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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Los Angeles Stormwater

The Los Angeles Regional Board has neglected their mission – to protect and enhance our water resources – by making polluting easier for dischargers rather than requiring action. The job of holding polluters accountable will once again fall on us. 

The discharge of polluted stormwater in Los Angeles is regulated by the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board through the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit. The Regional Board had an opportunity this month to improve the MS4 Permit during its decadal update, but in a disappointing decision the Board instead greenlit the continued degradation of waterbodies in our communities by adopting a MS4 Permit with the same loopholes as the ineffective 2012 Permit. This decision continues a pattern of insufficient accountability for stormwater dischargers and will only further delay progress, resulting in stagnant or even declining surface water quality. 

Permittees asked for a weaker permit with fewer requirements and a longer timeframe

The four-day hearing (see our twitter updates) began with testimony from public officials who once again lamented their limited access to competitive funding sources for stormwater projects. Elected officials represent cities, which are permittees under the MS4 Permit. They are not community voices – they are the voice of the dischargers asking for a weaker permit with fewer requirements and a longer timeframe. 

We understand that completing projects is difficult, particularly for cities with smaller budgets. However, the MS4 Permit has been around for 30 years, and we have yet to see a significant reduction in stormwater pollution. We cannot afford to wait another 30 years before we start to see improvements. Luckily, there are funding opportunities available right now through localstate, and even federal programs. Additional resources include opportunities for collaboration between the cities, supplemental work from non-profits and community groups looking to build projects in their neighborhoods, support from Regional Board staff, and information from LA County’s WHAM Taskforce and Watershed Coordinators who are all assigned to identify and leverage funding sources.  

Most importantly, the benefits of compliance far outweigh the costs. Achieving clean water is not just a respectable goal, but a federally mandated law to protect communities and ecosystems from polluted water. Unfortunately, water quality has stagnated, even gotten worse in some areas, as our City and County governments have fallen behind schedule. Yet, there are no penalties for their inaction. 

Members of the public asked for clean water, better regulation, and more transparency

The Board also heard from dozens of community members asking for clean water, better regulation of stormwater pollution, and more transparency in the regulatory process. We heard from Eva Pagaling, whose tribes (Samala Chumash and Yakama) have historically gathered materials, medicines, and food in the Santa Clara River watershed and coastline. Eva reminded us that these tribes shoulder the burden of MS4 pollution, and urged the Regional Board to hold accountable those responsible for polluted discharges. We heard from Itzel Flores Castillo Wang, a community member and organizer from Boyle Heights in East LA, supporting a transparent permit that holds permittees accountable to implement multi-benefit and nature-based projects where they are needed most. We heard from so many folks demanding action now, in the form of a SMMART Permit that holds polluters accountable and that allows the public to follow progress and engage in the process. 

Heal the Bay gave a presentation alongside partners at LA Waterkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council outlining the strengths and flaws of the proposed 2021 Regional MS4 Permit. We supported the watershed approach because water flows throughout watershed boundaries; therefore, the approach to reducing pollution must be watershed-wide without stopping at city limits. The optional watershed management program within the permit framework allows for that watershed approach. However, we did not support the “deemed in compliance” language (also known as the “safe harbor”), which shields polluters from enforcement. A SMMART permit can invest in our communities through multi-benefit projects, but only if it is actionable, with enforceable deadlines so that those benefits can become a reality in our communities and not just a hope for the future. 

“The small list of projects presented by permittees are happening because there are TMDLs with deadlines and consequences built in. There is no justification for maintaining the safe harbors in this permit. Board staff has already allowed plenty of flexibility…” – Dr. Shelley Luce. 

The Water Board is supposed to preserve and enhance water quality for present and future generations; instead, they chose to excuse permittees, once again, for their lack of action. 

The Regional Board voted to allow continued degradation of our waterways

As final deliberations began on July 23, it became apparent that Board members were more concerned about the complaints of the permittees than about the demands of community members. Some Board members went even further to bow to dischargers by proposing motions to extend deadlines (which thankfully failed, but with a narrow 4-3 vote against) and completely remove numeric water quality requirements (which failed with a 5-2 vote against). Finally, the Board voted to approve a 2021 Regional MS4 Permit that includes the same safe harbors that made the 2012 MS4 Permit so ineffective, even after dozens of community members asked them directly for clean water and more accountability. 

Some improvements were made to increase transparency, including a final direction to Regional Board staff to create a single online portal for all annual reports; however, without even the possibility of enforcement by the Board, there is no accountability for polluters. 

It is up to all of us to Take LA by Storm and push for progress together

One board member claimed that “the safe harbors are an expression of trust and confidence in permittees.” But knowing the permittee’s record of inaction, we do not share that trust. By keeping the safe harbors, the Board has effectively decided not to enforce this critical permit. So now, the job of holding permittees accountable will once again fall on us, the concerned residents and nonprofit groups of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. We can take inspiration from Margaret Mead and know that, together, our actions can make a difference. 

Sign up to Take LA by Storm to receive updates as the permittees submit their semi-annual reports. We will continue to search for ways to hold polluters accountable while we track progress. If implementation continues to lag, we will demand action together. 



The Los Angeles Regional Board has neglected their mission – to protect and enhance our water resources – by making polluting easier for stormwater dischargers rather than requiring action. It’s time to remind them of their responsibility to regulate stormwater pollution and protect LA communities. Register for our Stormwater Advocacy Training on Wednesday, June 30 at 6PM.

