Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Los Angeles Stormwater

Protect your beach and vulnerable marine life by joining our Storm Response Team! 

SRT is a volunteer-powered program where trusty souls brave the elements immediately following a rain event to pick up trash on the beach–before it heads out to sea and threatens wildlife.

Why is the work important?

Stormwater is the No. 1 source of coastal pollution. When it rains, a slurry of water, toxins and harmful trash flows freely along our streets and into catch basins. Carried through the extensive stormdrain system, the runoff dumps a veritable mountain of trash onto shorelines without any treatment or screening. With a record-breaking El Niño coming our way, the stormwater deluge will be bigger than ever–and so will the mountain of trash.

What do I have to do as a SRT volunteer?

It’s easy and fun, just like one of our regular Nothin’ But Sand beach cleanups. When you get the SRT text or email alert, head to the beach and spend an hour with your fellow SRT’ers picking up trash. You can take pride in knowing you made a major impact on local beaches on days when they need us the most. 

Which beaches need SRT volunteers?

Mobilized volunteers will sweep sites that historically have taken the biggest brunt after a rainfall: locations may include the beaches near Ballona Creek and the beaches near the Pico-Kenter storm drain in Santa Monica. We will let you know where to go when we send our text and email alerts.

Do I need to be an SRT volunteer to clean up the beach?

All the cool kids are doing it, but you’re welcome to go freelance! Just be sure to hit the beach at low tide (usually late afternoon in Santa Monica) with garden gloves and a reusable bucket and you’re good to go. If you’re flying solo, take a picture of your trashy haul and send it to or share it on social media with #StormResponseTeam hashtagged.

I’m down! How do I sign up? 

Awesome! Click the button below, and be sure to add your email and phone number. We promise to only bug you when it rains…

Sign up for the Storm Response Team


In a time of severe drought, one El Niño isn’t going to solve all our problems. But here’s how cities can prepare to take maximum benefit of what rains do come.


Wasteful: After a storm, as much as 10 billion gallons of water is wasted flowing into the sea from urban runoff. That’s enough to fill 100 Rose Bowls! Even when it doesn’t rain, 10 million gallons of urban runoff flows through L.A County stormdrains each day, picking up pollutants and eventually reaching the ocean without the benefit of any treatment. It’s why many of our beaches, rivers and creeks remain chronically polluted. This pollution along our shorelines is terrible, but the waste of water in a time of extreme drought is equally maddening.

Smart: Capturing that runoff, cleaning it, and using it to augment regional water supplies.

The potential:  Up to 630,000 acre feet per year could potentially be generated by better stormwater capture and reuse in the state, according to estimates by the NRDC. This volume is roughly equal to the amount of water used by the entire city of Los Angeles annually.  Using this water for non-potable uses and groundwater recharge can greatly increase local water supplies.

How to get there: It will take significant resolve and funding, but watershed management plans that prioritize green infrastructure and multi-benefit stormwater capture projects must be embraced. Portland and Philadelphia are doing it, and so can we.

What Heal the Bay is doing: Our policy team is working to ensure stormwater management planning and implementation includes multi-benefit solutions that improve greenspace, beautify communities, and capture water onsite for reuse or recharging groundwater.  Our staff scientists are working with state and local governments to find creative ways to fund stormwater programs. We hope to get funding in place before 2020.


Wasteful:   Contaminated plumes continue to expand in aquifers in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, infringing on and reducing groundwater that is available to greater Los Angeles. Much of our groundwater contamination is due to historic improper handling and disposal of industrial chemicals.

Smart: Removing pollutants from groundwater basins in order to enhance available storage space for stormwater and reclaimed water recharge.

The potential: The city of Los Angeles has the rights to pump up to 87,000 acre-feet of water annually. That’s enough water to meet the demands of the greater L.A. Basin for two months out of the year.

How to get there:  We need to find the funding to clean up our groundwater basins. Investment is necessary to allow for our local aquifers to be used to their fullest extent in the future once we do a better job of capturing runoff and recycling treated runoff

What Heal the Bay is doing: Our advocacy staff supports funding through state bond money and the Metropolitan Water District to help clean up the San Fernando Valley and San Gabriel Valley aquifers. LADWP hopes to have two San Fernando Valley aquifer remediation facilities in operation by 2022.

