Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Palos Verdes Peninsula

Today we celebrate how hard work does pay off. Nineteen marine protected areas (MPAs) will become effective December 19, completing the statewide network of MPAs in California’s coastal regions. Last year we rejoiced as the MPAs along the south coast became effective, and now the state will boast a suite of MPAs all the way up to the Oregon border.

Heal the Bay staff and partners worked for years to designate these MPAs, which protect entire ecosystems, allowing animals living in these areas to repopulate.

We extend our thanks to the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation for their ongoing support of our ocean conservation work, especially for establishing these Marine Protected Areas in Southern California!

In addition, we thank Sempra Energy and the Southern California Gas Company for their generous support of our Key to the Sea program and commitment to volunteerism. We are also grateful to the John W. Carson Foundation —established by Tonight Show host Johnny Carson in 1988  for their longtime support of our beach cleanup and educational programs

This week Heal the Bay staff got to ring in some festive cheer at our annual holiday party.  It was a day to celebrate each other and the hard work and dedication that goes into protecting Southern California’s coastal waters. 

Heal the Bay Holiday Party 2012

We had a wonderful time and it would not have been the rockin’ party it was without the help and generosity of some amazing people and businesses:

  • Huge thank you to our awesome board member Barry Gribbon who graciously let us use his home to host our party.  You rock, Barry!
  • Our party was so sweet thanks to the incredibly moist and delicious bundtinis from Nothing Bundt Cakes
  • Tru Protection not only continues to donate 15% of the proceeds from the Abel Art series of Iphone cases, but they also generously donated a few to raffle off to staff!
  • And finally, Alchemie Spa helped us feel pampered when one lucky staffer got to walk away with a gift certificate for an organic manicure. Come treat yourself for a good cause on December 18 when Alchemie throws a party for us, complete with food, drinks, mini-treatments and so much more. All of the proceeds from the evening’s $10 entrance charge, raffle tickets, silent auction and a portion of spa treatments will go to protecting what we all love…the ocean!

We’d also like to thank surfwear retailer O’Neill, which has offered a special edition Heal the Bay surfer t-shirt at their Santa Monica store since September 2011. We appreciate the ongoing support!

More: Visit the Heal the Bay holiday gift guide for the ocean lovers on your list. 

Want do more to protect the ocean? Heal the Bay offers myriad ways to get involved—from our citizen science program MPA Watch to beach cleanups.

It’s that time of year….

Gifts to buy, presents to wrap, crowds, parties, lines, stress, debt, more shopping, more wrapping, cooking, planning … and oh yes, giving back.

It’s that time of the season when you tell yourself: This year’s going to be different. This year, I’m going to remember the true spirit of the season. This year, I’m going to do something charitable.  I’ll serve meals at a shelter, I’ll make time to volunteer, I’ll adopt a family for Christmas …

And suddenly, you’re out of time. The holidays are over, and you haven’t had a chance to do a thing but shop, eat, drive, wait in line, wrap, eat, and stress more. You resign by saying, “Next year. I’ll make the holidays less commercial and more about love and giving — next year.”

Don’t give up. Heal the Bay is here, and we’ve made it easy for you to do it all. Shop, eat, drink, be merry AND be charitable without spending an extra penny.  When you shop, eat or drink at one of our holiday partners, a portion of your sale will be gifted back to Heal the Bay.  

Having a party? As much as you’d love another potted plant, tell your guests what you really want are donations for the bay. We’ll even give you games, supplies and a gift wrapped box to collect their “treasure.”

Looking for a special place for your party?  It doesn’t get any more awesome than the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium!  The décor is done! Kelp Forests in awesome neon! Entertainment? How many holiday parties have you been to that included petting a seastar, feeding a shark or communing with a moon jelly?

However you enjoy the holidays, remember a gift for you: give yourself a moment, an hour a day, to take in the splendor of the sea.

                                                                                –Nina Borin

Development Manager, Corporate Relations and Special Events

Send Nina an email if you want your business included in Heal the Bay’s holiday shopping guide or if you want to throw a HtB-themed holiday party.

Sustain the “doing good” momentum generated by the Giving Tuesday initiative and make a difference in your community. Not all giving needs to be material (although we appreciate the donations). Here are three ways this week that you can give back with Heal the Bay:

In case you are feeling material, our holiday shopping guide is up with all kinds of gift options for the ocean lovers in your life. The guide is also handy for sharing when someone asks what you want for Hanukkah or Christmas this year. 

Visit Heal the Bay’s calendar to discover more ways to get involved.