Under the Clean Water Act (CWA), pollution runoff into surface waters like rivers, lakes, and oceans must be reduced to protect both public and environmental health. Although the CWA is federal law, most of the work to implement and enforce this law is delegated to local agencies. In the Los Angeles area, this work falls to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board).

The discharge of polluted stormwater in Los Angeles is regulated by the Regional Board through the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit. Cities and Counties are permittees under the MS4 Permit, and are responsible for their polluted stormwater runoff. This MS4 Permit has the potential to be incredibly impactful when it comes to reducing water pollution in LA because it not only addresses the main source (stormwater), but it also covers a total of 99 permittees – the Counties of LA and Ventura, LA County Flood Control District, Ventura County Watershed Protection District, and the 95 cities that fall within the boundaries of the LA Regional Board.


Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board jurisdictional boundaries.

The MS4 permit is updated every five years; however, the last permit was approved in 2012 so we are already four years behind schedule. And unfortunately, loopholes in the 2012 MS4 Permit actually allowed for degradation of our water resources over the past decade, rather than requiring the reduction of stormwater pollution, as it should have done. Leniency in the permit allowed for unacceptably slow implementation of stormwater plans, which means that surface water quality is not good in Los Angeles, it has not improved since 2012, and it has even gotten worse in some areas. This continued discharge of polluted stormwater has also not been properly enforced, providing little incentive for permittees to do better.  

Everyone deserves safe and clean water, and a healthy environment to live in. It is the job of the Regional Board to preserve and enhance water quality in the Los Angeles Region for the benefit of present and future generations by implementing and enforcing the CWA. However, the Regional Board failed to uphold this important mission when they adopted the ineffective 2012 MS4 Permit, and more recently when they authorized multiple water quality deadline extensions.

It appears that some members of the regional board are more concerned with making compliance easier for the permittees, regardless of what that means for water quality and community health. We know that addressing stormwater pollution is no easy task. It takes significant funding and time to build projects; but even so, much more could have been done over the past 30 years. We cannot afford to allow another 30 years to pass before we start to see better water quality. We need the Regional Board to do their job to protect our waters. We are urging them to adopt a new MS4 Permit that is straightforward, measurable, multi-benefit, actionable, reinvesting in communities, and transparent – a SMMART Permit! That is the type of permit that nearly 30 community based organizations and environmental groups asked for last December when the draft permit was released. Unfortunately, the current draft of the permit mirrors that ineffective 2012 MS4 Permit, which does not satisfy these important SMMART criteria.

The good news is that Los Angeles does have the necessary tools to make great strides in reducing stormwater pollution. Cities and Counties have had over 30 years to make and adjust stormwater plans, and, even with the budget crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many opportunities for project funding through local programs, state funding, and even federal funding with the new Water Infrastructure Act. The tools are available, but we need a SMMART MS4 Permit that will urge cities to pick up those tools and do something amazing with them. 


Examples of multi-benefit and nature-based stormwater capture projects that can reduce stormwater pollution while also providing many other community and ecosystem investments such as recreational opportunities, climate resiliency, or new habitat open space.

The  MS4 Permit must reflect the needs and priorities of our communities. That’s why we need YOU! If you did not have a chance to sing up to speak before the July 1 deadline, send your written statement to Annelisa Moe by 12:00 PM on Thursday 7/8 to have your statement read into the record for you by a Heal the Bay staff member.

SEND IN YOUR STATEMENT



The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board chose to delay clean water progress last month by extending the deadlines polluters have to reduce their stormwater pollution, up to 6.5 years in some cases. Their decision allows the continued discharge of pollutants from across LA to drain through our communities and into the Pacific Ocean.


On March 11, the LA Regional Water Board voted to extend nine water quality deadlines, which were set decades ago to improve water quality and protect the health of our communities and our ecosystems. This sends a dangerous message that it is ok to continue contaminating our neighborhoods, rivers, and ocean even after long-standing deadlines have passed us by.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 protects our rivers and oceans by limiting the amount of pollution that can be discharged into them. Under the Clean Water Act, a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) refers to the maximum amount of pollution that a waterbody can handle before people get sick or aquatic life is harmed. Environmental groups fought hard to make the Regional Water Boards start paying attention to TMDLs starting in the 1990s. 

There are 59 TMDLs in the Los Angeles Region for various contaminants (trash, bacteria, etc) polluting our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. Some have deadlines as late as 2038, so there is still time to meet those limits. Others are due this year, and some have already passed. These TMDL deadlines were set decades ago with lengthy timelines that gave dischargers (called “permittees”) many years, in some cases nearly 20 years, to achieve these pollution limits. The deadlines were developed through extensive negotiations with all stakeholders. Heal the Bay and concerned community members from all over the County showed up at Regional Water Board hearings to demand pollution limits and clean water. At that time, we celebrated these TMDLs and believed our regulators would finally hold polluters accountable for meeting them.

Unfortunately, permittees are far behind schedule in reducing polluted discharges, as Heal the Bay reported back in 2019 in our Stormwater Report. Last year, the LA Regional Water Board confirmed this trend of very slow progress, reporting that only 6.6% of required pollution reduction projects were completed in the areas that received deadline extensions. The lack of measurability and accountability within the Stormwater Permit allowed this slow progress to go unnoticed for years. When it was finally daylighted, the LA Regional Water Board did nothing to correct it. 