Improved water supply and improved water quality are inextricably linked. Heal the Bay will continue to advocate for smart projects that help us achieve both goals. The drought will require sacrifice and investment. Let’s just make sure we are investing wisely.

Illustration by Jenny Adams


Keep water from collecting on your property. Make sure to regularly clean out leaf clutter and other debris that may have been collecting on your roof, gutters and downspouts. Clogs can create serious blockages that will be a lot harder to deal with once rains actually come. Also, make sure any downspouts on your property are directed away from your home’s foundation. You may need to buy easy-to-install extensions to guarantee clearance. You may also want to examine the soil around your home’s foundation, making sure that there is enough slope to carry water away instead of puddling.

Install a rain-capture device. As a first step, install a rain barrel and have the downspout empty into it. For every inch of rain that falls on one square foot of your roof, you’ll collect a little more than a half of a gallon in your rain barrel (.6 gallons to be exact). For example, say you have a 10×10 shed and one inch of rain falls on it. You’ll collect .6 gallons x 100 square feet, or 60 gallons of rainwater! If you are feeling more ambitious, you can install a larger-volume rain tank or cistern on your property. For more information, visit, or

Create landscapes that are able to capture and store as much rainwater and runoff as possible.  Whether it’s rain from a few small storms or a devastating El Niño, you can help retain more water and recharge local aquifers. Small-scale residential projects help reduce a site’s impervious surface, improve ability to infiltrate stormwater, conserve stormwater runoff and reduce negative impacts downstream.

Specific small-scale residential solutions include:

  1. Driveway Cross
  2. Dry/Gravel Swales
  3. Dry Wells 
  4. Permeable Pavements
  5. Planter Boxes
  6. Rain Barrels & Small Cisterns
  7. Rain Gardens
  8. Vegetated Swales


Check your property. Clear drains, rain gutters and downspouts of debris.

Get flood insurance. If you already have it, check your policy to make sure you have enough coverage-most policies don’t cover flooding. Residents can identify their flood risk by entering their addresses at the government’s floodsmart website you can also get an estimate for annual premium costs and access a plethora of resources for flood preparedness and recovery.

Put together a disaster supply kit and to practice a family communication plan. A basic disaster supply kit, should include a clear gallon tub filled with:

  • a battery powered hand crank radio to listen to evacuation routes
  • a flashlight
  • batteries
  • a first aid kit
  • a whistle
  • water
  • canned food and can opener
  • a cell phone with external chargers or solar powered chargers
  • prescription medications
  • extra eyeglasses — even an old prescription is better than nothing
  • formula and diapers for babies
  • pet food and water for animals

Check out our Ultimate El Niño FAQ here.

Kicking off El Niño Week, Heal the Bay staff scientists and program directors have assembled simple answers to the complex questions about what El Niño may bring to your home, our beaches and greater L.A.

What does El Niño mean anyway?

El Niño is a global climate event that occurs at unpredictable, two-to-seven-year intervals. The hallmark of El Niño is more than a year of above-average surface temperatures in much of the Pacific Ocean. This has impacts on weather over most of the world, but can mean more rain for the southwestern U.S. 

The direct translation from the Spanish word means “the little boy.” According to one version of the name’s derivation, Peruvian fisherman noticed a pattern of unusually warmer waters around Christmas time and called it “El Niño” in reference to baby Jesus. Scientists in Peru adopted the name and evolved the meaning when they recognized more intense and irregular changes in climate within seven-year intervals seen throughout the entire Pacific Ocean, not just along the coast of Peru.

el ninoWhat causes an El Niño?

An El Niño is caused by the prolonged warming water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. It occurs alongside Southern Oscillation, which is the change of atmospheric pressure over the eastern and western Pacific Ocean. Because they happen at the same time, El Niño and Southern Oscillation are often referred to as ENSO. Today, scientists use ENSO and El Niño interchangeably, so El Niño does refer to the entire phenomenon.

With a decrease in atmospheric pressure over the eastern Pacific, we also see an associated decrease in the westward blowing Trade Winds along the equator. This allows the warmer waters to travel north, and during heavy El Niños the subtropical jet stream can move north. The subtropical jet stream usually runs over Mexican and Nicaraguan rainforests. If it were to move over the southwestern U.S. this year, we could see heavier rains and a stronger El Niño.

When is it coming?

