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Update (9/10/17): Bacteria levels remain very high in Sepulveda Basin. Most sites also exceed regulatory limits in Elysian Valley, although amounts of bacteria are lower than earlier this week. Based on these latest sampling results, we still recommend avoiding water contact with the L.A. River.

Heal the Bay is urging the general public to avoid the waters of the Los Angeles River this weekend because of alarmingly high levels of bacterial pollution.

Our staff scientists collect weekly water quality samples at four sites in the Sepulveda Basin and Elysian Valley, areas of the L.A. River that have become popular for kayaking, fishing and other recreational activities. The levels of bacteria are at the most worrying levels since Heal the Bay began monitoring L.A. River sites in 2015.

The results have a special urgency this weekend, as the fourth annual L.A. Boat Race is scheduled to take place at the Glendale Narrows (Elysian Valley). Dozens of kayakers are expected for the boat pageant and parade.

Samples taken on Sept. 6 in the Sepulveda Basin by the City of L.A. Sanitation Department showed very high levels of bacteria, well over accepted regulatory and health limits. The poor results are possibly related to runoff from recent thunderstorms and rains. A fish kill in the Balboa Boulevard area of the Basin has also likely degraded water quality. Low-oxygen levels, high turbidity and increased ammonia levels have been cited by city officials as contributing factors to the fish kill.

Additionally, Heal the Bay scientists and other monitoring groups recorded very high levels of bacteria on Sept. 1 and Sept. 4 in the Elysian Valley area. Rainstorms and poor upstream water quality likely led to the spike in such bacteria levels (the presence of which indicate an elevated risk for ear infections, respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal illnesses for people who come in contact with the water).

Heal the Bay urges people to stay out of the water and to delay any planned kayaking trips until water quality results show marked improvement. Our staff scientists expect to get updated bacteria counts this weekend (please check our Twitter and Facebook pages on Sunday as we’ll be posting the results).

Unlike at the beach, there is not yet an official protocol for authorities to alert the general public or kayak outfitters when potentially dangerous levels of bacterial pollution are found at popular recreation zones at the L.A. River. The only way for the general public to know about potential threats to their health is to access water quality data on Heal the Bay’s River Report Card, which is updated weekly.

Heal the Bay looks forward to working with the City of Los Angeles and the L.A. County Department of Public Health to resolve jurisdictional conflicts about health oversight of the L.A. River. This effort should hopefully lead to formal protocol for proactively warning kayak operators and the general public as soon as they know bacteria levels exceed safety thresholds.

Every year thousands of people recreate in the L.A. River. In 2014, approximately 6,000 people utilized the recreation zones, according to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

The L.A. River has been designated by state regulators as a bacteria-impaired waterbody. The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has identified several conduits of bacteria to recreational zones along the river: urban runoff, leaks and flows from wastewater collection systems, illicit connections and failing septic systems. Bacteria sources include pets, horses and human waste.

Experiencing the L.A. River firsthand is an undeniable way to make a connection to a river that needs supporters and advocates; many Heal the Bay staff members and volunteers have kayaked the L.A. River over the years and will continue to do so. We also believe that the public has a right to know what the water quality of the river is and then to make an informed decision about how they want to experience the river.

If you are thinking about getting out on the water, please check out our FAQ about recreation and water quality issues along the L.A. River.



As California’s legislative session nears its end, an important water bill passed out of the Assembly last Thursday, giving us hope that cities will soon find it easier to finance much-needed stormwater projects. SB 231, led by state Sen. Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), is now headed to the Governor’s desk. We believe it’s a great step to increase runoff capture, cleansing and reuse throughout the state.

What is SB 231?
SB 231 gives cities, counties and local water agencies broader authority to finance local projects to put stormwater to use. Cities currently charge residents for infrastructure like sewage treatment, but have been hamstrung by rules that prevent them from charging property owners for stormwater services. Cities need public funding measures to build enhanced runoff infrastructure that can augment local water supply while protecting against flooding. We need to treat stormwater as a resource instead of a nuisance.

What problem does it solve?
California suffers from an outdated water management system that has created serious long-term challenges that are intensified during times of drought and heavy rains. For example, an average 1-inch storm in Los Angeles County sends over 10 billion gallons of runoff to the Pacific Ocean, along with the pollutants picked up and carried with it. This wasteful and environmentally harmful practice could be improved by capturing, cleansing and reusing that stormwater. However, one of the biggest barriers to plumbing our cities has been confusion around the tools local government can use to finance new or updated infrastructure to put runoff to use. SB 231 helps address this problem by clarifying the definition of sewer service so that projects designed to capture and clean stormwater can be more easily financed, consistent with how municipalities support water, sewer and trash services.