As a result, there are several TMDLs with imminent deadlines that will not be met, and others that are well past due. Because of the extremely slow progress over the last 20 years, permittees are complaining that these ~20-year deadlines are now unrealistic, and have requested 10+ years of extra time! It seems they feel no urgency to clean up our community’s waterways.

Meanwhile, water quality suffers. You can see that by checking California’s List of Impaired Waters, where 208 waterbodies in the LA Region are listed as polluted by multiple contaminants. You can see it in UCLA’s 2019 Water Report Card, which assigned LA surface waters a dismal grade of D/Incomplete. You can see it in Heal the Bay’s River Report Card when bacteria still plagues our rivers even during dry weather, and in our Beach Report Card when grades across the board plummet during wet weather. There are other reports that tell a similar story, and we have yet to see any report that tells a different one. LA’s water is contaminated, stormwater is the primary source of that pollution, and no one is being held accountable for cleaning it up.

The recent hearing on TMDL deadline extensions was contentious. After much discussion, three of the seven Board Members voted to provide the 10 year extensions requested by permittees. But the majority of Board Members favored shorter extensions, and spoke powerfully in favor of clean water protection and environmental justice. In the end, they voted to approve extensions for nine TMDLs ranging from 1.5-6.5 years, rather than 10 or more years. While any extension delays progress towards achieving clean water, shorter extensions at least reign in further delays to achieving clean water.

Four of the Board Members also asked for better accountability from permittees, so we don’t end up right back here two decades from now, with poor water quality, wishing more had been done. Clear accountability can only be achieved through a strong Stormwater Permit. Unfortunately, our analysis of the Stormwater Permit clearly shows that the kind of accountability requested by the Board Members does not currently exist. 

One bright spot: the Stormwater Permit is up for renewal later this year, meaning we have a chance to make it better. We are asking Regional Water Board staff and Board Members to support clear, numeric pollution limits so we can hold permittees accountable to actually meet the new deadlines, because everyone in LA County deserves safe, clean water. 

Together we can Take LA By Storm to demand clear, measurable, and enforceable goals in the 2021 MS4 Permit. Sign up for emails to stay informed of the process and how you can take part!

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Failure is not defeat when we hold ourselves accountable, learn, improve, and move forward together. Our Science and Policy team highlights some environmental policy woes in Part 2 below, and in Part 1 we reflect on wins from the past year. 

In a year like 2020, it is worth the time to celebrate our environmental policy wins. But it may be even more important to recognize our woes, setbacks, and challenges. Failure is a part of life, and it may be painful at times, but it does not mean defeat. It is an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to find ways to improve our work moving forward. Let’s reflect on three of our 2020 environmental policy woes, and set some new goals for 2021. 

California Environmental Legislation

It was a challenging year in the CA legislature. With critical COVID-19 relief bills understandably taking priority, many environmental bills that were expected to pass this year did not make it through. One major loss was Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 1080, twin bills also known as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, which would have set a goal of reducing single-use plastic waste by 75% by 2030. Following heavy and expensive lobbying campaigns from the plastics industry, these bills narrowly missed passing on the final day of the legislative season in August. 

While this was a devastating blow, there were also wins in plastic pollution reduction policy this year. Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 793 into law, making California the first state in the country to set minimum levels for recycled content in beverage containers. California residents also got the Plastics Free California Initiative on the 2022 ballot. If it passes, this initiative would be the most comprehensive plastic pollution reduction policy in the nation. Heal the Bay is not giving up the fight and we are ready to push for strong plastics legislation in the coming year. Sign up to learn more on this from Reusable LA. 

Offshore DDT Dumping

The recent discovery (as reported by the LA Times) of a very large number of dumped barrels of DDT off the coast of Los Angeles was a shock to us and many others who have been working on issues surrounding DDT contamination for over 30 years. We knew about the other large site contaminated by DDT and PCBs on the Palos Verde Shelf, but this new discovery of a potentially similar sized underwater DDT dump was devastating, to say the least. The news left us with many questions. Who is responsible and how can we hold corporate polluters accountable? What is the impact to marine ecosystems and human health? Can this pollution be cleaned up? 

Heal the Bay is currently meeting with elected officials, government agencies, and partners to push for increased scientific understanding of the problem, increased education and outreach particularly to communities at risk from contaminated fish, and increased accountability and transparency. 

Stormwater Regulation with the MS4 Permit

The Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit regulates stormwater pollution. The LA County MS4 Permit has been around since 1990, and yet stormwater is still the leading source of water pollution. The lack of accountability in the last MS4 Permit has allowed permittees to fall woefully behind schedule in reducing this pollution. Although renewal of this critical MS4 Permit is already 3 years behind schedule, adoption was again delayed until 2021. Unfortunately, permittees have dominated this process, demanding a weaker permit at the expense of our surface water quality, and so far the Los Angeles Regional Water Board has been receptive to their grumbles.

Heal the Bay’s Take LA by Storm campaign launched this year to provide support for new advocates to engage in this permit process, too. Voices from respected NGOs across LA County attended the Regional Board’s October MS4 Workshop; and in December, 34 NGOs and 19 individual community members weighed in through written comments. We are starting to shift the narrative as the Board hears from communities, but there is still a lot to do before permit adoption in summer 2021.