Last month’s debate and hearing over the new stormwater permit for Los Angeles became contentious for Heal the Bay.  We weren’t happy with the final vote at the regional Water Board, but fortunately there’s a new initiative afoot that could have a real positive impact on local water quality – Los Angeles County’s Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure.

Despite the differing views on how to regulate cities that discharge runoff into the Bay, the various stakeholders involved all want the same thing: clean water.  It may sound a bit idealistic, but the best way to make progress on stormwater is to have government agencies, business groups and environmental organizations join hands and work together. That is why Heal the Bay strongly supports the Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure, which will be mailed to property owners next spring.

The County of Los Angeles Flood Control District is proposing to establish an annual clean water fee to fund the Clean Water, Clean Beaches Program.  This Program is an opportunity for Los Angeles County residents to reduce harmful trash and pollution in our waterways and protect local sources of drinking water from contamination. The measure would provide $270 million in funding for innovative stormwater projects that would create multiple economic and environmental benefits for the entire region. These projects serve multiple functions. For example, a stormwater infiltration area could be designed in such a way that it will double as open space, park or local ball field.

Securing clean water in a heavily urbanized environment such as Los Angeles doesn’t happen overnight. It requires resources.  And regional waterbodies are well-worth protecting. Locals and tourists alike frequent Los Angeles County’s beaches, yet 7 out of the 10 of California’s most polluted beaches are right in our own backyard.  This means that a day at the beach could make you or your family sick.  Pollution that runs off our streets can be toxic to fish and other species.  As a result some fish species in our Bay are unsafe to eat.  Trash pollution is so extreme in some areas of the County that our rivers look more like trash dumps.  The current paradigm needs to shift.    

Investing in clean water now will pay dividends for years to come. Nearly 400,000 jobs in Los Angeles County are ocean-related, responsible for $10 billion annually in wages and $20 billion in goods and services.  In addition, the measure will result in thousands of new jobs for our region.  

Currently Los Angeles County depends on importing costly and increasingly scarce water from Northern California and the Colorado River. Storm water can serve as a sustainable, cost-effective local source of drinking water.  The measure would fund innovative infrastructure projects throughout the region that capture and reuse stormwater — before it enters our waterways. Stormwater becomes an asset, rather than a liability.

Our region’s water quality has come a long way, since Heal the Bay started working for a healthier Bay in 1985.  However, we have a long way to go.  The Clean Water, Clean Beaches measure will help us meet our goals for clean water. The average homeowner would pay roughly $54 a year to support projects like green streets, stormwater recharge areas and “smart” trash capture systems. Strict accountability elements in the measure ensure all funds will be exclusively used on improving water quality.

We urge your support of this critical measure. Watch your mailbox in late spring, but in the coming weeks we’ll keep you posted on new developments.

Learn more about the Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The landlord, the man in the gray suit, jaws, white pointer, tommy shark, great white – whatever you call it, the elusive white shark has long been the subject of lore and legend. I know it’s a given for a marine biologist, but I have always been fascinated by white sharks. I’m now actively working with ocean groups up and down the coast on an organized campaign to create stronger state and federal protections for these awe-inspiring and misunderstood animals.

Throughout my studies and career, I’ve heard stories of SCUBA divers on Catalina startled by the shadow of a white shark passing in the waters above, seen shots of surf photographers unintentionally capturing an image of them breaching while focusing on their main subject – surfers and fishermen encountering them while they are days offshore and far from civilization.

Since my college days, I told myself that I wanted to log enough ocean time to see a white shark in its natural environment, without luring it in or going to a spot with a high chance of an encounter. After living on a boat in Baja, spending years on the water teaching hands-on marine science on Catalina, and loads of time sailing, surfing, and diving in Southern and Central California, my moment finally came on a chilly September morning last year.

Seth Lawrence, an aquarist at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium at the time, and I had taken his dinghy out in pursuit of the blue whales that were hanging out off the coast of Redondo Beach. It was an early, gray morning and the water was pure glass. After an hour of unsuccessfully searching for blue whales, we started to head into shore, and I saw a small fin at the surface in the distance.

I thought it was a Mola mola (ocean sunfish), pointed it out to Seth, and we cruised in the fish’s direction. As we got closer, we saw a second fin, and the animal was moving in an s-pattern characteristic of a shark. We were both excited, and drifting along, the animal soon became clear. It was a small white shark – about 3 ½ or 4 feet long – directly off the bow. I could have reached out and touched it!

