. December 31, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. (REUTERS / DAVID SWANSON – stock.adobe.com)

A massive and dangerous sewage spill happened late last week in Carson. Millions of gallons of raw sewage flowed through residential areas, into storm drains, in the Dominguez Channel, and out to the ocean.

Some Long Beach beaches, OC beaches and LA beaches are closed and will remain so until daily water quality testing for fecal-indicator bacterial pollution shows contaminants have reached an allowable level.

Heal the Bay is calling on officials and agencies to increase water quality monitoring during emergencies and to prevent sewage spills from happening by rapidly updating aging infrastructure.

Follow Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card for the latest water quality information.

 

LEARN MORE

 



(Photo Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP, NPR)

A federal grand jury has filed charges against the Houston-based oil company responsible for the Orange County Oil Spill that dumped 25,000 gallons into the Southern California ocean coastline. Is this a step forward for environmental justice, or just barely enough?

Amplify Energy and two of its subsidiaries were charged on December 15, 2021 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for negligence that led to the oil spill off the Orange County coast in October 2021. The energy company’s actions that led to the charges include:

  • Failing to properly respond to eight alarms from the pipeline’s leak detection system, and subsequently allowing oil to flow through a damaged pipeline for over seven hours.
  • Operating an oil pipeline with an understaffed and fatigued crew that was not properly trained on the leak detection system.

These charges come with a maximum penalty of five years of probation for Amplify Energy and potential fines, which may reach millions of dollars. We do not yet know what probation would look like for Amplify Energy, but in general, the judge presiding over the case can require them to change their operation or conduct if the corporation is placed on probation.

This action, while positive in that it highlights the extreme negligence that occurred, is unfortunately not enough of a deterrent for oil drilling companies to improve their practices or to go so far as to consider ending drilling. The fines are a drop in the bucket for an industry that generates over $100 billion annually, and indictments target the corporations and not the individuals in charge of the corporations, again softening the accountability blow.

The only way to prevent another oil spill from happening is to end oil drilling. It is clear that the system we have for overseeing and penalizing oil extraction companies is not sufficient for protecting our priceless and increasingly endangered ecosystems as well as fenceline communities and public health. Oil extraction companies continue to operate recklessly knowing that they can quickly recover financially.

To enact meaningful change we must phase out oil extraction all together whether it’s happening in the ocean or in our neighborhoods. We are excited to see the legislation that Senator Min will be introducing in January, which promises to end all drilling in California state waters. Ending offshore oil drilling does not mean that we can expand drilling on land – we must transition to renewable energy as soon as possible to address the climate crisis and the environmental injustices that the oil industry has inflicted on fenceline communities.

Take Action!

  • Urge the California State Government to place a buffer between oil and gas operations and our homes.
  • Get involved with local organizations working to end oil extraction in our neighborhoods.
  • Find out who your representatives are and ask what they are doing to protect the public and environment from oil extraction.


Our winters bring increased rainfall in the Los Angeles region. During this season, when many don’t usually flock to the beach like during warmer months, our Storm Response Team is our ocean’s first responder after major rain events. 

Winter Storms in LA

The biggest storm of the 2021-2022 winter season, as of yet, arrived in Southern California on Tuesday, December 14, 2021. “As far as intensity, it’s one of our stronger storms,” Kristan Lund, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said in the LA Times. “It’s definitely the strongest we’ve seen so far, and potentially one of the stronger ones we’ll see this season.”

While we desperately need the rain to quench our ecosystems, unfortunately it comes with a wave of trash. 

Stormwater is the major source of pollution for rivers, lakes, and ocean in Los Angeles County, California. The first flush from a major rain event brings a flood of water, toxins, debris, and trash from our streets straight onto our beaches through the storm drain system. The untreated runoff eventually dumps pollution onto local shorelines. This waste poses a significant risk for wildlife and marine life who can ingest trash or get entangled, and also for the health of our communities who can get sick from bacteria-polluted water.

Our local waters need your help combating marine debris after every big storm in LA during the winter.

Take Part in a Self-Guided Cleanup

Gather friends and family or go solo to take part in a storm response cleanup by spending 30 minutes to an hour cleaning up around your neighborhood or local outdoor space. Remember, trash removed from a street or park means that less waste will make its way through the storm drain system, onto our beaches, and then out to sea.

In addition to doing a cleanup near you, take a look at the map above and target these beach sites today or this week. Highlighted areas are near storm drain outfalls and usually have the most trash after it rains—so this is where you can make the biggest impact. 

Join the Storm Response Team

The rain is coming, are you ready to answer the call?

This won’t be LA’s last storm. Heal the Bay needs more volunteers to join our Storm Response Team for the rainy season to help remove trash, track data, and document photos. If you’re interested in joining our dedicated Storm Response Team to be the ocean’s first responder after #LARain, sign up to receive alerts about volunteer opportunities! 

Join the Storm Response Team

Already a Storm Response Team Member?

Keep an eye on your email inbox. About 24-hours after each rainfall has ended the Storm Response Team leader will email an alert with the location of the next cleanup. When the storm rolls in, collect your gear and get ready to answer the call! If you need a refresher on how to prepare, what to bring, and how to safely take part, review the most critical storm response information.

Critical Storm Response Information

 

Thanks for Being the Ocean’s First Responder

Whether you joined the Storm Response Team, are in the process of learning more about the issue, or are leading a cleanup of your own soon, THANK YOU!

Share your efforts on social media and encourage friends, family, and your network to get involved by tagging your finds with @healthebay and #healthebay.

 If you have questions about our Storm Response Team, please reach out to Emely Garcia.

 

Special thanks to our sponsor!