I care about clean water, but what other benefits does it provide?
SB 231 will provide economic benefits by creating jobs through local infrastructure investments and upgrades. It will shield our communities from costly and devastating flood damage, and it would also help cities and counties invest in a more water-resilient future in the face of climate change – cleaning stormwater to help build local water supplies and reducing reliance on costly and uncertain imported water.

What will this allow greater L.A. to do?
Each day roughly 10 million gallons of water flows uselessly from the urban Los Angeles County area out to sea, even as we desperately need water. Up to 630,000 acre feet of water per year could be generated by better stormwater capture and reuse in the state. That volume is roughly equal to the amount of water used by the entire City of Los Angeles annually. Properly managing runoff and water supply is a critical responsibility of local government, and in L.A. it’s required by regulations set by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. If SB 231 is signed into law, it will provide L.A. region municipalities more options for funding these critical stormwater service investments, allowing us to modernize the way water is managed in the region.

What happens next?
SB 231 is now headed to the Governor’s desk. Gov. Brown has until Oct. 15 to sign the bill into law or reject it with a veto.

Follow @OurWaterLA to stay up to date with the latest news about building a more water-resilient region. You can also learn more and get involved at ourwaterla.org, a website created by a coalition of leading community groups including Heal the Bay.



Wonder Woman

Mentoring is a powerful thing. Here we catch up with our former teen advocate Zola Berger-Schmitz, left, who has blossomed into a Georgia eco-warrior.

Heal the Bay is thrilled that our own volunteer and super healer, Zola Berger-Schmitz, will be honored this week at the influential 2017 Women in Green Forum with the Youth Trailblazer Award.

Zola came to us as a 12-year-old on a mission – she wanted to be involved directly in Heal the Bay’s work to make our oceans more vibrant and full of life. Instead of just coming out to a beach clean-up here and there, Zola dug in deep, got her friends and family involved, and even took her spring break to attend a Fish and Game Commission hearing and testify before the agency, requesting that Marine Protected Areas be established in L.A.

As her passion for environmental advocacy grew, Zola became involved in Heal the Bay’s efforts to prevent plastic pollution and build a youth brigade of high school clubs. Zola is now a junior at Emory University, where she is co-president of the Emory Climate Organization, an intern for the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, an intern with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and served as a youth delegate at the United Nations 2016 Climate Talks. As the premier venue to promote women’s leadership in sustainability in California and beyond, it is fitting that Zola is being honored at the Women in Green Forum this year.

Here, Heal the Bay vice president Sarah Sikich reconnects with the young woman she successfully mentored.


Sarah Sikich: What sparked your interest in ocean conservation and environmental activism at such a young age?

Zola Berger-Schmitz: Shortly before I turned 12, my grandparents enrolled me in an oceanography camp at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego. I had always been interested in reading about marine life, but I hadn’t had much exposure to oceanographic research or to the field of marine biology as a whole.  What I learned at the camp absolutely blew my mind. I remember being fascinated by the notion that plankton could be bioluminescent, and enamored with the NOAA submersibles we toured that were used to conduct deep-sea research expeditions. That same summer, I had a sudden epiphany: “What if there were no more fish left in the ocean?” Later that year, I decided to visit Heal the Bay to learn more about ocean conservation and found out about a campaign you were working on to help adopt Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the Southern California coast. I was pretty shocked to discover that although we had national parks like Yosemite on land, there were no state parks underwater. At that moment, I knew that I had to do something to help, especially if I wanted to ensure that my children and grandchildren would still be able to see fish in the ocean one day.

SS: You’ve been involved in many campaigns and projects with Heal the Bay over the years. What was the most influential for you?

ZBS: The first campaign I worked on with Heal the Bay, the campaign to adopt Marine Protected Areas along the Southern California Coast, was probably also the most influential. I hadn’t had any experience with legislative advocacy and I had no idea how to get up in front of a group of stakeholders and give convincing testimony. Soon, several Heal the Bay staff members began mentoring me and through watching them in action, I learned how to write speeches that appealed not only to fellow environmental activists, but also to politicians who were more skeptical about the need to adopt MPAs. A few months later, you helped inspire me to produce a film with my entire middle school that focused on the importance of preserving the ocean for future generations. By the end of the campaign, I had grown from a shy 12-year-old into a poised teenager who felt prepared to present a film in front of the California Fish and Game Commission. When it was announced that Marine Protected Areas had been adopted along the Southern California coast, I was ecstatic and it was the first time that it fully occurred to me that anyone, myself included, could help have an impact on the public policy process.

Zola, second from the left, at our 2010 volunteer party.

SS: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your environmental activism career thus far?