We cruised along slowly behind it for a few minutes before it decided to dive to deeper waters. I was so excited to have my big fish story (and a shaky iPhone video to go along with it, complete with sounds of Seth and me in the background screaming with excitement). I consider myself lucky, as this is quite a rare occurrence, especially since we weren’t fishing or intentionally trying to see the landlord in a hot spot like the Farallon Islands or Guadalupe Island.

Staff scientists at Heal the Bay often get the question whether the recent uptick in anglers catching white sharks off the Manhattan Beach Pier, or seemingly more sightings along Santa Monica Bay beaches, means that white shark populations are rebounding. It seems like a simple question, but it’s often said that scientists know more about space than they do about the sea. Tracking fish is a complicated research proposition. It’s much easier to monitor animals on land with distinct geographic boundaries and habitats defined by buildings, roads and the like. It’s really tough to get a baseline assessment of just how many fish are out there, especially with transitory creatures like the white shark.

We know that there is a Northeastern Pacific population of white sharks that ranges from Mexico to the Bering Sea, and offshore to Hawaii, with aggregation sites off Central California, Guadalupe Island in Mexico, and a feeding grounds between California and Hawaii referred to as “the white shark café.” But, there is no historic population estimate for this region.

The first population assessments of white sharks in the Northeastern Pacific were only released in the past few years. These new studies show that the population is genetically distinct from other white shark populations around the world, and the numbers are astoundingly low. Photo identification and tagging studies from researchers at SCRIPPS, Stanford, and other institutions estimate that there are approximately 339 sub-adult and adult white sharks in the Northeastern Pacific. Compared to other apex predators in the ocean, these numbers are quite small. And, with no reliable metrics to compare changes in population over time, it’s tough to say whether white sharks in California are on the rise or decline.

So, should we be concerned? About a white shark attack in the water, probably not. (But it’s prudent to be careful in the ocean, as it’s a powerful and mysterious world). About their numbers in California waters, I think so.

As a surfer, I have had the feeling that something more powerful than me is lurking beneath the surface with its sights on me during a dawn or dusk surf session. White sharks are a top dog in the ocean, and deserve a healthy respect. Although they have to watch out, too – orcas (yes, the cute likes of Shamu) have snacked on white sharks at the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco. But, the chances of a white shark attack on humans are extremely small, especially in the Santa Monica Bay, where most white sharks are pups and juveniles, which dine on fish, rays, and small sharks. There have been less than 15 documented fatal white shark attacks in California.

Although it is illegal to fish for white sharks in the U.S., they still face threats in their Northeastern Pacific range, including incidental catch from fishing vessels off the coast of California and Mexico, pollution, contamination, coastal development, and climate change. Recent research shows that white sharks are among the most heavily contaminated shark species. Mercury, PCBs, and DDT levels in juvenile white sharks were found to be six times higher than thresholds known to cause physiological and reproductive harm in other fish. As an apex predator, sharks play a key role in regulating prey populations and maintaining a balanced, healthy ocean ecosystem. It is important that shark populations remain viable for a healthy ocean environment.

In August, Oceana, Shark Stewards, and Conservation for Biological Diversity petitioned to list the white shark as threatened or endangered under the California and federal Endangered Species Acts. This designation would allow for the establishment of critical habitat for the Northeastern Pacific population of white sharks and the implementation of management measures to help protect white sharks from threats within their range. Sign our petition today to support the listing of the Northeastern Pacific population of white sharks as endangered or threatened under the California Endangered Species Act.

The shark research community has just started to scratch the surface of understanding their behavior and population trends. But, given that the white shark population is much smaller than other large marine predators, conservation actions are imperative to maintain a healthy ocean and continue to inspire generations with the natural wonder of sharks. They need to continue to be living and breathing kings of the sea, not just remembered in storybooks and scary movies.

–Sarah Sikich

Heal the Bay Coastal Resources Director

Take Action

Learn more about what you can do to protect the white shark population in California and sign the petition.

Stay tuned on how you can help by following us on Twitter.

Visit our Aquarium at 3:30 p.m. on Shark Sundays to discover more about the misunderstood animals.

Good news from last week’s California Coastal Commission hearing, as the commissioners unanimously denied Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s proposal for seismic testing in the Point Buchon State Marine Reserve.

About 200 people filled the hearing room — environmentalists, fishermen, tribes, local residents, and others – all speaking out with concerns about the proposed testing. Everyone in the room agreed that when it comes to nuclear energy, safety is a huge priority. But the questions and discussion centered on whether the tests would provide new information, as much that is already known about the fault activity offshore – PG&E had already completed onshore seismic surveys and offshore tests that were less threatening to marine life.