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




Barrel containing industrial toxic waste found off the coast of California. (David Valentine / ROV Jason)

It’s hard to believe that it has been just over a year since the LA Times broke the shocking story of large-scale and widespread dumping of DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) waste in the deep waters of the San Pedro Basin, off the coast of Southern California, prior to about 1960. The dumping of DDT took place in unceded Tongva, Acjachemen, and Kizh ancestral waters.

The revelation of this extensive, deep-water dumping by UCSB scientist Dr. Valentine and story by LA Times environmental reporter Rosanna Xia horrified even those of us who have worked for decades on the well-known DDT Superfund site in shallower waters off the coast of Los Angeles, in the Palos Verdes shelf. However, this deep-water dumpsite was a lesser-known piece of the toxic legacy of DDT production by the Montrose Chemical Company in Torrance.  

DDT, a legacy pesticide, is known to have devastating and long-lasting impacts on wildlife, ecosystems, and human health. 

DDT was produced by Montrose from 1943-1983 at their Torrance factory, with much of their DDT-contaminated waste dumped into the sewer system and eventually released in the waters of the Palos Verdes shelf, off the coast of Los Angeles. This created the largest underwater Superfund site in the United States. Stormwater runoff from the factory contaminated the Dominguez Channel and Port of LA too, both of which remain poisoned to this day. And, over the last year we learned that DDT-waste was also taken in barges far offshore and dumped in the deep ocean.  

DDT is an especially devastating chemical because it never goes away. It gets into ocean animals and concentrates as it moves up the food chain. It harms untold numbers of fish, marine mammals, and birds, as well as people who rely on fishing to feed themselves and their families.  

There are still many questions that need to be answered about the nature and extent of DDT contamination in the deep ocean. We must discover the hard truth about how it continues to poison our ecosystems, including people and marine life. 

Since the LA Times article came out, there have been some steps in the right direction but much more needs to be done. Options for removal or mitigation must be explored. The health of people who eat local seafood, especially subsistence fishers, must be protected. Companies that caused the pollution must be held accountable, and government agencies that oversee research and cleanup must be proactive in their work. Above all, the public must be engaged and informed on progress clearly and frequently. 

Led by Senators Feinstein and Padilla, the federal government has a proposed earmark of $5.6 million for NOAA, UC Santa Barbara, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography to study the San Pedro Basin deep-water DDT dump site. This is a great start but is not finalized yet and is only about half the amount needed to conduct a comprehensive assessment.

Further, research, mitigation, and cleanup efforts must be approached collaboratively at all levels of government to begin to understand and address this natural disaster as the implications for environmental and public health are far-reaching.

Sign this petition urging Governor Newsom and the California Senate and Assembly to commit, at a minimum, $5.6 M in the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year State budget to match the proposed federal funding allocated to DDT. The State of California permitted this dumping and needs to dedicate resources to tackling this disaster in collaboration with federal agencies.  

Sign Petition

The following organizations have signed on to this petition:

Heal the Bay
Clean Water Action
Surfrider Los Angeles Chapter
LA Waterkeeper
Surfrider Foundation

 



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.



Laura Rink, Associate Director of Aquarium Operations shares an update on where our released Giant Sea Bass is swimming in the Santa Monica Bay and the impacts of the recent oil spill on fish eggs.

When an animal is released into the wild, there are assumed risks. Transport logistics to the release, acclimation into a foreign environment, predation, inability to find food sources, and natural diseases are all concerns our Heal the Bay Aquarium team had when releasing the beloved Giant Sea Bass (Stereolepis gigas), whom we fondly refer to as GSB, into the Redondo Beach King Harbor in May 2021.

Over the subsequent months we were delighted to observe the fish’s journey in local waters.

We were able to monitor the animal’s movements because, implanted in the abdomen of this Giant Sea Bass is an acoustic tracker that allows us to make observations for ten years. This data provides insight into the success of a captive animal release and additional migration data for a historically endangered species. From the release in May 2021, we have observed the GSB’s migration from the Redondo Beach Artificial Reef, into the Point Vicente Marine Protected Area (MPA), down along the coastline of Cabrillo, and most recently, into the waters along Huntington Beach (See image 1 and 2).

Image 1: A visual map of the Giant Sea Bass migration down the southern coast of California. Points of detection are buoy markers that record movement when an individual passes. Number of detections show how many times the individual was documented passing a specific buoy: the larger the circle on the map below, the more times the fish was recorded at that site.

Image 2: Number of detections made at specific sites and their correlating dates. Dots show where the fish was detected (on the left ) and in what month (along the bottom). 

While our team has excitedly followed the fish over the last few months, an unexpected concern arose when the major oil spill off of Orange County’s coastline near Huntington Beach happened in early October 2021—just 5 months after the fish’s release. The fossil fuel industry failing was not only a source of concern for the singular Giant Sea Bass fish, but also for the countless local species who call our ocean home. And, this catastrophic event has brought forward a question that is now commonly posed to our Heal the Bay Aquarium team, “How does an oil spill affect the local species of ocean life?”

Most news reports and oil spill updates from officials mention the impacted marine mammals and birds, animals that capture the public eye and spend a great deal of time at the surface of the sea where most of the oil is seen. But, what about the lesser known fish swimming deep below in our salty waters?

Anecdotal evidence shows that oil spills have devastating effects on ocean animal populations, starting at the first stages of development. Giant Sea Bass are a key example of this issue. While adult individuals like our released GSB may only incur minimal impacts, their offspring may not be so lucky. Giant Sea Bass and various other species of fish are what we call “broadcast spawners”. This term means they release hundreds to thousands of eggs into the surrounding ocean waters where they develop and hatch into larval fishes. Due to the biological makeup of these eggs, they will float to the surface of the water, which is precisely where the toxic oil ends up after a spill. Consequently, research has shown that when eggs come into contact with oil, it can have severe developmental impacts on the growing larvae. One can imagine, then, the potentially disastrous generational effects of an oil spill occurring during the peak spawning season of an endangered fish species.