Heal the Bay will continue to advocate for a strong permit and provide better support to LA communities. Sign up to Take LA by Storm, and together we can hold permittees accountable and reduce stormwater pollution.



2020 was a long and difficult year. At times it felt like we were going backwards. In this 2-part series, our Science and Policy team highlights some forward-moving progress and setbacks on the environmental policy front in California. We review our wins in Part 1 below, and in Part 2 we reflect on policies woes from the past year. 

2020 was tough. Systemic racism and environmental injustices continue to disproportionately impact BIPOC communities. More prevalent media coverage has elevated this painful reality, and as a nation, as organizations, and as individuals, many of us have challenged ourselves to do better. Despite this awakening, injustices remain, the climate crisis is escalating, and we’re struggling to maintain our day-to-day lives in the face of a new global public health pandemic with the spread of COVID-19. 

Even as these crises rage on, the wheels of government keep turning to address ongoing environmental issues, and Heal the Bay’s Science and Policy team has done its best to keep up. Let’s take a few minutes to highlight three environmental policy wins from 2020.  

Statewide Toxicity Provisions

After nearly two decades, the State Water Board adopted Toxicity Provisions in December, establishing an approach using Whole Effluent Toxicity (the collective adverse effect on aquatic life from all pollutants contained in wastewater) as a numeric limit with a clear pass/fail result. Toxicity testing provides an important back-stop to detect harmful conditions caused by chemicals and chemical mixtures that aren’t otherwise tested like new pesticides, household chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc. 

Heal the Bay has been waiting for this since 2003. We even released a report in 2009 on the impacts of not including numeric toxicity limits in permits. In 2014, our Los Angeles Regional Board took a prudent step forward by adopting the use of numeric toxicity limits in local permits, creating momentum for the State Board to follow suit. We’re excited to finally see the adoption of these Provisions, though we did make a few concessions over the years. For example, these Provisions apply only to non-stormwater permits; however, thanks to our advocacy work alongside our partners at the California Coastkeeper Alliance, the State Board committed to starting on stormwater toxicity requirements next. 

Biological Objectives

The San Diego Regional Water Board became the first region in CA to adopt Biological Objectives for streams using numeric water quality standards for the biological community of a stream (based on the benthic macroinvertebrate community) in December. The Clean Water Act’s objective is to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,” but until now, implementation has focused solely on chemical integrity. Biological Objectives tell a meaningful and comprehensive story about the stream’s water quality, habitat, and biota. Unfortunately, these objectives do not apply to concrete lined streams; however, while not perfect, this is a big step forward. 

Heal the Bay advocated for the San Diego Biological Objectives alongside our partners at San Diego Coastkeeper and LA Waterkeeper. With this momentum from the San Diego region, we also advocated for the LA Regional Water Board to adopt their own Biological Objectives. We were thrilled to see a data project related to Biological Objectives make the Los Angeles Regional Board’s priority list this year! We will continue to work with our NGO partners and the Regional Board staff to move this effort along.

Safe, Clean Water Program Implementation

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved over $95 million in new investments under Measure W (the Safe, Clean Water Program) in October. The nine Watershed Area Steering Committees (WASCs), which each include five community representatives, have been working diligently all year to determine where and how funds should be spent. This first round of funding was approved for each WASC to hire Watershed Coordinators, and for the Program to fund 41 infrastructure projects, 15 technical assistance projects, and 4 scientific studies.

Heal the Bay, as a core team member of the OurWaterLA Coalition, has been involved in this program since its inception. We have engaged with the public and met with County staff to help ensure that the goals of the Program are met, while our President and CEO, Shelley Luce oversaw progress as Co-Chair of the Regional Oversight Committee. Heal the Bay has been selected as the Watershed Coordinator for the South Santa Monica Bay. We will lead public engagement efforts in this area for the Safe, Clean Water Program, and coordinate across the county with all 12 Watershed Coordinators. We also applied to be Watershed Coordinators for the Central Santa Monica Bay watershed area – the final decision for that position will be determined within the next few weeks.

Mikaela Loach reminds us all that “we have a lot of power to make changes to these [problematic] systems.” And so we urge you to advocate with all your might for good policies and the systemic changes we need. As hard as we fight, there will be setbacks. Read Part 2 to learn about three environmental policy woes in 2020.




Ready to take the next step? Complete the virtual training to be added to
Heal the Bay’s Storm Response Team.

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Fall in Los Angeles means earlier evenings, vibrant sunsets, thicker wetsuits for surfers, autumn colors taking over the San Gabriel Mountains, and the first rainfall of the season is inevitably approaching with winter rains following. We welcome the much-needed showers to quench our environment and combat wildfires. However, the first rainfall (aka the first flush) also impacts the health of our local watersheds and beaches.

The Risk

Stormwater is a major source of pollution for the rivers, lakes, and ocean in Los Angeles County. The first flush brings a flood of water, toxins, and trash from our streets straight onto our beaches through the storm drain system. The runoff eventually dumps a mountain of trash onto shorelines, from Malibu to Redondo Beach, without any treatment or screening. This poses a significant risk, not only for wildlife and marine life who can ingest trash or get entangled, but also to the health of our communities. This is why we have suggested safety precautions after a rainstorm, like waiting 72 hours to go swimming and staying at least 100 yards away from any flowing outfall that looks like a stream meeting the ocean. 