After hours of public comment, the commissioners were not convinced that there would be enough benefit to doing the research in comparison to the environmental harm posed to porpoise, whales, sea otters and other marine life in the area associated with the high-intensity sound waves (nearly continuous shooting of 250 decibel air guns for weeks).

Of particular concern was the threat PG&E’s proposed action would have on the adjacent Point Buchon State Marine Reserve and State Marine Conservation Area. Ultimately this was a test case for proposed projects within the relatively new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that may be environmentally harmful. The marine reserve prohibits activities that injure or kill marine life, and this testing could have seriously undermined these protections.

“After working for years to designate MPAs in California, as stewards, we now need to actively protect them,” said Heal the Bay’s Coastal Resources Director Sarah Sikich. “I’m glad the Commission sent a strong signal that the lives of marine animals along California’s coast and within these MPAs are valued.”

The Coastal Commission’s decision makes it unlikely the testing will happen any time soon.

 Read more about the decision.

 Sustain Heal the Bay’s work as we strive to protect the wildlife within MPAs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First things first: Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday! Once you’ve recovered from the election frenzy, we’re offering two ways to engage with us and your local environment on Thursday, Nov. 8.

First, stand up for clean water at the L.A. Regional Water board meeting, the public hearing regarding a revised stormwater permit. Written comments will no longer be accepted, but interested parties may present oral comments concerning revisions to the permit.

Afterwards, join us for music, refreshments and shopping at clothier Ted Baker (either the Santa Monica Place or Robertson Boulevard locations). Guests will receive an exclusive 10% Privilege Rate on the night, and 10% of proceeds will benefit Heal the Bay. Plus enter for the chance to win a $300 gift card!

On Saturday, you’re invited to join us to plant native Sycamore and willow trees and help restore the natural habitat of Malibu Creek State Park. This event is open to volunteers age 10 and over. Volunteers under 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Those under 18 must have their waiver forms (also available at the event) signed by a parent or guardian.

Finally, as a reminder, our Aquarium will be closed for Veterans Day. Looking for a way to honor U.S. veterans, current military personnel and their families? Visit Volunteer Match to find opportunities to give back.

Want to plan next weekend’s Heal the Bay fun? Consult our calendar.

I’m a patient woman, but I’ve had enough.

I realize I will never get back the countless hours I’ve spent in stuffy, over-crowded public hearings listening to endless complaints from California dischargers. I realize some dischargers might actually believe that upholding the federal Clean Water Act and implementing basic water quality protections in their community will bankrupt their cities or industry.

But ongoing public hearings about determining appropriate storm water pollution limits for Los Angeles County’s 84 cities have set a new low for wheel-spinning and economic fear-mongering – all at the expense of clean water for the region’s nearly 10 million residents.

Many of the cities regulated in a soon-to-be-released updated municipal stormwater permit came out to plead poverty due to water quality regulations at last month’s meeting of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. After months of debate, the board will issue the new permit this Thursday.

So what was all the fuss about?

Basically, any city that discharges water into the storm drain system, and ultimately the ocean, must abide by the regulations issued by the Regional Board as part of its permitting process. The rules require cities to implement different practices in their jurisdictions to ensure that their runoff doesn’t pollute local waterbodies. Examples of these requirements include building and maintaining trash capture devices at stormdrain outlets to ensure that debris doesn’t find its way into creeks, rivers and the ocean. Many of these requirements are basic practices, such as street sweeping, needed to maintain a healthy city aesthetic (permit or no permit).

During public hearings about the new permit, a long line of city managers came to the podium to relay dramatic stories of looming library closures and staff layoffs — all due to being compelled to implement water quality protections. They all urged the Regional Board to weaken existing and proposed limits.

Most notably, a city official from Vernon lamented that these proposed regulations would force his city to lay off 30-plus employees. Yes, you read that correctly – Vernon, the city that made headlines for lavishing huge salaries on top city officials. The city of 90 or so residents bankrolled million-dollar salaries and first-class air travel for its top managers. But now it can’t afford to keep its runoff free from metals, harmful bacteria and other pollutants before heading to the L.A. River and out to the beaches of Long Beach?

As Director of Water Quality at Heal the Bay, I work to convince decision-makers that our local waterbodies are well-worth protecting. It’s simple economics. Investing in clean water now will pay dividends for years to come. Nearly 400,000 jobs in Los Angeles County are ocean-related, responsible for $10 billion annually in wages and $20 billion in goods and services.