ZBS: When I was in my first year of college at Emory University, I decided to testify in front of the Georgia Public Service Commission in order to advocate for more renewable energy options in the Georgia Integrated Resource Plan prepared by Georgia Power. This IRP determines in large part what the Georgia energy landscape will look like over three year periods of time. Before the hearing, I was told that it would be unwise to use the term climate change when giving my testimony, because it could alienate climate-skeptic politicians. Instead, I had to learn how to make economic arguments about renewable energy and how to approach energy savings from the perspective of a cost-benefit analysis. It was quite frustrating at first to give a public testimony without including information about climate change and coal emissions. Over time, however, I learned how to adapt quickly to my environment, and I have become much better at gauging how to best appeal to different kinds of audiences.

SS: What is something you’ve learned during your time working with Heal the Bay that you will take with you for the rest of your life?

ZBS: One of most important things I learned at Heal the Bay is that you don’t have to be a scientist, politician, or policy expert to have an influence on public policy and to affect environmental change. You can be a middle-school student or even an elementary-school teacher. A lot of people are too intimidated to speak up for what they believe in because they are afraid that they will come across as inarticulate and uninformed. When I first got involved in environmental activism, I was in a similar boat. I didn’t have that much knowledge about the nuances of environmental legislation and knew very little about the science behind phenomena such as overfishing and sea-level rise.  What I did have, however, was the passion to make a difference. In college, a lot of my peers are surprised that I have the courage to testify in front of politicians or approach delegates at the United Nations Climate Talks. This is largely because Heal the Bay gave me the confidence to put myself out there, even in tough situations.

SS: How do you stay motivated in a field that’s faced with so many competing interests and obstacles?

ZBS: I always remind myself that change doesn’t happen overnight. Some of the most successful campaigns that I was involved in during my time at Heal the Bay, such as the campaign to ban plastic bags in the City of Los Angeles, were campaigns that took over 15 years to effectively implement. Persistence is key to staying motivated, even when things don’t look like they are going to work out. Often times, the most satisfying victories are the victories that were the hardest to achieve.

SS: What advice do you have for young women who are interested in pursuing a career in environmental conservation?

ZBS: I have a few really simple pieces of advice. First of all, try to find a mentor. It can feel daunting to think about pursuing a career in a field like environmental conservation, and it really helps to talk to someone who has already gone through some of the same hoops. Sarah, you are one of my biggest mentors at Heal the Bay and have continued to serve as an inspiration to me in college and beyond. Secondly, get as much practical experience as you can early on. The only way to learn about environmental activism is to participate in it directly, whether that means speaking at public hearings, starting an environmental club at your school, or simply signing up for a carbon footprint reduction challenge. The more and more opportunities you take advantage of, the more you learn about yourself as well as your strengths and weaknesses. And lastly, just go for it! You don’t need to be a seasoned environmental activist to have an opinion that matters.



Today we begin publishing regular water quality grades for freshwater recreational zones across greater L.A. Staff scientist Dr. Katherine Pease explains why the work is so important, and some interesting people helping us do it.

Last summer, Heal the Bay released a landmark study of water quality that showed that bacterial pollution continues to plague the L.A. River on a chronic, long-term basis. Our scientific report demonstrated that increasingly popular recreation zones suffered from poor water quality, and posed health risks for the growing number of people fishing, swimming and kayaking its waters.

The findings were a cause for concern, but also served as an opportunity – given all the renewed interest about the L.A. River and a $1 billion revitalization plan for L.A.’s central water body.

Building on that study and our longtime work to protect public health by providing weekly water quality grades at California beaches, Heal the Bay this year committed to regular water quality monitoring in rivers throughout greater L.A.

Today, we take the wraps off our River Report Card, a new online tool that lets users check for harmful bacteria levels at nearly a dozen freshwater recreational zones, stretching from Malibu to Frogtown, from Encino to Atwater Village.

We began monitoring inland recreational areas in 2014, starting with swimming holes in the Santa Monica Mountains, and adding sites in the L.A. River in 2015. To make sure people could see whether these popular spots are clean and safe, we posted the test results online in a weekly blog.

With our expanded River Report Card, the public can use our online map to check out water-quality ratings (green, yellow, or red) at their favorite summer spot. We will update the grades twice a week, every Monday and Wednesday. The data come from bacteria testing by Heal the Bay staff, supplemented by testing by the City of Los Angeles and Council for Watershed Health as part of the Los Angeles River Watershed Monitoring Program (LARWMP).

Our report on the L.A. River water quality garnered quite a bit of attention last year, leading to improvements in public awareness about water quality issues in the River.