Oil spills in the ocean can be prevented only when we stop offshore drilling. Here are actions you can take to stop the environmentally damaging impacts of the fossil fuel industry. It’s not enough that we stop offshore drilling, we need to phase out oil and gas drilling on land too. Send a pre-written public comment that demands the following three items: 1) support a 3,200-foot setback of new oil wells from schools, hospitals and homes, 2) demand that the setback applies to existing wells, and 3) demand an emergency response to ban all new permits within the setback until the final rule is in effect.

Come visit Heal the Bay Aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier. We’ll tell you all about the GSB and the other amazing animals who live in the Santa Monica Bay, and more ways you can protect them.



This is a developing story and we will update information as new details come to light.

UPDATE: 3:00 pm Pacific Time on April 13, 2022.

According to a new Daily Breeze article, “42 million gallons of sewage entered LA waterways in past 15 years. More than half of the total was spilled in 2021 alone. A nearly catastrophic disaster at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant and the sudden collapse of a sewer system in Carson last year combined to make it the worst since the beginning of the data set in April 2007. The two spills, roughly six months and 15 miles apart, led to the total release of 25 million gallons of raw sewage either directly into the ocean or into waterways that empty into it.”

It’s been nearly 8 months since the massive sewage spill from the Hyperion Treatment Plant and two key updates occurred recently.

First, we recently learned that Hyperion Treatment Plant has not been complying with air quality standards since the spill. This is alarming news considering that the plant emits greenhouse gasses hundreds of times more potent than carbon dioxide. While Hyperion is no longer discharging under-treated sewage into the ocean, the environmental impact of the sewage spill continues. We urge regulators to take prompt action and ensure Hyperion’s air emissions are in compliance.

Second, The City of Los Angeles, Board of Public Works assembled an advisory committee composed of government officials, academics, and NGO representatives. Our very own CEO, Shelley Luce, was on the committee. The committee was tasked with conducting an independent assessment of the spill, and their findings were recently released in February in a report along with recommendations for minimizing sewage spill risk in the future.

The report found that a series of missteps led to the sewage spill rather than a single sudden influx of debris that inundated Hyperion’s machinery, which was the original theory. Here is the series of events as we understand them:

  1. The machines (bar screens) that Hyperion uses to remove trash and large items from our waste water became clogged because some of that trash was allowed to cycle back through those machines due to a design failure. It is also important to note that trash should not be flushed down the toilet
  2. When the trash removal machines became clogged, alarms were triggered, but they were not responded to in time and Hyperion’s headworks facility (building where trash is removed from our wastewater) began to flood.
  3. Once the flooding began, it was too dangerous for workers to open an underground bypass channel that could have relieved the flooding. Opening this channel required workers to lift a large metal barrier out of the ground using a ceiling-mounted crane.
  4. The sewage flowed to other parts of Hyperion, damaging critical equipment and systems, which further hampered their ability to respond to the situation.
  5. Hyperion’s storm drain system, which feeds into the 1-mile ocean outfall, was eventually filled with sewage, resulting in 13 million gallons of sewage spilling into Santa Monica Bay.

The report recommended the following improvements and next steps:

  • Upgrade the trash removal equipment to reduce or eliminate the chance that trash is sent back through the machinery once it has already been removed from the wastewater.
  • Improve the alarm functionality by designing an alarm that will be immediately noticed.
  • Conduct additional staff training and revise protocols for alarm and flooding response. 
  • Conduct additional recruitment to fill jobs in the headworks facility, which is where the flooding began. 

We appreciate the creation of this report and we support its recommendations for improvements to Hyperion’s systems and processes. Heal the Bay’s additional recommendations for next steps in light of the report are:

  1. Integrate the advisory committee report recommendations with the 30-day report (initial report released 30 days after the spill) recommendations. We need the findings from both reports combined so that all the information and data for the spill is in one place. Information on impacts to the public (e.g. beach closures, odors, public health impacts, economic impacts) as well as water and air quality violations should be included. And, this will help create one cohesive plan for improving Hyperion.
  2. Prioritize the recommendations from both reports based on their significance and/or ease of correction. And each recommended action should be accompanied by a realistic timeline in which it can be addressed.
  3. Provide stakeholders and the public with regular progress updates as improvements are made to the plant. At the very least, the Hyperion Recovery website should remain active and should be updated with such progress reports.

Heal the Bay is committed to working with LA City Public Works and Sanitation (as well as other agencies and groups) to make sure that the report recommendations are addressed promptly to protect the health and safety of Hyperion’s workers as well as the general public and the environment. Implementation of the recommendations along with the rebuilding of public trust will be paramount as Hyperion transitions to full wastewater recycling by 2035. This transition means that Hyperion will no longer discharge treated water to the ocean, but will instead recycle 100% of its water to provide for a reliable and local source of water in the face of ongoing drought and climate change impacts. Heal the Bay is a strong supporter of this effort to reduce our reliance on imported water as well as reduce impacts to the ocean – we will be tracking the issue closely to ensure that public health is prioritized along with sustainability.

UPDATE: 10:30 am Pacific Time on November 2, 2021.

We have some promising news regarding the Hyperion Treatment Plant. For the past few months, the plant has been operating in a diminished capacity due to the damage it sustained on July 11 that resulted in the discharge of 17 million gallons of raw sewage nearshore (1 mile out). Consequently, LA Sanitation (LASAN) was discharging wastewater from Hyperion Treatment Plant into the ocean (5 miles out) that did not meet regulatory requirements. We now have confirmation that the plant is fully operational according to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB).