We will be feeling the effects of El Niño in the late fall/early winter of 2015. We already have experienced some early signs, with unusual stretches of humidity this summer and our thunder storms in July from Hurricane Dolores (warmer oceanic waters help to fuel hurricanes). The effects are expected to diminish in spring 2016.

Will it definitely bring heavy storms?

Experts predict a 95% chance of moderate El Niño conditions to continue into the winter, which may bring rain to California during a few large rain events.  El Niños don’t guarantee rain and can be unpredictable, which is why you probably heard discussion on the matter on-and-off for years without seeing a lot of rain. Some El Niño years have remained dry while others have produced epic rains.

The last major El Niño we saw in Southern California was in 1997-98, and the above average ocean temperatures this summer have mirrored the ones we saw in 1997. As of now, we are seeing predictions of El Monstruo-type storm events this winter.

record el nino graphHow much rain are we talking about?

The ocean temperatures suggest that we will see an El Niño that matches, and may even surpass, the strength of the 1997 El Niño, the strongest on record (represented by graph on right). In February 1998, downtown L.A. saw 13.68 inches of rain, which is almost equivalent to a full year’s worth of rainfall seen in only one month. If it does indeed mirror 1997, we could see double the rainfall in Southern California. However, this is all dependent on the wind patterns, which we have yet to see. These uncertainties make El Niño so unpredictable and why we keep speaking in terms of hypotheticals.

What’s a “Godzilla” El Niño?

A Godzilla El Niño refers to an exceptionally strong El Niño that can actually move the subtropical jet stream over California. We have only seen these Godzilla storms in the El Niños of 1982-83 and 1997-98.

What areas in L.A. will likely be hit hardest? 

El Niño events can bring much rain to Southern California, which can result in mudslides, erosion and flooding. Homes located in areas known to be at risk of mudslides will likely be hit hardest–for example, houses built on the side of steep mountains or hills. Also, any areas in L.A. that have storm drains that are clogged by trash and debris could experience flooding in their neighborhoods. If you find a gutter that’s blocked, call the City’s Storm Drain Hotline at (800) 974-9794 so that L.A. Sanitation can remove the debris before the rain hits. (And look out for our blog post later this week on how you can better prepare your home for expected rains.)

If it rains, will it mean the drought is over?

No. California has 43 million acre-feet of water storage in reservoirs, and 75% of that storage is located north of Fresno. The majority of the rains are expected to hit Southern California, and currently our regional infrastructure is not set up to store rainwater or dry weather runoff. The system is designed to move rain water to the ocean as fast as possible. Only 12% of Southern California drinking water comes from locally captured rainwater seeping into our groundwater. It might temporarily relieve drought effects, but it is not the silver bullet answer.

A good analogy is relating the drought to using your credit card: an El Niño winter is like paying off the minimum balance on your credit card. You have temporary relief, but you still have a lot of water debt to pay off from the water you took out before. Our depleted reservoirs require much more water to reach healthy and secure levels.”

Is this a sign of the future? Are storms going to continue to be more intense?

Climate change impacts are already happening now in L.A., and can be intensified in an El Niño year. Impacts from climate change along our coasts include increased storm intensity, ocean temperature increases, changing currents, sea level rise, species range shifts, coastal erosion, and ocean acidification. To make matters worse, a combination of impacts may collide during an El Niño year — such as high tides, sea level rise, storm surges, and inland flooding. The projected inundation could severely impact our freshwater supplies, wastewater treatment plants, power plants, and other infrastructure, not to mention public health and the environment. (See our blog post later this week about how climate change could impact local shorelines in Venice and Malibu.)

I thought rain was a good thing. Why is Heal the Bay worried about it?

Yes, we desperately need rain in our drought-parched state. But rain creates urban runoff — the No. 1 source of pollution at our beaches and ocean.

What is “stormwater capture” and why is Heal the Bay so excited about it?

The L.A. region now imports more than 80% of our water from Northern California and the Colorado River watershed, using enormous amounts of energy and capital to do so. In an era of permanent drought, we simply must do a better job of using the water we already have by investing in innovative infrastructure projects that capture and reuse stormwater instead of sending it to senselessly pollute our seas. Runoff — if held, filtered and cleansed naturally in groundwater basins — can provide a safe source of water for human use.