Among the positive changes:

  • The L.A. County Department of Public Health now has a webpage devoted to Fresh Water Swim Areas
  • Additional agencies now test at recreation sites in the L.A. River through the LARWMP program (Heal the Bay was previously the only group testing the Elysian Valley recreation sites)
  • L.A. City Sanitation has posted new signs along the L.A. River about water quality that Heal the Bay and L.A. County Department of Public Health recommended

In another positive development, Heal the Bay has recruited some local students to conduct this work.

Under an EPA grant, we’re partnering with Los Angeles Trade Technical College, a public community college in downtown Los Angeles. Five LATTC students have joined our field staff for the summer, to learn the science of water quality monitoring and the art of advocating for environmental protections – starting with the River in their own backyards.

The enthusiasm that these students bring to the River is contagious, and their varied backgrounds and experiences bring broad new perspectives to our watershed work. (You can read more about them here.) The training underscores Heal the Bay’s commitment to diversifying the ranks of environmental science and developing future leaders in our region.

We will highlight their voices and experiences over the rest of the summer through Heal the Bay’s blog and social media channels – check back often to hear what they have to say!

These students have been charged with an important task: identifying where pollution is entering the L.A. River. It’s an important question, not only for people along the banks of the River, but for ocean users as well. The vast majority of pollution at our beaches is carried there via rivermouths and stormdrain outfalls.

To pinpoint these nasty pollution sources, the LATTC students are biking along the L.A. River in the Elysian Valley to identify and sample flowing stormdrains.

Conducting this monitoring is fascinating – we get important data, and the opportunity to be up-close and personal with the River. Every week we see people using the river for recreational activities like fishing, wading and kayaking but also for basic human needs, such as bathing and washing clothes.

Areas with flowing water provide people and their dogs respite from the oppressive summer heat. They serve homeless encampments as a place to freshen up or bathe. They are also ground zero for the often-polluted urban runoff that harms people, habitat and wildlife in the rivers as well as downstream at the beach.

These are sobering observations, but there is good news too. More people are connecting with nature and discovering their own freshwater oases in urban L.A. And many inland locations have good water quality. Residents are working to protect these special places and keep them healthy and safe.

We encourage you to check back here often, explore your local water bodies, learn about water quality, and learn what you can do to improve the health of your watershed.

If you are thinking about getting out on the water, please check out our FAQ about recreation and water quality issues along the L.A. River.



This site is right in front of the luxurious five-star Ritz Carlton resort in Dana Point, but one-star water quality persists in the bird-ridden spot. Local agencies have argued that the meandering portion of Salt Creek has facilitated a greater bird population, and in turn increased the amount of bird feces at this location—ultimately leading to the poor water quality. A falconry program was implemented to reduce bird-related bacterial counts at the mouth of the creek. However, potential harm to federally threatened snowy plovers during their nesting season halted the program—a decision Heal the Bay supported. The City of Dana Point has also invested in an Ozone Treatment Facility to treat dry weather runoff. Moms may think this enclosed and wave-less beach is super safe, but don’t let the name fool you. As with most enclosed waterbodies, lack of circulation leads to high levels of bacterial pollution. Unfortunately, the projects to improve water quality at Mother’s Beach have not fully resolved the water quality issues. (Such projects include a circulation device to improve water flow, bird deterrent wires, and signage to discourage the public from feeding birds or bringing their dogs to the beach.) Luffenholtz Beach is a new addition this year, making the list at the No. 8 spot. Private septic systems in Trinidad are to blame for the recent bacterial issues. Capitola has jumped on and off the Beach Bummer list repeatedly over the history of the Beach Report Card, and has returned after a three-year hiatus. This beach sits at the mouth of Soquel Creek, south of the Capitola wharf. Beaches at the mouth of storm drains, creeks or rivers pose a public health threat to the beach-going public when flowing because of bacteria exposure, even during dry weather. Despite many projects to improve beach water quality, the Santa Monica Pier continues to be a mainstay on the Beach Bummer list. Moist conditions under the pier, flocks of birds and stormdrain runoff are the likely culprits. Soon, the city will start construction on a massive underground stormwater storage tank that will capture wet weather runoff that drains to the Santa Monica Pier storm drain. The stored runoff will supply water to the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF) during dry weather, which should greatly reduce the amount of stormwater that enters Santa Monica Bay from city streets and therefore improve water quality at the pier. San Diego’s La Jolla Cove is a new addition to the Bummer list this year. It is likely that the cove-like conditions (limited water circulation) exacerbate poor water quality. Agency staff who monitor water quality in the area also noted an increase in seal and sea lion activity. But whether these pinnipeds are a contributing factor to the high bacterial counts is unconfirmed. Marina Lagoon returns to the Beach Bummer list this year after a brief reprieve in the 2015 summer season, when it earned a C grade. Like many enclosed beaches, poor water circulation is an issue for the Marina Lagoon where Lakeshore Park is located. For the last eight years, Cowell Beach has been ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 on the Beach Bummer list (staying at the No. 1 spot for the last three years). Steel bird fencing was installed under the pier during the 2016 summer season to prevent bird roosting, but exceedances were still an issue. This site will be included in the 2017 NowCast program, where it will receive daily predictions of water quality. Shark sightings have intermittently closed stretches of this beach recently, but swimmers might be more worried about high bacteria levels. The County has conducted testing for canine and human sources, but have found none to date. Additional studies for the San Clemente Pier are being planned for the upcoming year. This is Clam Beach County Park’s fourth consecutive appearance on the Beach Bummer list, this year moving up and claiming the dubious No. 1 spot. Fed by Patricia Creek and Strawberry Creek, potential bacteria sources include private septic systems found upstream. The Humboldt Public Health lab is developing Bacteroides testing to help pinpoint the source.
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This site is right in front of the luxurious five-star Ritz Carlton resort in Dana Point, but one-star water quality persists in the bird-ridden spot. Local agencies have argued that the meandering portion of Salt Creek has facilitated a greater bird population, and in turn increased the amount of bird feces at this location—ultimately leading to the poor water quality. A falconry program was implemented to reduce bird-related bacterial counts at the mouth of the creek. However, potential harm to federally threatened snowy plovers during their nesting season halted the program—a decision Heal the Bay supported. The City of Dana Point has also invested in an Ozone Treatment Facility to treat dry weather runoff.