After the July 11 disaster, LASAN was issued a notice of violation by the LARWQCB for the discharge of raw sewage in violation of their permit, which will likely result in fines. Further, LASAN was required to conduct additional water quality monitoring by the LARWQCB, initially consisting of daily samples taken at multiple locations and depths, 5 miles offshore. In mid-September the LARWQCB approved a request by LASAN to reduce monitoring to three times per week and, just this week, approved LASAN’s request to cease all additional offshore monitoring. The LARWQB made this decision based on the water quality data and the reports that LASAN has been required to submit. We have also reviewed the data provided on Hyperion’s recovery webpage and found that contaminant levels in the wastewater discharged into the ocean do indeed meet regulatory requirements. However, we do have a few lingering concerns about individual events of water quality exceedances over the last month, as well as remaining maintenance work to be done.

We are relieved that Hyperion now appears able to properly treat wastewater before it is discharged into the ocean. However, we still do not know the cause of the flooding and subsequent sewage spill. Heal the Bay is part of an ad hoc group meeting to discuss the causes of the incident and the response by government agencies, and to make recommendations for improvement. The group meets nearly every week with the aim of producing a comprehensive report by the end of the year. Heal the Bay will continue to push for answers from LASAN because we must make sure events like this do not happen in the future. We also look forward to carefully reviewing the report that LASAN must submit to the LARWQB by November 8 as well as tracking and ensuring that there is enforcement of the violations.

UPDATE: 7:00 pm Pacific Time on October 4, 2021.

LA Sanitation recently released a report with an in-depth description of the events that led to the sewage discharge into the Santa Monica Bay on July 11 & 12. Here is a summary of what we learned.

The discharge occurred because the Hyperion Plant’s barscreens (trash filtration devices) clogged leading to a catastrophic flood event at the facility. Raw sewage flooded large swathes of the facility and damaged machinery and infrastructure necessary for the plant to function. Millions of gallons of this sewage were released through the 1-mile outfall and into Santa Monica Bay as an emergency measure to prevent further flooding and the plant going offline completely. 

So far, no one has been able to determine the origin of the large amount of debris that clogged the barscreens that day. The flooding also made it impossible for Hyperion to determine the amount of debris that caused the blockages. These are two critical pieces of information for the incident investigation, and we are keeping up the pressure for some answers soon. Fortunately, the minute-by-minute account of July 11 & 12 in Hyperion’s report gives us some clues as to what went wrong that day and how events like this can be prevented in the future:

  1. Hyperion’s barscreens have an automated system that clears blockages when they are detected. According to the report, this feature has never been used by the plant due to “unreliable level sensors.” The barscreens are instead operated manually, and workers clear any blockages that occur. Hyperion stated in the report that this process needs to be assessed and improved.
  2. There is a barscreen bypass system in place at the plant which could have prevented the flooding. Unfortunately, workers at Hyperion were not able to use the bypass system in time – the flooding became too dangerous and they had to evacuate. In the report, Hyperion promised to review standard operating procedures and conduct emergency training for the bypass system.
  3. Hyperion will develop flood risk mitigation strategies for certain facilities and equipment at the plant. This will ensure the plant can operate if a flood event happens in the future. Given the plant’s proximity to the ocean, Hyperion’s operators need to consider tsunami mitigation in their assessment. 
  4. While the origin of the barscreen-clogging debris is still a mystery, it is an opportune moment for Hyperion and water advocates to remind the public what can and cannot be flushed down the toilet (only flush bodily waste and toilet paper, nothing else). Hyperion stated that they will increase public education efforts, which Heal the Bay would be willing to assist with as we’ve done in the past.

We appreciate the transparency and data that Hyperion has provided in their report and on their website. Nevertheless, there are still some big questions that need to be answered in addition to the origin of the barscreen debris. Hyperion has not made an official announcement that they are fully operational, and we would appreciate a timeline of when they expect that to happen. The Hyperion Recovery website is still listing some critical process equipment as currently being serviced, and there are reports that the treatment plant is almost fully operational. We are also seeking more information on the quality of the wastewater currently being discharged out the 5-mile outfall.

What was causing the foul odors near Hyperion? We are getting this question a lot, so we wanted to provide some more detail. Flooding at the plant damaged the pumps that move sewage from open-air holding tanks to the secondary processing infrastructure. For three weeks, excessive amounts of sewage built up in the holding tanks while workers repaired the pumps. The odors that have plagued South Bay communities came from these holding tanks. Hyperion stated that they have been processing this backlog of sewage, and air quality will continue to improve. We’ve also learned that Hyperion has ended the air filtration & AC unit reimbursement program for households impacted by the odors.

 

UPDATE: 10:20 am Pacific Time on September 23, 2021.

Here is what has been going on behind-the-scenes at Heal the Bay as a follow up to the massive sewage spill from the Hyperion plant back in July 2021.

We took a tour of the Hyperion plant to see the extent of damages from the incident, which is still under investigation. We learned about what’s happening to recover Hyperion as efficiently and safely as possible, and we met some of the hardworking people who have the enormous responsibility to treat LA’s wastewater day in and day out. We are working closely with LA Public Works to evaluate existing systems for repairs and upgrades at the plant where needed.

Recent data from the Hyperion 2021 Recovery website shows the effluent coming out of the 5-mile pipe from Hyperion is getting back to within regulatory limits for most water quality measurements. However, bacteria levels at the 5-mile outfall are consistently exceeding health limits, which is alarming. The public has not been provided with a timeline for when water quality improvements are expected. Fortunately, bacteria does not appear to be impacting our beaches – as indicated by beach water quality monitoring. According to the Clean Water Act, Hyperion should be fined for every day it is out of compliance with public health and safety standards. So far it has been 74 days since the spill first occurred.


An engineer points to how high the flooding water was during the catastrophic incident at the Hyperion plant on July 11-12.

When the spill occurred on July 11-12, there was catastrophic flooding within the Hyperion plant. Raw sewage permanently disabled plant electronics that control pumps and other functions at the plant, and equipment had to be replaced. For many weeks the plant could not complete the secondary phase of the treatment process, and the only option was to pump under-treated wastewater into the ocean. The replacement and repairs are mainly done and water quality is mostly back to normal. The elevated bacteria levels at the 5-mile outfall are still an issue and we are pushing the City to determine the cause and fix it as soon as possible.