The Data

During Coastal Cleanup Month in September 2020, Heal the Bay volunteers removed more than 40,000 pieces of trash, including food wrappers, straws, takeout containers, and plastic grocery bags from our neighborhoods, parks, trails, and beaches. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) even made the list of top items found for the first year ever. The 4,320 pounds of trash would have been swept through the storm drain system and out on the beach after the first flush if our amazing volunteers didn’t take action.

Coastal Cleanup Month ended weeks ago, but the trash in our environment continues to pile up. The first flush will happen soon, and it will take all of the accumulated pollution in our communities and storm drains and dump it straight onto our beaches. We have a finite amount of time to remove this trash before it reaches the ocean and becomes marine debris.   

How Can You Help?

For several years now, Heal the Bay deploys a team of first responders known as the Storm Response Team in an effort to remove trash and debris around low tide before it heads out to sea. This dedicated team braves the elements and heads to designated areas immediately following a rain event.

We need more volunteers to join our Storm Response Team for the rainy season to help remove trash, track data, and/or document photos. If you’re interested in being the ocean’s first responder after a storm and protecting our environment and community, sign up to receive alerts about volunteer opportunities! 

Heal the Bay will host a virtual training for our Storm Response Team to brief volunteers on what to expect and ensure the team is prepared to conduct individual cleanups after the first rainfall. When a storm hits, volunteers will receive an email a day (or sometimes just hours) in advance of low tide with relevant details and location recommendations. At that point, our Storm Response Team can spring into action, spreading out along the coast and collecting as much trash as possible before it is swept out to sea. 

Join the Storm Response Team



Annelisa Moe, our Water Quality Scientist, explains the potential of LA’s rainfall, and how every individual can take part in voicing which stormwater capture projects should get Measure W funding.

Like all those across the country who can, I have been practicing responsible physical distancing and staying #SaferAtHome, only leaving the house to buy food or go for a walk. It is getting hot now, but throughout March there were days when I had to carefully time my neighborhood walks to avoid getting caught in the rain – something I am not used to having to do here in sunny Los Angeles.

Although we experienced a very dry winter this year, we have also gotten an unusually wet spring. In fact, we got 4.35 inches of rain in March alone, far exceeding the historical average for that month. But let’s be honest, when it comes to rainfall in LA, “average” does not happen all that often. In 2017, we received only 5 inches of rain. In 2018, we got a whopping 19 inches of rain. And in the 5 years that I have lived in LA, I have been caught off guard by more than one mid-summer downpour.

That’s why this is the time – right now – to figure out how to capture, clean, and reuse more of our stormwater, even from the most unexpected showers, so that we can prepare for a warmer and drier future with a dwindling snowpack.

Stormwater is the number one source of pollution in our rivers, lakes, and ocean. But it could instead become a new source of water for beneficial use. We now have the opportunity to fund new multi-benefit and nature-based stormwater capture projects because LA County voters approved The Safe, Clean Water Program (Measure W) back in 2018. Dozens of projects were proposed across Los Angeles County, 53 of which qualify for funding through the Safe, Clean Water Program this year! Funding and completion of the best of these projects – the ones that truly exemplify the goals of the Safe, Clean Water Program – will improve water quality at beaches and in rivers to protect public health, and green our communities and promote local water to make LA County more resilient to climate change.


Safe Clean Water Program GIS Reference Map. Each Watershed Area is shown in its own unique color. The colored dots represent all of the projects that applied for Safe, Clean Water Program funding this year. Explore the interactive map for more information.

As members of the nine Watershed Area Steering Committees (WASCs) decide which projects to fund, they must consider the commitments made to the greater LA community under this Program, including the goals to improve water quality, prioritize nature-based solutions, foster community engagement, ensure the equitable distribution of funds, and provide local quality jobs.

Fifty-three stormwater capture projects to choose from for Measure W funding! 

OurWaterLA, a diverse coalition working to reinvest in our water future, believes that the following projects best exemplify the goals of the Safe, Clean Water Program, out of the 53 proposed:

In response to COVID-19, WASCs will now convene through virtual online meetings, which are open to the public. The nine WASCs will be making their final decisions on which projects to fund starting Tuesday, April 28, and continuing through May. These funding decisions must be made with consideration given to community input. OurWaterLA will be advocating for the projects listed above, and providing additional input on other proposed projects.

Join Heal the Bay and OurWaterLA to become a Water Warrior:

Search your address to find out which WASC area is yours. Click on your WASC link below to learn all about your watershed area and your committee representatives, and then scroll down to sign up for e-mail updates. You can also check out the OurWaterLA Events calendar to see upcoming committee meeting dates, and find links to join your virtual online meeting.

Take a look at the PowerPoint presentations for the projects proposed in your WASC area, and contact your WASC representatives about which projects you would like to see funded this year.

Check out OurWaterLA Water Leader Resources. Don’t forget to share these electronic resources with your community. We may be physically distancing right now, but we can band together online and in spirit to secure our water future!

Contact Annelisa at Heal the Bay with any questions, or to learn more about how to get involved.


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heal the bay

Oh, what a year! We reflect on some of our favorite milestones from this past year. A huge thank you goes out to our bold and dedicated Heal the Bay community. We would not have achieved these victories without your ongoing support.

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heal the bay aquarium

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Take a swim down memory lane with us and replay 6 unforgettable moments from 2019.