Heal the Bay analysts assigned A-to-F letter grades to 416 beaches along the California coast for three reporting periods in 2016-2017, based on levels of weekly bacterial pollution. Some 96% of beaches received A or B grades during the summer.

But pockets of fecal bacteria still trouble our waters and threaten the health of millions of beachgoers. Here’s our look at the 10 most polluted beaches in the state – our annual Beach Bummer List.

To avoid illness, ocean-goers can check the latest water quality grades at their favorite beaches, based on the latest samples, each week at beachreportcard.org (or download the Beach Report Card app for Apple or Android). For more information, check out our Beach Report Card blog post or read the full report here.



Much-needed winter storms may have relieved California’s historic drought, but all that rain came at some cost – poor beach water quality.

Bacterial pollution at some of California’s most popular beaches spiked dramatically in 2016-17, according to Heal the Bay’s 27th annual Beach Report Card, which the nonprofit released today.

Heal the Bay analysts assigned A-to-F letter grades to 416 beaches along the California coast for three reporting periods in 2016-2017, based on levels of weekly bacterial pollution. Some 96% of beaches received A or B grades during the high-traffic summer season (April-October 2015), slightly above the statewide five-year average.

Wet weather was a different story, however. Record rainfall created billions of gallons of polluted runoff, which poured into storm drains and out to the ocean. Nearly 48% of California’s beaches received C to F grades, about 12% more than the statewide five-year average.

La Jolla Cove, a popular swim spot.

Polluted ocean waters pose a significant health risk to the tens of thousands of year-round ocean users in California. Those failing grades indicate a significant health risk to the tens of thousands of year-round ocean users in Southern California, who can contract a respiratory or gastrointestinal illness from one morning swim or surf session in polluted waters.

Beach Bummers

Heal the Bay’s infamous Beach Bummers List, which ranks the 10 most polluted beaches in the state, was split between Northern and Southern California. San Clemente Pier and La Jolla Cove are both making their first ever appearance on the Beach Bummer’s List. Clam Beach County Park, Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey and Santa Monica Pier have each been Bummers for the past four years. Check out our Beach Bummers Slideshow, which has more details about each of the Bummers.

  1. Clam Beach County Park, McKinleyville (Humboldt County)
  2. San Clemente Pier, San Clemente (Orange County)
  3. Cowell Beach, West of Wharf, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz County)
  4. Lakeshore Park, Marina Lagoon, San Mateo (San Mateo County)
  5. La Jolla Cove, La Jolla (San Diego County)
  6. Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica (Los Angeles County)
  7. Capitola Beach, Capitola (Santa Cruz County)
  8. Luffenholtz Beach, Trinidad (Humboldt County)
  9. Mother’s Beach, Marina del Rey (Los Angeles County)
  10. Monarch Beach, North of Salt Creek, Dana Point (Orange County)

Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey, a repeat Beach Bummer.

On a more positive note, 32 beaches in the state were named to Heal the Bay’s Honor Roll, meaning they were monitored year-round and received perfect A+ grades weekly, regardless of rain or dry conditions. Orange County boasted the most beaches on the Honor Roll, with 14 sites earning top marks.