The City of Los Angeles Sanitation and Environment Department (LASAN) submitted their 30-day action report to the Regional Board and US EPA, and we are reviewing it. We’ll provide an in-depth update about it soon. Recently at the request of LASAN, the Regional Water Board reduced the required sampling from daily to three times per week.

Our team continues to closely monitor water quality with the Beach Report Card and LA County’s Beach Water Quality Advisories website. The good news is, aside from the usual bummers, we’re seeing good grades at most of LA’s beaches for the past month. A couple sites with chronic water quality issues are the Santa Monica Pier and Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey — coming into contact with the water at these beach areas should generally be avoided, especially by young children, senior citizens, and people who are immunocompromised. Install our free Beach Report Card iOS or Android app so you can have the latest water quality grades in your pocket.

UPDATE: 7:30 pm Pacific Time on August 20, 2021.

 

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The latest beach grades for LA are in… most beaches have great water quality scores!

But, Santa Monica Beach at the Santa Monica Pier came in with an “F” grade. Avoid swimming here until water quality tests show it’s safe.

Get all the grades at our Beach Report Card.

 

UPDATE: 12:10 pm Pacific Time on August 17, 2021.


Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay CEO, is joining a virtual townhall hosted by The Board of Public Works to discuss water quality and health impacts from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant sewage spill in the Santa Monica Bay.

The virtual townhall is on Wednesday, August 18 at 5:30 p.m. Join online or by phone.

 

UPDATE: 8:45 pm Pacific Time on August 10, 2021.

Our communities continue to have concerns and questions regarding the impacts of sewage in the ocean. Here we answer the top 5 questions we’ve been hearing on social media.

Where does the sewage magically go, which makes it safe for swimming?

Once the sewage is discharged, it travels where the ocean currents take it – that could be further out to sea, closer to shore, or it may remain in place.

Over time, fecal matter and urine will be consumed by microorganisms. This is not desirable because sewage discharges are not natural and may alter the food chain. The microorganisms consuming sewage may also consume chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and toxins contained within the fecal matter and urine. These chemical compounds might then get transferred up the food chain as other organisms consume the sewage-eating ones. Particulates like plastic and toilet paper may get ingested by larger organisms in the water or the material might settle into the sediment.

When it is deemed “safe to swim” does that mean the amount of toxins could still be above what’s normally acceptable?

Human fecal matter contains many microorganisms that can get humans sick from a single exposure. That is why our beaches are tested regularly for the presence of fecal matter, and it’s why California has strict fecal-indicator bacteria standards. Recreational water quality standards do not take into account other forms of pollution like toxins and chemicals because, in general, it takes many exposures over a long period of time to become sick from toxins and chemicals. Heal the Bay continues to advocate for increased water quality monitoring, especially for “forever chemicals” like PCBs and DDT.

How could this impact dolphins and other animals in the Bay?

We are concerned about all organisms in the Bay, including dolphins, fish, algae, and invertebrates living in the sediment. All organisms have a niche and play a role in maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem. The sewage discharges will likely change the abundance and distribution of smaller organisms first as they consume the sewage. Those changes to the bottom of the food chain may then impact species that are higher up on the chain like fish and dolphins. The other concern is that chemicals and pharmaceuticals contained in the sewage will also get transferred up the food chain as the sewage-eating microorganisms are consumed by larger organisms.

How often is water quality being tested? Who is conducting these water safety tests?

Right now, the beaches between Ballona Creek and Manhattan Beach are being tested every day. Under normal circumstances, all beaches in the Santa Monica Bay typically get monitored 2-3 times a week in the summer on average. Santa Monica Bay beaches are monitored for recreational water quality by four government agencies: LASAN, LA County Department of Public Health, Sanitation Districts of LA County, and the City of Redondo Beach.

How can we prevent this in the future?

​There is an ongoing investigation into the cause of the damage to the Hyperion Treatment Plant in El Segundo, which triggered millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage to be released into the Bay. Once we know the cause(s) we can advocate for preventative measures. However, we don’t need an investigation to tell us what is obvious: the public was not sufficiently notified about the sewage discharge into the Santa Monica Bay. Heal the Bay is working to put pressure on LASAN and LA County Department of Public Health to investigate why public notifications were not forthcoming and how they can ensure more expedient public warnings.

UPDATE: 8:45 pm Pacific Time on August 9, 2021.

 

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Make your voice heard about the recent 17 million gallon raw sewage spill and the ongoing discharges of partially treated sewage into the Bay from Hyperion.

Tell the City of LA your concerns and that you demand they take immediate action to improve the emergency public notification protocols and implement preventative measures so this never happens again.

Act now: The City Council meeting starts at 10am on Tuesday, August 10.

Send in a comment to the Los Angeles City Council hearing tomorrow – use Council File # 21-0839:
https://cityclerk.lacity.org/publiccomment/
-or-
Call 1 669 254 5252 and use Meeting ID No. 160 535 8466 and then press #. Press # again when prompted for participant ID. Once admitted into the meeting, press *9 to request to speak.

Watch and listen to the council meeting here:
Cable TV Channel 35
https://clerk.lacity.org/calendar
(213) 621-CITY (METRO)
(818) 904-9450 (VALLEY)
(310) 471-CITY (WESTSIDE)
(310) 547-CITY (SAN PEDRO AREA)

UPDATE: 10:25 am Pacific Time on August 4, 2021.

The City of Los Angeles Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) launched a new webpage that addresses sewage discharge at the Hyperion Plant in El Segundo. It briefly covers the cause of the catastrophic incident and the recovery effort underway. 