First Flush TrashHow does rain create pollution?

Rimmed by foothills and mountains, Los Angeles County is like a giant concrete bowl tilted toward the sea. When it rains, water rushes along paved streets, picking up trash, fertilizer, metals, pet waste and automotive fluids before heading to the ocean via the region’s extensive stormdrain system.

How do stormdrains trash the beach?

With memories of historical deluges on their mind, engineers designed L.A. County’s 2,800-mile stormdrain system in the ‘30s and ‘40s to prioritize flood prevention.  Moving stormwater out to sea quickly was their number one goal. But it also has the unintended function of moving trash and bacteria-laden runoff directly into the Santa Monica and San Pedro Bays, completely unchecked and untreated. An average one-inch storm will create about 10 billion gallons of runoff in L.A. County stormdrains. That’s 120 Rose Bowls’ worth of dirty water.

What does all this runoff to do the ocean and the animals that call it home?

Hundreds of thousands of animals each year die from ingesting trash or getting entangled in manmade debris. Seawater laden with chemicals and metals makes it harder for local marine life to thrive and reproduce.

What about the human health impacts?

Beachgoers who come in contact with polluted water after storms face a much higher risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and skin rashes. A UCLA epidemiology study found that people are twice as likely to get sick from swimming in front of a flowing stormdrain than from swimming in open water.

How can ocean lovers stay safe during the El Niño months?

  • Wait at least 72 hours before entering the water after a storm 
  • Stay away from storm drains, piers and enclosed beaches with poor circulation 
  • Go to Heal the Bay’s to get the latest water quality grades and updates 

How can I support Heal the Bay’s efforts to make L.A. smarter about stormwater?

  • Come to a volunteer cleanup to learn more about stormwater pollution and what can be done to prevent it. Invite family and friends to help spread the word.
  • Share information on your social networks and support our green infrastructure campaigns.
  • Become a member. Your donation will underwrite volunteer cleanups, citizen data-collection efforts and advocacy efforts by our science and policy team to develop more sustainable water policies throughout Southern California.

 Heal the Bay staff members Nancy Shrodes, Matthew King and Dana Murray contributed to this report.

El Niño Week

El Niño is coming, right?

No one can say for sure, but early indications are that a major set of storms could soon be hitting greater Los Angeles this fall and winter. That likely means lots of rain, which is great for augmenting our severely depleted local water supplies. But the expected deluge also poses a lot of challenges – for our local beaches (pollution), municipalities (stormwater control) and residences (flooding and erosion).


So to help Southern California get ready, Heal the Bay has assembled seven days of special programming from Oct. 11-17. We call it...


Here’s a calendar of offerings…

  • “Whiplash: From Super Drought to El Niño,” a public lecture by leading JPL climatologist Bill Patzert. Tuesday, Oct. 13, 3:30-4:30 p.m. at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium
  • Capture, Conserve, Reuse: A Conversation with Water LA,” a presentation by Melanie Winter, longtime water and land-use activist and founder/director of the River Project. Sunday, Oct. 11, 2:30-3:30 p.m. at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. Green manufacturer RainReserve will be on hand as well, with demonstrations/information about installing rain tanks in your home.
  • “Nothing But Sand” beach cleanup at Venice Beach on Saturday, Oct. 17, 10 a.m. to noon. More than 500 volunteers expected at cleanup, which will provide info on El Niño readiness. We will also be recruiting members for our elite Storm Response Team, which is mobilized through social media to respond quickly to heavily trash-impacted beaches following major rains.
  • The El Niño Cocktail program. Heavy rains are serious stuff, but we are working with boutique Santa Monica restaurants to promote awareness in a light way. CassiaHotel Casa Del MarThe Lobster and Locanda del Lago are among the establishments that will be concocting special ocean-and-El Niño-themed cocktails throughout the week. Rusty’s Surf Ranch, a longtime neighbor and supporter of our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, will also be offering promotions. A portion of sales will be donated to support the protection of local beaches and watersheds this winter.
  • Tips, quizzes, contests and giveaways on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

El Niño Week promises to have more bite than Shark Week. So sign up now for our events and make sure you check our website and social media channels for regular updates throughout the week. It all starts this Sunday! .

Yes, we needed last night’s sporadic but intense rainfall. But it left a lot of waste – both literally and figuratively — says Matthew King, Heal the Bay’s communications director.