Staying Safe at the Beach

“We want people catching waves, not bugs, when they head to the beach,” said Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s vice president and longtime ocean policy advocate. “The reassuring news is that if you swim at an open-ocean beach in the summer away from storm drains and creek mouths you statistically have very little risk of getting ill.”

Swimming or surfing at a beach with a water quality grade of C or lower greatly increases the risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and rashes.

Here’s how you can make sure that you stay safe at the beach:

  • Check BeachReportCard.org for the latest water quality grades.
  • Avoid closed beaches
  • Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains and piers.
  • Wait at least three days after rainfall before entering the ocean.

Baker Beach, San Francisco.

How to Stem the Tide of Bacterial Pollution

California often swings from extended dry periods to shorter periods of intense, wet weather. Our region needs to do a better job of capturing runoff before it hits shorelines. Heal the Bay advocates for reusing that water directly for non-potable purposes or sinking that water back into our aquifers rather than letting it flow uselessly to the sea.

If Southern California cities had the infrastructure in place, then they could have captured and reused a bulk of the 100 billion gallons of stormwater that drenched our region last winter. That’s enough water to meet the needs of 2.5 million people each year – about a quarter of L.A. County’s population.

In response, Heal the Bay’s policy staff is advocating for public funding measures to build nature-based projects that capture, cleanse and reuse runoff rather than dumping it uselessly into the sea. The Our WaterLA coalition is working with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to place a funding measure on the ballot for innovative multi-benefit projects that will capture runoff and create public green spaces countywide. Look for the measure on the county ballot next year.

Heal the Bay to Forecast Water Quality

This summer Heal the Bay, Stanford University and UCLA are expanding their predictive beach water quality forecasting program. Using sophisticated statistical models, environmental data and past bacteria samples, the scientific team can accurately predict each morning when beaches should be posted with warning or open signs.

Promising results from the past two summers (at Arroyo Burro Beach, Santa Monica Pier Beach and Doheny Beach) demonstrated that agencies can post a warning notice immediately at pollution impacted beaches based on predictions rather than waiting days for test results. These new models will protect public health by providing more advanced water quality information to public health officials. This summer, Heal the Bay will run models for 10 beaches, from San Diego to Santa Cruz counties.



Ex-chief of Environment Now Foundation to broaden our reach and impact.

Affirming its commitment to science-based advocacy, Heal the Bay today named Dr. Shelley Luce as its new president and CEO.

Luce joins us from the Environment Now Foundation, where she served as executive director and helped fund innovative clean water and forest protection programs throughout California. During her tenure, Luce became a widely respected voice throughout the state on how nonprofits must reshape themselves to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century.

Before that, she held executive director positions at state agency the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and its nonprofit partner, The Bay Foundation. The work of those organizations dovetails closely with Heal the Bay’s traditional mission.

An extensive nationwide search culminated in the hiring of Luce, who has been tasked with re-envisioning the scope of our advocacy and education programs. While focused on the core mission of clean water and healthy watersheds, she will implement strategies to better engage Southern California in battling the broader, intertwined environmental risks facing our region.

Formed three decades ago as a grassroots all-volunteer organization, Heal the Bay successfully led the fight to keep Hyperion from dumping sewage into Santa Monica Bay, thereby reclaiming Southern California shorelines. But the region now faces much bigger threats, from global warming to an uncertain water supply.

“The environmental landscape in greater L.A. is changing dramatically, and so Heal the Bay must transform,” said Craig Perkins, board chairman. “As a trusted partner in the community, people are counting on us to provide leadership locally to help solve problems that are increasingly national and global in scope.”

Luce, who holds a Doctorate of Environmental Science and Engineering from UCLA and a B.S. in Biology from McGill University, began her advocacy career at Heal the Bay. She served as a staff scientist from 2001-05, spearheading the successful fight to implement the state’s first zero-trash policy in L.A. River.

“Heal the Bay is at the heart of clean water advocacy in Southern California. I’m so proud of our legacy of science-based activism and I am honored to lead Heal the Bay in the next phase of growth,” Luce said. “Protecting our water and our larger environment is more important – and challenging – than ever. And I’m confident we’ll find innovative ways to get the job done, bringing in new practices and new partners.”

The board has given Luce a mandate to re-examine policy priorities, form smart strategic alliances, and grow public participation across the entire swath of greater Los Angeles. In the coming months, we will extend our impact with these key initiatives:

Building a world-class aquarium: We’re now engaged in a visioning process to drastically expand the physical footprint and programmatic offerings at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. A re-imagined facility would be part of a long-gestating Pier construction and refurbishment project, which the city of Santa Monica will likely begin in 2020.