6. Released our first-ever Stormwater Report—a groundbreaking assessment of stormwater pollution management in Los Angeles County.

In our new Stormwater Report we found that local governments have made shockingly minimal progress in addressing stormwater pollution over the last 30 years. If the current rate of stormwater pollution cleanup continues, LA County communities will wait another 60 years for clean water.

The LA County stormwater permit, the only real mechanism we have for regulating stormwater pollution, is up for renewal in early 2020. Heal the Bay is pushing hard for a strong stormwater permit. We fear it will be weakened and deadlines will be extended, further delaying cleanup of local waters. Municipalities can tap into various funding sources to implement projects, so there is no reason for them to not make meaningful progress moving forward.

Our Stormwater Report was big news for LA and was covered by the L.A. Times, The Guardian, NBC, CBS, KCRW, KPCC, KNX, LAist, The Argonaut News, Daily Breeze, Patch and more.


Heal the Bay Aquarium
Photo by Kelton Mattingly

5. Welcomed our 1 millionth visitor to Heal the Bay Aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier.

Since our Aquarium opened its doors in 2003, our mission has been to give visitors an underwater experience of the Pacific Ocean without getting their feet wet. We invite all our guests to explore critically important marine habitats and environmental issues.

From swell sharks to red octopus, and seahorses to stingrays, more than 100 local wildlife species thrive at our Aquarium. And now we can proudly say that more than a million visitors have met our local underwater residents!

Around 100,000 visitors come to Heal the Bay Aquarium each year. Local residents and global tourists share their passion for their own local waterways with us and inquire about how to protect what they love. In order to better serve the public, we’ve centered our programs and events around environmental advocacy, community science, pollution prevention and family education.

We also host 10,000-15,000 students each year for school field trips and we offer fun, educational, zero-waste birthday parties.


4. Hosted our 30th anniversary of Coastal Cleanup Day as the LA County coordinator.

What an honor it has been for Heal the Bay to steward this annual event since the 1990s, especially with such vibrant community support. Our very first Coastal Cleanup Day hosted 2,000 volunteers – my how far we’ve come! From diving underwater in the Santa Monica Bay to hiking along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and everywhere in between, 13,914 volunteers removed more than 30,165 pounds of trash — from 79 locations in Los Angeles County, in a span of three-hours — on Coastal Cleanup Day 2019.

The weirdest finds from 2019 included: A laptop and electric scooters (underwater in Santa Monica); A 20 foot industrial ladder (underwater in Redondo Beach); Horseshoe (Compton Creek); Cat skull (South LA); Positive pregnancy test (White Point Beach); Shake weight (Venice); Half a rat (Arroyo Seco Confluence); and a California King Mattress-sized Styrofoam block (Arroyo Seco Confluence).


Straws-On-Request

3. Supported Straws-On-Request going into effect in the City of LA.

Los Angeles City Hall passed the Straws-On-Request ordinance this past Earth Day, making single-use plastic straws available by request only at all food and beverage facilities in the City of LA. This, along with other plastic reduction strategies, will hopefully decrease the amount of trash we see in our environment while still giving patrons access to straws when needed.

Often times plastic trash flows from our streets into our storm drains and out to the ocean. Plastic straws and disposable beverage, food, and snack-related items are some of the top types of trash we find at Heal the Bay cleanups. In fact, our cleanup volunteers have picked up more than 138,000 plastic straws from LA beaches over the last two decades.

The Ocean Protection Council acknowledges that trash in the ocean is a persistent and growing problem that is negatively affecting human and ecosystem health, not to mention coastal beauty. We’ll continue to work locally and at the state-level in California to reduce the use of harmful single-use plastics.


2. Rejoiced over these announcements: Hyperion will recycle 100% of the City’s wastewater and LA will phase out gas-fired coastal power plants.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant (aka sewage treatment plant), one of the largest in the world, will recycle 100% of the City’s wastewater by 2035. The water will be treated extensively and then put into our local groundwater supply for additional treatment by natural soils. Afterwards, the clean water will be pumped up to replenish our local tap water supply. Hyperion’s capacity is 450 million gallons per day and treated water currently flows out to the ocean. But with full recycling at Hyperion we can re-use that water!

Garcetti’s next big announcement was that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will close three coastal gas-burning power plants in El Segundo, Long Beach and the Los Angeles Harbor area by 2029. The plants will be replaced by renewable energy sources and storage.

Heal the Bay was integral to both advancements. We advocated for over a decade for wastewater recycling and for eliminating the marine impacts of the coastal power plants. Our founder Dorothy Green would be so proud of us, and of our City, for taking these giant steps forward.


the inkwell

1. Celebrated the new listing of the Santa Monica Bay Street Beach in the National Register of Historic Places.

The shoreline at Bay Street in Santa Monica was an active hub of African American beach life during the Jim Crow era. This beach was popular from the 1900s to early 1960s among African Americans, who were barred from enjoying most other southland beaches. Santa Monica’s Bay Street Beach Historic District recent listing in the National Register of Historic Places recognizes this important coastal history.

Since 2013, with the help of African American historian Alison Rose Jefferson, we’ve joined forces with the Black Surfers Collective to honor Nick Gabaldón Day at Santa Monica Bay Street Beach.

Nick Gabaldón (1927-1951) was a pioneering surfer of African American and Mexican American descent. He was the first documented surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay. Nick Gabaldón Day provides an opportunity for broadening outreach, action and education to connect Angelenos with their cultural, historical and natural heritage.