Sept. 15, 2015 — Welcome to Bay Street, where the trash meets the surf!  

After last night’s deluge, I  took a reconnaissance trip this morning to Santa Monica’s Pico Kenter storm drain, which drains directly into my regular surf spot. As the pictures below attest, there was no shortage of plastic bags, water bottles, fast food packaging, balloons and bits of Styrofoam to be found after the storm. Even if you don’t surf here, it’s a disturbing sight. (Check out the videos at bottom of this post for real-time views.)

During the so-called “First Flush,” trash and toxins that have been accumulating for months on sidewalks, roadways and riverbeds wash into L.A. County’s extensive stormdrain system. After a big storm like last night’s, more than 10 billion gallons of polluted water enters the Bay.

First Flush TrashFirst Flush Water WasteFirst Flush Trash


As you read this, more than 70 major outfalls in L.A. County are spewing debris, animal waste, pesticides, automotive fluids and human-gastrointestinal viruses into the sand and sea. Major yuck! This pollution poses human health risks, harms marine life and hurts our $20 billion coastal economy. 

Exposure to this runoff can also make you really sick, most frequently with stomach flu. For that reason, Heal the Bay urges people to avoid water contact at Los Angeles County beaches for 72 hours following rainfall. Recent studies suggest five days would be more appropriate at storm drains like Pico Kenter.

With more tropical heat forecast throughout the week, we’re concerned that beachgoers will jump back into the ocean sooner than advisable. They may be looking to catch a few waves, but could catch a nasty bug instead. So please stay out of the water the next few days!

There’s another equally disturbing aspect to the runoff – it’s a huge waste of water!

Los Angeles imports costly and increasingly scarce water from Northern California and the Colorado River. We now import more than 80% of our water, using enormous amounts of energy to do so.

Stormwater — if held, filtered and cleansed naturally in groundwater basins — could provide a safe, more secure and less costly source of drinking water. That 10 billion gallons of water from an average single storm in L.A. could fill nearly 120 Rose Bowls. That would provide enough water for a city the size of Santa Monica for more than three months.

Our policy team is advocating for multi-benefit infrastructure projects that capture water onsite for reuse or recharging groundwater.  Our staff scientists are working with state and local governments to find creative ways to fund stormwater programs. We hope to get funding in place before 2020. Philadelphia and Portland have done it, and so can we!

Meanwhile, there are steps you can take in your own home to take pressure off an already taxed stormdrain system. Among them:

  • Keep trash out of gutters and stormdrains
  • Dispose of animal waste and automotive fluids properly
  • Limit runoff by curtailing such wasteful practices as hosing driveways and overwatering landscapes. (It’s already illegal to do so in many cities.)

Finally, if scenes pictured above bother you, we’ve got a couple ways that you can help out.

Make a donation to Heal the Bay


July 20, 2015 — A thunderstorm in July? You can thank Tropical Cyclone Dolores. But while the deluge was a delight for many, the drought is far from done.

This weekend’s storm smashed July precipitation records throughout California and brought much-needed relief to the wildfires that raged alongside Interstate 15 between L.A. and Las Vegas. However, lest we get lulled into a false sense of drought security after the downpour, here’s a few reminders to bring us back down to Earth:

  • A couple storms over a period of months won’t stop a 4+ year drought. Yes, they provide relief, but we need over 2 FEET of rain to put any significant dent in the drought. Water conservation measures must be the new normal for desert-dwellers like us. Sporadic storms are the exception to the rule.
  • We get most of our water from elsewhere. SoCal imports around 85% of its water from the Eastern Sierras, Northern California and the Colorado River–regions that were not affected by this weekend’s storm. This is one reason why Heal the Bay is working on efforts to beef up our local water supplies.
  • Groundwater is at an all-time low. We’ve been sucking our wells dry since the drought began, so it’ll take a truly massive influx of water–think 11 trillion gallons–to replenish them. This could take years.

Ready for another reality check? This one’s a real mind-blower:

On an average dry, non-rainy L.A. day, around 10 million gallons of urban runoff flows, untreated, into the ocean. When it rains, the runoff making a beeline to the beach soars to over 10 BILLION gallons per day.