Fighting federal government backsliding: We’re mounting a spirited campaign to protect local safeguards historically provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has seen its proposed budget and staffing levels severely slashed by the new administration. Fundamental work related to climate-change research and enforcement of the Clean Water Act is now in jeopardy.

Replumbing L.A.: We’re playing a lead role in helping build a more resilient water future for greater L.A. Heal the Bay staff is helping to drive the newly formed Our Water L.A. Coalition, a consortium of influential nonprofits working to place a ballot measure before voters in L.A. County next year. The measure would fund increased recycling of treated wastewater and capturing of stormwater and other runoff for reuse, which will reduce water pollution and increase local water supplies.


Luce formally joins Heal the Bay on May 8, taking the leadership reins from Stephanie Medina, a longtime board member who has served as interim president and CEO since last July. Read more about Luce’s vision for Heal the Bay’s future in an exclusive sit-down interview with communications director Matthew King.



UPDATE: On May 8, Culver City’s City Council voted unanimously to adopt the single-use polystyrene ban. The ban goes into effect on November 8, 2017.


Earlier this week, the City of Culver City took the first step to join other local municipalities to pass a ban on two types of plastics which wreak havoc on marine life and are often used by food providers: polystyrene foam (commonly known as Stryofoam™) and oriented polystyrene.

Polystyrene foam is frequently used in take-out food packaging like cups and to-go boxes. It’s very lightweight and often flies away from trash bins and landfills. Oriented polystyrene (aka solid polystyrene) is used to make items like utensils, lids and food packaging.

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Polystyrene is seldom recycled due to its low quality and value, even though it’s designated with recycling code 6.

As a result, both types of polystyrene are ubiquitous at beach and watershed cleanups. According to Heal the Bay’s Marine Debris Database, our volunteers have picked up 504,832 Styrofoam™ items from beaches in L.A. County in the last 10 years. Banning these specific plastics is a big win for our coastal environment, especially considering Culver City is situated within the watershed of Ballona Creek and its downstream wetland habitat.

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Santa Monica started banning polystyrene ten years ago, and there continues to be talk of a ban on a state-wide level. But now Culver City has the bragging rights. This local municipality courageously chose to adopt some of the most stringent policies in the area by banning polystyrene coffee lids and straws from businesses as well.

The Culver City ban will begin on November 8, 2017, giving local businesses time to run through their current stock and prepare for the changes. According to the Culver City ordinance, no food provider shall use, distribute, or sell any single-use foam polystyrene or polystyrene service ware, denoted by recycling identification code 6 (PS).

In an additional and welcome caveat to the ordinance, Culver City businesses now must first ask if you want cutlery before simply throwing in plastic utensils with your take-out food. This idea works hand in hand with Heal the Bay’s Rethink the Drink campaign—coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

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Ballona Creek Renaissance lead the charge on this effort, with multiple Surfrider chapters reliably showing up in force over the nearly year-long endeavor. Our own Gnarly Beach Cleaner, Michael Doshi, was consistently there for the countless council and sustainability sub-committee meetings, while recent Heal the Bay Super Healer award winner, environmental science educator, and Team Marine leader at Santa Monica High School Benjamin Kay was present to seal the deal on Tuesday, April 11 right before midnight.

If there was one loser in this endeavor it would have to be impromptu beach parties.  Starting in November, “No [Culver] City business shall sell polystyrene coolers.” So in light of this, Heal the Bay recommends you simply do not procrastinate in the planning of those.

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The new administration ordered funding freezes of EPA grants and contracts yesterday. Communications Director Matthew King examines five ways this directive could harm the Bay.


UPDATE 2/1/17: Today members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works boycotted the vote to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A vote will be rescheduled in the coming days. Add your voice to this petition now urging the U.S. Senate Committee to reject Pruitt’s nomination. Tell our elected officials to maintain strong EPA funding for programs that affect our Bays nationwide.


These are strange and unsettled times in Washington, D.C. Many conservatives and populists are euphoric about the promise of a new administration, while progressives grow increasingly pessimistic with each passing day.

It’s also safe to say these are strange and unsettled times here in our offices, as we process what the actions of the Trump administration could mean for our work and the Bay.

As a trusted watchdog, Heal the Bay is guided by the best science, not emotion. And when a federal action from the new administration threatens the health and well-being of the Bay, we speak out forcefully.

Well, this week is one of those weeks.

Coming into work yesterday morning, we learned that the new administration had imposed an immediate freeze on grants and contracts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The startling move “threatens to disrupt core operations ranging from toxic cleanups to water quality testing,” according to a ProPublica record search.

In all, the U.S. EPA dispenses some $6.4 billion in federal grants each year to support testing, cleanup and remediation initiatives, including several Heal the Bay programs.