Now go check out our top Instagram posts from 2019. And view our 2019 wrap up for environmental legislation in California.



first flush november 2019 heal the bay
Recent ‘first flushes’ from around LA in November 2019. From left to right: Long Beach (by Jim LaVally), Santa Monica (by Katherine Pease), Ballona Creek (by Patrick Tyrrell).

As winter rains quench the LA region, local stormwater pollution issues surface and wreak havoc on water quality. Heal the Bay releases its first-ever Stormwater Reporta groundbreaking assessment of how well stormwater pollution is being managed in Los Angeles County. 

Heal the Bay’s groundbreaking new Stormwater Report examines progress, or lack thereof, in stormwater pollution reduction efforts in LA County. We reviewed data from 12 watershed management groups who are responsible for implementing stormwater projects. Despite our region having had nearly 30 years to address stormwater pollution, and six years to execute the latest version of these plans, we found that, as of December 2018, the responsible groups that we looked at are only about 9% complete toward final goals. If the current rate of implementation continues, Los Angeles County groups will achieve their total collective goal in 2082, well past final deadlines ranging from 2021 to 2037.

Some areas have fast-approaching deadlines to meet strict stormwater pollution reduction limits. Yet many local cities are drastically behind, resulting in continued poor water quality across our region. Our report also reveals that monitoring and enforcing stormwater pollution is made more difficult by a lack of transparent reporting requirements and processes.

“Stormwater has the potential to be a wonderful resource for water supply, recreation, and so much more. But right now, it is more of a hazard polluting our waterways. We need to step up cleanup efforts if we are to see water quality improvements in our lifetimes. We should not have to wait 60 years for clean water,” says Annelisa Moe, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay and lead author of the Stormwater Report.

Here are some of the major findings:

  • The Ballona Creek Watershed Management Group is 3.58% complete toward its final goal – their stormwater management projects can now capture 74.58 acre-feet of stormwater for treatment, out of their intended target of 2,081 acre-feet by 2021. (This group includes the Cities of Beverly Hills, Culver City, Inglewood, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood; Unincorporated County of Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.) Learn more on page A-3.
  • The Upper LA River Watershed Management Group is 2.72% complete toward its final goal – their stormwater management projects that can now capture 141.28 acre-feet of stormwater out of their intended target of 5,191 acre-feet by 2037. (This group includes the Cities of Alhambra, Burbank, Calabasas, Glendale, Hidden Hills, La Cañada Flintridge, Los Angeles, Montebello, Monterey Park, Pasadena, Rosemead, San Fernando, San Gabriel, San Marino, South El Monte, South Pasadena, and Temple City; Unincorporated County of Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.) Learn more on page A-57.
  • The Santa Monica Bay Jurisdictions 2 & 3 Watershed Management Group is 6.50% complete toward its final goal – their stormwater management projects can now capture 22.61 acre-feet of stormwater out of their intended target of 348.1 acre-feet by 2021. (This group includes the Cities of El Segundo, Los Angeles, and Santa Monica; Unincorporated County of Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.) Learn more on page A-51.
  • The Malibu Creek Watershed Management Group is 0.36% complete toward its final goal – their stormwater management projects can now capture 0.35 acre-feet of stormwater for treatment out of their intended target of 96.3 acre-feet by 2032. (This group includes the Cities of Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, and Westlake Village; Unincorporated County of Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.) Learn more on page A-21.
  • Some good news: The Dominguez Channel Watershed Management Group is 60.06% complete toward its final goal – their stormwater management projects can now capture 771.39 acre-feet of stormwater out of their intended target of 1,284.30 acre-feet by 2032. This means that the Dominguez Channel Watershed management group is on track to reach their final goal before the deadline passes, assuming that the rate of implementation continues. This success is due to large regional projects completed in the Machado Lake area. (This group includes the Cities of Carson, El Segundo, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, Lomita, and Los Angeles; Unincorporated County of Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.) Learn more on page A-15.

Progress report on local areas:
The graphic above is an overall aassessment of progress for each of the 12 watershed management groups, based on either total retention capacity in acre feet (AF) or total area addressed (acres). Each grey bar represents the final goal for each group, labelled with the final deadline to reach this goal. The orange portion of the bar represents the retention capacity of projects completed since the 2012 Los Angeles County MS4 Permit was approved, as a percentage of the total goal. Interim targets, when provided, are displayed with red vertical lines as a percentage of the total goal, and labeled with the relevant interim deadline year. A final goal was not provided in the Rio Hondo group, so progress cannot be displayed. Only an interim goal was provided in the Beach Cities group, so the final goal was uncertain, identified with a dashed line above.

While our Stormwater Report points out critical issues, we also offer solutions. We recommend clear and measurable guidelines regulators can adopt to strengthen the ability of watershed management groups to reduce stormwater pollution within their jurisdiction as quickly as possible. We also emphasize the importance of making stormwater pollution information readily available to the public, who are directly impacted by polluted waters (see more Recommendations on page 15).

So, what’s next? The LA County MS4 Permit, the primary mechanism for regulating city and county stormwater pollutant discharge, is up for renewal in early 2020. We are concerned that the MS4 Permit will be weakened and deadlines for stormwater pollution reduction goals will be extended, further delaying a much-needed cleanup of local waters. Simply put, groups must be held accountable when they are not on track.