 Yes, it’s true: There is currently no mechanism in place in L.A. to capture and reuse this precious gift from above in significant amounts. Yet. Stormwater capture is one of Heal the Bay’s Top 3 Drought Fixes, and we’re making it happen.

And last but not least: We understand how tempting it is to head to the beach for some relief from the heat and humidity–and snag some leftover swell from Dolores. But we urge you to put your health and safety above all else and remember the Big Three Beach Safety Tips following any rainstorm:

  1. After a rainfall of any severity, wait at least 3 days before entering the ocean.
  2. Always swim at least 100 yards away (the length of a football field) from a stormdrain outlet.
  3. Check the Beach Report Card for the most recent beach water quality grades before you head to the beach.

For more safety tips, visit our Beach Report Card FAQ page.


California drought map
This graphic shows how much more rain California would need to approach normal precipitation levels.

A long-in the-works stormwater capture project finally takes off at LAX, reports Heal the Bay VP Sarah Sikich.

May 8, 2015 – When it sprinkles, it can pour. Yesterday was a good day for the L.A. Basin, not only because it got a dash of much-needed rain. Our parched region also took a major step forward in much-needed stormwater capture and groundwater recharge.

If you’ve been to LAX lately, you’ve likely noticed that many terminals are going through construction to receive a long-overdue facelift. Soon that effort will go underground–to construct a large-scale stormwater treatment project to clean polluted LAX runoff before it reaches Santa Monica Bay.

After several years of negotiations, Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an agreement with the Los Angeles World Airports and L.A. Sanitation to launch a $40 million runoff treatment project that will also recharge the local groundwater basin. The project is slated to be completed in 2019. Runoff from more than 2,400 acres of highly urbanized and paved land in and around LAX will now be captured and infiltrated into the ground, as well as being diverted to Hyperion for treatment.

Runoff is the largest source of pollution to Santa Monica Bay. Runoff from LAX now funnels completely untreated into the nearby ocean, dumping a slurry of chemicals, metals and bacteria into popular swimming spots. The newly unveiled project will help clean up water quality along Dockweiler Beach, benefitting the diversity of beachgoers that visit the popular destination–a day at the beach should never make anyone sick.

Three-quarters of the funding comes from voter-approved Proposition O, passed in 2004, which authorized up to $500 million in bond funding for the City of Los Angeles to advance a number of projects that protect water quality, provide flood protection and increase water conservation, habitat protection and open space.

With drier climate projections, it’s important to find creative ways to capture and reuse runoff. We recognize that such changes take major investment, and we hope that the project will bring awareness to the importance of finding innovative ways to fund projects and programs that provide holistic benefits to water quality, reliability, local water supply and healthy watersheds.

Heal the Bay was proud to be part of yesterday’s big announcement, as we helped pass Proposition O when Mark Gold, our then-president and current board member, served on the oversight committee The LAX project could not have been realized without the persistent advocacy and support of our environmental partners, including Mark Gold, Miguel Luna, TreePeople and Los Angeles Waterkeeper.

Let’s hope this is the start of something beautiful.

Mayor Garcetti signing the agreement yesterday. Heal the Bay VP Sarah Sikich (second from left) looks on.


L.A. needn’t be so dumb in a time of  perilous drought. Here’s Heal the Bay’s top three fixes.

California faces an uncertain water future.  The record drought coupled with climate change and other stressors has called into question the practicality of importing  80% of L.A.’s water supply.  Simply put, imported water is unreliable and expensive. Desalination plants are incredibly energy intensive and create a whole slew of environmental challenges. Instead, our region needs to be smarter about maximizing the water that we already have.  The alternative is not rosy: an unsecure water supply at a much higher cost.   

Capturing Stormwater and Other Urban Runoff

Dumb: Each day roughly 10 million gallons of urban runoff flows through L.A County stormdrains, picking up pollutants and flowing directly into the sea without the benefit of any treatment. It’s why many of our beaches remain chronically polluted. The waste on our shorelines is terrible, but the waste of water in a time of extreme drought is equally maddening.

Smart: Capturing that runoff and recharging it into our aquifers so that it can be used to augment local water supply.

The potential: After a storm, as much as 10 billion gallons of water is wasted flowing into the sea from stormdrains. That’s enough to fill 100 Rose Bowls!

How to get there: It will take significant resolve and funding, but watershed management plans that prioritize building multi-beneift stormwater capture projects must be implemented.