We want you to be aware of the data table (with multiple tabs) at the bottom of the page. It shows the pollutant levels in the effluent (via sampling results of what Hyperion is discharging from the 5-mile outfall), equipment status, odor monitoring results, offshore monitoring results for bacteria, and links to other data, which don’t appear to be working or filled in yet. “Effluent” is the treated wastewater that Hyperion releases to the ocean. In other words, influent is what comes into the plant (raw sewage and other debris), and effluent is what goes out of the plant (typically treated wastewater that has to meet certain standards).

VIEW LASAN’S HYPERION 2021 RECOVERY PAGE

We will be reviewing the data closely and providing a deeper analysis for you. But, our first impressions are that exceedances (aka violations) are occurring for multiple parameters in the effluent since July 11-12, indicating that LASAN is violating their permit by continuing to discharge inadequately treated sewage into the Bay, and is still not able to fully treat sewage. What is even more concerning is that the levels of certain pollutants appear to be increasing over the last couple of weeks (the weekly average numbers are getting larger). These high levels of total suspended solids (TSS), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), settleable solids, turbidity, and oil & grease may have long-term negative impacts on marine life and ecosystems. 

Our team will provide more information about the pollutants and what the potential impacts could be for the Santa Monica Bay later this week.

Despite this alarming data, recent beach water quality tests have indicated the water in the Santa Monica Bay is safe for human recreation. All beach advisories, except for Avalon Beach on Catalina Island, have been lifted because water samples have not exceeded State water quality standards. This is good news for beachgoers, but we recommend that you always check the latest beach conditions at the LA County Department of Public Health’s website and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card.

 

UPDATE: 8:00 am Pacific Time on August 3, 2021.

 

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LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) released an update last night that ocean water samples collected at the following locations have met State water quality standards and beach advisories have been lifted:

  • Dockweiler State Beach
    • Ballona Creek (Near Dockweiler Tower 40)
    • Culver Blvd storm drain
    • Imperial Highway storm drain
    • Westchester storm drain
  • Pico-Kenter storm drain (Santa Monica Beach)
  • Topanga Canyon Lagoon (Topanga Canyon Beach in Malibu)

A warning is still in place for Avalon Beach at Catalina Island (50 feet east of the pier). The Department of Public Health continues cautioning all to be careful of swimming, surfing, and playing in this area.

Thanks for staying updated.

 

UPDATE: 11:46 am Pacific Time on July 30, 2021.

 

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We are shocked that LA Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) has continued to release inadequately treated sewage into the Bay. It’s been over two weeks since the 17 million gallon sewage spill, and we are now learning that the Hyperion plant is not able to fully treat sewage.

The discharge contains bacteria and viruses as well as organic matter that causes low oxygen levels in ocean waters – the impacts on human health and marine life can be significant and very damaging. LASAN should have notified the public and stakeholders who have been tracking the spill results closely for the last two weeks. We don’t know if LASAN has increased monitoring to assess the impacts of the partially treated discharge – that needed to start immediately – and going forward we need transparency in order to ensure appropriate actions are taking place to assess impacts, protect people and wildlife, and pursue fines and mitigation measures to the maximum extent.

Heal the Bay was founded in the 1980s by local activists who refused to accept partially treated sewage being dumped into the Bay by Hyperion. It’s now 30 plus years later – great progress has been made, but without watchdogs we’re at risk of repeating past mistakes.

The LA Regional Water Quality Control Board has taken immediate action to boost monitoring in the Santa Monica Bay.

Last night we received a notice from the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) issuing an order to the City of Los Angeles LA Sanitation and Environment (LASAN) Hyperion Treatment Plant to provide monitoring and reporting related to the discharge of sewage on July 11 and 12.

The order details how the flooding at the plant led to non-operational equipment resulting in reduced efficiency of treatment and a reduction in the quality of the discharge from the 5 mile outfall. The order documents that since the initial incident, Hyperion has violated its discharge permit by releasing effluent that is in exceedance of limits for parameters including total suspended solids (TSS), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), turbidity, and settleable solids.

These exceedances will result in fines – however, they could have negative impacts on human health and the marine environment. We are glad to see that the Regional Board is requiring daily offshore monitoring and submission of daily monitoring and status reports. The offshore monitoring appears to include four stations, each to be tested at three depths (<1m, 15 meters, and at the outfall depth). Testing at these locations must be done for 12 parameters, including bacteria levels, which are indicative of impacts to human health.

The latest advisory from the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) states that they are continuing to test shoreline bacteria levels daily. Heal the Bay scientists and experts will be reviewing the locations and frequency of testing today by DPH and LASAN to ensure that the frequency and spatial coverage is protective of public health. And we will continue to ask for rapid methods to be used for detection of bacterial pollution – the methods being used now take 18-24 hours to obtain results and then additional time for that information to get to the public. Rapid methods would allow for more real-time results to be available to the public. 

The LA County Board of Supervisors and LA City Council members have initiated a full investigation into the 17 million gallon spill and continued discharges from Hyperion.

In addition to the Water Board’s actions outlined above, the LA County Board of Supervisors has requested a full investigation within 30 days (scroll down to our last update on 7/29 for more info). And the LA City Council is demanding a detailed report and action plan too, which includes instructing LASAN to “look for engineering opportunities during repairs to begin transforming the facility to recycle 100% of wastewater as part of the city’s Operation NEXT,” according to the Daily Breeze.

Is it safe to swim in the Bay today?

If you are deciding whether or not you should go into the water at LA’s beaches this weekend, we want to be clear: there are potential health risks at some locations.

Water quality tests from sites across the Bay have indicated high bacteria levels around El Segundo, Dockweiler, and Venice beach areas. These beach areas are under an advisory and should be avoided until tests indicate the water quality is good.