Fortunately, there is new funding available to improve stormwater project implementation. Funding from the Safe, Clean Water Program will be allocated throughout LA County starting in spring 2020, increasing available funding for stormwater projects by approximately $280 million per year. This will more than double the annual amount spent by municipalities on stormwater projects in LA County. This revenue can be further leveraged with a variety of other sources to fund multi-benefit stormwater projects.

With long-term plans in place and new funding opportunities at hand, the approval of a strong 2020 LA County MS4 Permit will lead to more stormwater projects moving forward. Better stormwater management will significantly improve water quality throughout LA County, protecting both public and environmental health, while also providing multiple additional benefits to LA communities such as a new water supply, improved air quality, and climate resiliency.

“The power of local water in LA can only be realized if we protect and clean this precious resource,” says Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay’s CEO.

 

DOWNLOAD STORMWATER REPORT

DOWNLOAD PRESS RELEASE

MAKE A DONATION

 

Download Local Summaries

Ballona Creek Watershed Management Group
Beach Cities Watershed Management Group
Dominguez Channel Watershed Management Group
Malibu Creek Watershed Management Group
Marina del Rey Watershed Management Group
North Santa Monica Bay Coastal Watersheds Management Group
Palos Verdes Peninsula Watershed Management Group
Rio Hondo / San Gabriel River Watershed Management Group
Santa Monica Bay Jurisdictions 2 & 3 Watershed Management Group
Upper Los Angeles River Watershed Management Group
Upper San Gabriel River Watershed Management Group
Upper Santa Clara River Watershed Management Group

 


We will keep you informed and may call on you to attend the MS4 Permit hearing in early 2020. To stay in the loop, sign up for Stormwater Pollution Action Alerts.

Stormwater Pollution Action Alerts

Sign up to receive Stormwater Pollution Action Alerts via email! We promise not to overload your inbox. 😉

 



Winter rains in Los Angeles County flush an enormous amount of pollution into our storm drains from our streets, sidewalks, and neighborhoods. Where does this pollution end up? Who is responsible for monitoring and regulating it? And what’s next in the efforts to reduce it? Join Annelisa Moe, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, as she dives into the underworld of LA rain.


So, we know that stormwater is a huge source of pollution for LA’s rivers, lakes, and ocean. But have you ever wondered why? Or wondered how we track and manage this pollution? Well, let’s get into it…

In Los Angeles County, we have a storm drain system and a sewage system which are completely separate. The storm drain system is called the municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4). Separating these systems reduces the risk of sewage spills when storms might flood our sewage system, and attempts to get stormwater out of our streets before they flood. However, this separated system is also the reason why stormwater flows directly into our rivers, lakes, and ocean without being filtered or treated, leading to serious water quality issues throughout LA County that threaten public and environmental health.

Two main types of water flows through the storm drain system: (1) Stormwater, which is rainwater that cannot infiltrate into the ground naturally and instead builds up as it flows over the ground surface, and (2) dry weather runoff, which originates when it is not raining through activities such as overwatering lawns, or washing cars.

Water quality is much worse within 72 hours of a significant rain event in LA County. Last year alone, rain in our region accounted for almost 200 billion gallons of stormwater flushing through our storm drain system and into local bodies of water.

20180828_081011 20180828_081006 2011-09-13_08-38-50_596 Flowing LA River Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 12.25.35 PM
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Under the Federal Clean Water Act, anyone who discharges water is required to limit the concentration of pollution in that water. This requirement is regulated under a permit to discharge water. The discharge of polluted stormwater and dry weather runoff through the storm drain system is regulated by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board through an MS4 Permit. Cities and counties are permittees under an MS4 Permit, and are each responsible for their polluted stormwater and dry weather runoff.

The LA County MS4 Permit has been around since 1990, but in 2012 water quality had not improved much at all since then. The last update to the permit occurred in 2012, and, to our dismay, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board unanimously voted to approve a 2012 MS4 Permit that was even worse than before – essentially setting up a scheme of self-regulation (meaning no regulation).

By no longer forcing cities that discharge millions of gallons of runoff into the storm drain system to adhere to strict numeric pollution limits, the Board took a giant step backward in protecting water quality throughout Southern California.

Under the 2012 rules, cities just had to submit a plan for reducing stormwater pollution (called a Watershed Management Plan) to the Board and have it approved to be in compliance, rather than having to actually demonstrate they are not exceeding specific thresholds for specific pollutants, such as copper or E. coli bacteria. These plans allow each permittee to choose the types of projects to build, and the timeline on which to build them. But these plans are adjusted each year, continuously drawing out implementation, and they do not include any clear way to determine if the permittee is making good progress.

We knew that this would slow progress even more, leaving stormwater pollution unchecked at the expense of public safety and aquatic health. Seven years later, we have the numbers to prove it.

In the next few weeks, Heal the Bay will be releasing a new report assessing the progress toward managing stormwater pollution in Los Angeles County, and how we can fix the permit when it is renewed in early 2020.

In the meantime, we encourage you to safely document photos and videos of trashed waterways and beaches, clogged storm drains, and stormwater pollution in LA County after it rains. Remember, safety first! Proceed with caution, observe all posted signs, and watch out for heavy flowing water. If you do snag a good image, please tag your location, #LArain, @healthebay and #healthebay. You can also tag relevant government officials to help raise awareness.