What Heal the Bay is doing: Our policy team is helping to shape watershed management plans for our region over the coming year.  Our staff scientists are playing a lead role with the City of Los Angeles to develop a public funding mechanism to build critical projects. We hope to get funding in place for 2016.

Recycling Treated Wastewater

Dumb: Each day, dischargers send millions of gallons of highly treated wastewater into local rivers and the Pacific Ocean. It’s not helping water quality, and it’s certainly not helping us combat drought.

Smart:  Recycling wastewater to help offset potable water use and inject recycled water to replenish our aquifers.

The potential: Each day the Hyperion Treatment Plant discharges up to 450 million gallons of wastewater into Santa Monica Bay. If highly cleansed water was recycled, it could eventually supply enough water for daily use by 1.8 million people.

How to get there:  We need to reuse every drop we have, rather than just importing increasingly scarce water.About 2.4 million Orange County residents get their water from a massive aquifer, which has been recharged with billions of gallons of highly cleansed wastewater. Los Angeles can follow Orange County’s lead, and move beyond “toilet to tap” fears.  (We prefer Mayor Garcetti’s term: “showers to flowers.”)  We need to spend the capital to enhance treatment levels at many facilities and expand the recycled water infrastructure

What Heal the Bay is doing: We are advocating for the implementation of the Los Angeles Groundwater Replenishment Project, which will use up to 30,000 acre-feet per year of highly purified water from the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant to replenish the San Fernando Groundwater Basin.  Environmental review is already underway, and the City of Los Angeles hopes to meet this goal by 2035 or sooner.


Cleaning Up Our Local Aquifers

Dumb:  Allowing contaminated plumes to expand in our aquifers, thereby reducing our local groundwater supply. The San Fernando Groundwater Basin is contaminated primarily due to improper handling and disposal of solvents since the 1940s.

Smart: Treating the contaminated groundwater so that it can be used as a source and so the aquifers can be used as a type of “storage” for recharged stormwater and recycled water.

The potential: The City has the rights to pump up to 87,000 acre-feet of water annually. That’s enough water to meet the demands of the greater L.A. Basin for two months out of the year.

How to get there:  We need to allocate significant funds to clean up the groundwater, but in time of persistent drought it will serve as a sound investment.

What Heal the Bay is doing: Our advocacy staff  supports funding through Proposition 1 and the Metropolitan Water District to help clean up the San Fernando Valley aquifer. LADWP hopes to have the remediation facilities in operation by 2022.

Improved water supply and improved water quality are inextricably linked. Heal the Bay will continue to advocate for smart projects that help us achieve both goals. The drought will require sacrifice and investment. Let’s just make sure we are investing wisely. 


Our friends at Sustainable Works sent over the following note about their ongoing rainwater program. If you’re looking for a barrel, check it out.

The City of Santa Monica and Sustainable Works have teamed up to encourage Santa Monica residents and others to take advantage of rainwater rebates. Stormwater runoff is the largest source of pollution to the Bay.  Every time it rains trash, cigarette butts, chemicals, feces, and other toxins are emptied directly into our waterways.

Installing a rain barrel can drastically reduce the amount of urban runoff and it’s a way to capture free water (yes free!) falling from the sky.  Rainwater can be used to water plants, wash cars, clean pets or shampoo your hair.  Rainwater is a much cleaner option for plants and gardens because it does not contain the amount of chlorine and other substances found in city water.   

The recent rainfall is good news for those with rainwater harvesting systems, a time-tested method that provides more of an opportunity to collect rainwater than many would think. Just one inch of rain on 1000 sq. ft. of roof area generates 600 gallons of water… enough to fill twelve 50-gallon barrels.

Sustainable Works is using Rain Reserve’s Build-a-Barrel, a sleek, modern rain barrel that is available in sizes ranging from 50-100 gallons and can double as a bench or container garden. The Build-A-Barrel system eliminates mosquito and overflow problems.

For Santa Monica residents, the cost of the barrel is free, after the $200 rebate, available through the city. (Rebates can cover the cost of up to eight 50-gallon rain barrels, two per downspout, which can add up to $1600). Rebates start at $75 for residents in other participating SoCal Water$mart districts.

For more information or to purchase a barrel, please contact Nina Furukawa with RainReserve at 310-922-2060.