If you are heading to other areas in the Bay, we recommend that you check the latest beach conditions at the LA County Department of Public Health’s website and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card (so you can avoid beach areas impacted by bacterial-pollution issues). Conditions can change rapidly, so pay attention to beach postings and remember there is a 24-hour lag between water testing and posted warnings.

Message us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or contact us online if you need any help getting started with our Beach Report Card website or app — or if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.

UPDATE: 11:00 am Pacific Time on July 29, 2021.

One week after the massive raw sewage spill in the Santa Monica Bay from the Hyperion Plant in El Segundo, the LA County Board of Supervisors met and heard an update on what went wrong, particularly related to notification protocols, and what next steps are needed. Heal the Bay staff called in to the hearing to speak on the item, but we were not able to because they cut off public comment after 1 hour for all items on the agenda. We were glad to hear at least three people speak passionately on the issue. We did send in a letter, supporting the motion as well as offering additional recommendations. You can read our letter and other public correspondence on the item here: http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/160317.pdf

The agenda item was heard around 3:15pm and included a brief presentation on the expedited report from CityGate that Supervisor Hahn requested right after the massive release of raw sewage. The findings of the report are quite disturbing and highlight multiple failures in communication and notification, primarily by the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH).

Next, Supervisor Hahn asked a series of questions of Dr. Barbara Ferrer (Director, LA County Dept Public Health), Gary Jones (Director, LA County Dept of Beaches & Harbors), and Fernando Boiteux, (Chief, LA County Lifeguard Division). Dr. Ferrer started by apologizing to the Board and the public; she took full responsibility for the failures and stated that DPH has already made fixes and will continue to improve training, processes, and protocols. Dr. Ferrer said that what happened was unacceptable and that it will never happen again. We appreciated hearing this apology and DPH taking responsibility for their actions (or lack of actions) and the commitment to do better.

Supervisor Hahn asked Dr. Ferrer about ensuring that public health – both in the water and in the community – continue to be protected as the Hyperion plant recovers from the major failure and undergoes construction to get back fully online. El Segundo neighborhoods are bearing the brunt of unbearable odors and LASAN is offering vouchers for air conditioners and hotel rooms for those affected. Dr. Ferrer assured Supervisor Hahn that water quality would continue to be tested and that the DPH team would be conducting door-to-door outreach in the community to ensure that affected residents know how to contact them, report odors, and get access to resources.

Gary Jones from Beaches & Harbors and Fernando Boiteux from County Lifeguards also answered questions about when they received notice of the sewage discharge, what could be improved in communications, and how beach closures should ideally proceed.

The motion was passed, which will result in a more in-depth After Action Report to be produced in 30 days. This follow-up report will detail what happened, where the failures occurred, and recommendations for fixing failures and ensuring this never happens again.

Heal the Bay greatly appreciated the updates and the transparency and accountability that the report and hearing provided. We will be actively following this issue and are engaging with Supervisor Hahn’s office and agencies to offer our recommendations and participate in the process. We will continue to hold agencies accountable and ensure that there are appropriate repercussions for the multiple failures that occurred.

 

UPDATE: 6:00 pm Pacific Time on July 23, 2021.

 

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A report was released this week, and made public today, about the recent 17-million gallon sewage spill from the Hyperion plant in El Segundo. “The handling of this release and the necessary public notification were failures, the initial report concluded.

The LA County Board of Supervisors will be hearing this expedited report on Tuesday, July 27 starting at 9:30 am. The Board will be voting on a motion to get this update as well as to request a more detailed “After Action” report within 30 days. Heal the Bay will be supporting this motion by sending in a letter and calling in to give oral testimony at the hearing. We will be suggesting additional recommendations, such as implementing rapid testing methods for water quality and tracking the plume through satellite imagery and other methods.

Take action!

Watch the hearing, send in an email or a letter, and try to call in to the hearing to speak (this can be challenging to do as speaking time is limited).

TUNE IN ON JULY 27:
Agenda and info on how to watch and give comment (on the first page): https://bos.lacounty.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=AezaZ2KttC4%3d&portalid=1 (agenda item #36)

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD IN ADVANCE:
To send an email or a letter in advance of the hearing (select item 36): https://publiccomment.bos.lacounty.gov/

We appreciate Supervisor Hahn’s leadership on this and hope to work collaboratively with County and City agencies to ensure this never happens again. And, if it does, that the public is notified immediately and effectively.

UPDATE: 9:10 pm Pacific Time on July 14, 2021.

This evening the LA County Department of Public Health lifted beach closures at Dockweiler State Beach and El Segundo Beach because water samples taken over the past two days have not shown dangerous levels of fecal-indicator bacteria. Based on these results, it appears safe at most locations in the Santa Monica Bay, but we urge you to exercise caution by regularly checking the LA County Department of Public Health website for water conditions and beach closures at PublicHealth.LACounty.gov/Beach and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card.

There are four sites in the Santa Monica Bay that currently do exceed State standards and coming into contact with water at these locations could cause illness – it is unclear if these exceedances are due to the sewage spill, recent rainfall, or something else:

  • Topanga County Beach at the Topanga Canyon Lagoon
  • Will Rogers State Beach at the Santa Monica Canyon storm drain
  • Santa Monica State Beach at the Santa Monica Pier
  • Manhattan County Beach at the 28th Street storm drain

Heal the Bay won’t let up on pushing for improvements that prevent sewage spills, advance water quality testing methods, and ensure public notifications happen swiftly and equitably. Thanks to everyone in the community for reaching out, voicing concerns, asking questions, staying informed, and most importantly protecting each other by sharing critical updates. This community is strong. It is amazing to see us spring into action. Thank you.

More to come on next steps, so you can take action to hold polluters accountable and to prevent this from happening again.

 

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UPDATE: 7:15 pm Pacific Time on July 13, 2021.

We have some preliminary good news to share — but don’t rush back to the water quite yet.