We’re a First World region, and we should have basic regulatory policies that reflect our commitment to clean water. Do we really want tourists coming to visit Los Angeles beaches and returning home with an illness after swimming in water polluted by urban runoff? Do we really want local resident feeding their family locally caught fish that contains DDT or PCB levels well above protective thresholds? Yet, the cities’ continued lobbying to weaken existing pollution requirements – and the board’s apparent willingness to consider their pleas – raises these troubling questions.

Waiting to testify at these protracted hearings, I often wonder how much truth there is in city managers’ assertions that spending on pollution prevention will perilously drain their coffers. So in advance of the October Regional Board hearing, our policy team did some digging that revealed this troubling fact: To curry favor with the Regional Board, a number of cities seem to be over-representing the amount of money that they are spending each year on complying with the permit.

Each year the cities must report to the Regional Board the actions they have taken to comply with the permit and the costs of implementation. We took a closer look at the reported expenditures in these Annual Reports to the Regional Board. In the latest release, we noticed a big red flag: the total spending on stormwater programs in 2011-12 by the 84 regulated cities and County was projected to increase 172% (237% when price adjusted) from the previous year. Such a dramatic increase in a single year is particularly glaring, given that overall stormwater spending since 2006 has decreased every year when price adjusted.

For example, Lynwood reported to the Regional Board that it would spend $10,679,915 more on stormwater projects in 2011-12 than it did the previous year –a fivefold increase. That kind of jump doesn’t pass the sniff test — $10 million in spending would equal more than 10% of the city’s entire annual budget. Lynwood may be doing some good work with stormwater pollution controls, but the reported numbers just didn’t seem plausible when compared to spending projections by cities with similar populations and geographic area.

As a next step, we took a sample of cities that showed the greatest single-year increase in proposed expenditures: Culver City, Diamond Bar, Lynwood, and South Pasadena. Comparing the four cities to other Los Angeles County cities with similar populations, land area and land area per capita, we continued to notice major discrepancies.

For example, South Pasadena projected to spend $28,697,450 to comply with the permit in 2011-2012, whereas Agoura Hills with a similar population size projected only $513,550 in spending. We simply can’t believe that South Pasadena is more vigilant about stormwater than Agoura Hills by a factor of 55. Comparing cities with similar geographic areas, South Pasadena projects to outspend San Marino, its nearby neighbor, by over $28 million.

To get to the bottom of this discrepancy, we examined the actual approved city budgets for cities in our sample. In the annual budget for Lynwood, managers claim to have had a storm water budget of $237,432 in 2010-11 and $313,140 in 2011-12. However, the numbers reported to the Regional Board were $2,308,085 and $12,988,000, respectively. We saw similar abnormalities in other cities.

Based on this cursory review, we have reached several conclusions:

  • Some municipalities appear to have mischaracterized their stormwater expenditures in their Regional Board Annual Reports,
  • City budgets and Regional Board-reported stormwater expenditures do not always match, and;
  • These findings call into question the validity of financial complaints made in testimony at the hearings.

Even the board’s staff has uncovered inconsistencies. In a presentation at the October hearing, Executive Officer Sam Unger noted “non-uniformity” in reporting and said “not all costs reported can be solely attributable to compliance with the requirements of the L.A. County MS4 Permit.”

It’s important to note that not all dischargers are manipulating numbers. Many are abiding by the permit and trying hard to reduce their contribution to water pollution. Many city managers work creatively within the constraints of city budgets to create stormwater programs with high impact and relatively low public cost. For example, the City of Los Angeles and Santa Monica passed far-reaching Low Impact Development Ordinances on their own initiative, requiring developers to infiltrate and capture runoff on-site before it heads to the sea.

Unfortunately, many dischargers seem to be making an impact on Regional Board members and staff with their emotional testimony – even if their numbers don’t add up.

The latest version of the permit is a major weakening from a draft issued in June without any sufficient justification. These changes may trim some city budgets, but to what end? Any short-term cutbacks in stormwater investments will maintain the status quo of dirty water and will come at a great cost to our ocean economy and our environment down the line.

As our case studies demonstrate, the Regional Board seems to be responding to a group of Chicken Littles crying disingenuously that the sky is falling due to environmental regulations.

The Regional Board will make a final decision on the permit at its Thursday hearing. I’m sure I’ll hear many more pleas of poverty due to environmental protection. I’m still hoping that the Regional Board will see that light and follow its sworn duty to safeguard our region’s water quality.

Vernon may be having major budgetary problems, but I’m certain they aren’t due to water quality regulations.

– Kirsten James

Water Quality Director, Heal the Bay

Join us November 8 at the public hearing on the revised draft of the stormwater permit.

This grassroots campaign needs your donations to stop the attack on clean water.

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