Water samples taken on Monday, July 12 by LA City Bureau of Sanitation & the Environment (LASAN) and LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) do not show high levels of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). FIB, in significant quantities, indicate the presence of harmful pathogens in the water. Samples were taken at numerous locations at the shoreline and offshore, at various depths.

While this is good news, the beaches are still closed and will remain closed until two consecutive days of sampling show safe water quality. So, samples were taken again today and if they show low levels of bacteria, closures will be lifted tomorrow.

These results are very preliminary since the samples were taken Monday morning and early afternoon. Tides, currents and wind continue to move water around and we don’t know where the contamination may have ended up.

We also don’t know what the water quality was before the samples were collected – i.e. on Sunday evening and early Monday morning. It is possible that bacteria levels were higher then, and that people who got in the water were unknowingly exposed to poor water quality.

We appreciate that LASAN and DPH have been forthcoming with us on the results, but we feel strongly that this information should be spread widely to the general public, as early as possible. LA County DPH is responsible for notifying the public of dangerous levels of contamination. Given the significant amount of raw sewage released, nearby beaches should have been closed immediately. Delaying public notification by 12-24 hours is not acceptable.

We have heard from many concerned folx that they were at the beaches on Sunday evening and Monday all day without any knowledge of the spill, or any ability to take precautions. We will be working with City and County agencies to establish protocols that better protect public health. We also urge LASAN and DPH to use rapid methods to detect contamination more quickly. DNA-based lab methods like PCR are readily available and provide reliable results in minutes or hours, rather than the 24-hour process required for traditional bacterial monitoring. Using methods like these, in addition to traditional methods, as long as they are accompanied with good public notification, would help get critical information to our many ocean users much more quickly and could prevent significant harm to LA residents and visitors.

You can check the status of beach closures and conditions on LA County’s recorded information hotline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-525-5662. Information about beach closures and conditions is also available online at: PublicHealth.LACounty.gov/Beach

We will continue to track this issue and keep you informed.

 

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UPDATE: 3:20 pm Pacific Time on July 12, 2021.

When did the spill occur?
The sewage spill started at 7 pm on 7/11/2021 and stopped at about 5 am on 7/12/2021. We are told by City of LA’s Bureau of Sanitation that the spill was stopped early this morning at around 5 am and all sewage is now being treated normally.

How much was spilled?
We understand 17 million gallons of raw sewage were spilled through the 1-mile outfall, which is directly offshore from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in El Segundo.

Which beaches are impacted?
Currently Dockweiler State Beach and El Segundo Beach are closed to the public. The City of Los Angeles and LA County Department of Public Health are testing beaches and water in the Santa Monica Bay. More information can be found at the LA County Department of Public Health’s website.

What should the public do to protect themselves?
We recommend the public stay out of the water in the Santa Monica Bay until further notice. Also, check the Beach Report Card for the latest ocean water quality alerts in California, and review the River Report Card for water quality information about freshwater swimming holes in Los Angeles County.

What issues does this cause to people and to ocean wildlife?
Bacteria and viruses in raw sewage are extremely dangerous to people and can carry a variety of diseases. Debris such as tampons and plastic trash, when released into the Bay, can harbor bacteria and can cause entanglement of wildlife, but it seems in this case those debris were successfully filtered out of the spill before it made it to the Bay.

Why did this happen?
We understand the inflow to the Hyperion plant in El Segundo was severely clogged and flooded the facility. The sewage left the facility untreated through the 1-mile pipe and outfall.

What is the source and how can we hold them accountable for pollution?
This is fully the responsibility of the City of LA and their Bureau of Sanitation. The City normally does a very good job of containing and fully treating hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage every day – but when spills happen the City must move quickly to warn the public, and must discover and fix the cause to prevent future spills.

How can sewage spills be prevented?
Proper maintenance as well as people not flushing trash items such as plastic trash into the system are the best preventative measures.

How often do sewage spills occur?
The last major sewage spill in Los Angeles County was in 2015. However, smaller sewage spills are not an uncommon occurrence. In 2020 to 2021, seventy-five sewage spills sent a total of 346,888 gallons into rivers, lakes, and streams within Los Angeles County. One 222,542 gallon spill in February 2021 closed all the beaches in Long Beach; this area is monitored by Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card. A total of 39,621 gallons of sewage were spilled into the Los Angeles River, and 140 gallons were spilled into Las Virgenes Creek; both waterways are monitored by Heal the Bay’s River Report Card.

For more information about sewage spills, visit LA County Department of Public Health’s website.

 

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Watch our IG Live below where we answer your questions with our CEO Shelley Luce and Communications Director Talia Walsh.

 

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(Image by Last Chance Alliance)

The recent oil spill near Orange County is a painful reminder of the dangers associated with fossil fuels.

Oil spills, air pollution, and single-use plastic waste are all preventable impacts from the fossil fuel industry. There is simply no safe way to drill. The only solution is a just transition away from an extractive fossil fuel economy.

Heal the Bay is calling on our elected officials and appointed agencies to end oil drilling in state and federal waters, and to decommission existing offshore drilling operations immediately. But it is not enough to ban all offshore drilling, when Big Oil will just ramp up their operations in our neighborhoods and public lands. We must end this harmful practice everywhere.

Let’s turn this preventable disaster into an opportunity to protect communities, our environment, and our local economy.

We echo the statewide demands of the Last Chance Alliance to STOP, DROP, and ROLL. Call Gov. Newsom to support these three actions and sign the online petition.

Numerous elected officials have stepped up to call for an end to offshore drilling – this needs to include an end for existing leases and an immediate decommissioning of offshore oil platforms and operations. We are heartened especially by Senator Min’s vow to introduce this type of legislation for California, by his and Senator Newman’s call for federal representatives to do the same. We will keep you updated on state and federal legislation and how to keep pushing it forward.

TAKE ACTION NOW