Transition officials insist the freeze is merely a pause and allows incoming managers to assess if the programs should move forward. But longtime U.S. EPA employees and seasoned advocates paint a different picture – hiring freezes happen, but grant freezes are unusual and can threaten to disrupt contracted work.

Here’s how one U.S. EPA contractor responded to questions from a stormwater management employee, per ProPublica: “Right now we are in a holding pattern. The new U.S. EPA administration has asked that all contract and grant awards be temporarily suspended, effective immediately. Until we receive further clarification, this includes task orders and work assignments.”

Many questions remain about the EPA freeze, such as how long it will last and which contracts it impacts.

As recipients of nearly $200,000 in yearly U.S. EPA grants, we are rightly anxious. Similarly, many of our partner organizations receive federal funds that power collaborative initiatives with Heal the Bay.

We still have more questions than answers, but here’s a look at our top 5 issues that could be affected by grant freezes:

 

1. Regular Monitoring of Beach Water Quality

Our Beach Report Card provides weekly A-to-F water-quality grades for more than 500 California beaches, protecting millions of oceangoers each year from getting sick. U.S. EPA grants underwrite the weekly sampling and testing of beaches conducted by many county health agencies throughout the state. No money = no testing = no data = no Beach Report Card = compromised public health. We’ve faced this issue with temporary budget reductions in the past, and have scrambled to piecemeal some bridge funds to keep some monitoring alive. But, there is no current plan for the state or other funders to pick up the pieces dropped by EPA if funding for beach programs is slashed.

 

2. Keeping Our Local Streams Healthy

The health of the Bay can’t be separated from the health of the waters that feed it. Fully functioning and thriving creeks, streams and rivers provide numerous environmental benefits – habitat, improved water quality and recreational space. U.S. EPA grants to our Stream Team program fund our staff scientists’ ongoing monitoring and education efforts along the L.A. River. Programs, like U.S. EPA’s Urban Waters Grant programs are specially designed to support restoration and protection of the important waterways that flow through communities in places that are most in need of open and natural space. Loss of programs like these is particularly devastating for L.A.

 

3. Protecting Our Dwindling Wetlands

L.A. has already lost 95% of its coastal lagoons. With climate change and urbanization encroaching on our few remaining wetlands, it’s critical we act now to defend critical habitat. Through its National Estuary Program, the U.S. EPA funds work to coordinate protection and restoration of important habitats throughout Santa Monica Bay, like Ballona Wetlands and coastal dunes. Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s vice president, serves as a Vice Chair of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission Governing Board, the state partner of the National Estuary Program. Without this Commission, protection and revitalization of habitats and water quality in the Santa Monica Bay would be seriously hamstrung.

These are essential initiatives for the long-term health of the Bay and Southern California. Freezing or cutting back on these programs would truly be pound foolish.

 

4. Getting Rid of DDT in the Bay

Many people don’t realize that the Bay is home to an EPA Superfund site – a tag applied to some of the nation’s most dangerously polluted sites. A 180-acre swath of ocean floor off Palos Verdes is the world’s largest deposit of the pesticide DDT, the legacy of chemical dumping in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The EPA’s decades-long plan to clean up this mess should not be in limbo, because a legal settlement requires it to be cleaned up to protect animal life and people alike.

 

5. Preventing the Unsafe Consumption of Locally Caught Fish

Most fish caught in Santa Monica Bay are safe to eat. Some species, however, are contaminated with toxic levels of DDT, PCB and mercury. Thanks to an EPA grant, our award-winning Pier Angler Outreach team has canvassed local fishing spots and directly warned nearly 150,000 people about what fish are dangerous to eat in a variety of languages from Tagalog to Spanish. Because this is contract work required under a legal settlement, it is buffered against today’s freeze.


These grant and contract freezes are part of a set of bigger concerns. The new administration has begun to advance real threats to roll back clean water programs and regulations that protect public health; offer habitat protections for wetlands and streams that buffer communities from climate change impacts and safeguard wildlife; and many other important environmental achievements. Muzzling its agencies from communicating about their important work and the status of our environment also does a huge disservice to the public, keeping Americans in the dark about important research findings and the state of environmental resources.

In the coming days, we promise to share more information about changes at the U.S. EPA as we receive it. And as concerned as we are about the actions of the past few days, we remain on high alert for the realization of any roll-backs of federal regulations that have been discussed, which may impact California. If you care about these issues, now is the time to make your voice heard. Contact your representative to urge them to protect important environmental policies and programs. We will also soon be posting an Action Alert that will allow you to urge policy makers to maintain strong EPA funding for vital programs that affect the Bay. Stay tuned.

While we strategize on a more formal response to this week’s funding freeze, we encourage you to consider a donation to help support our work to protect the Bay.



Dec. 7, 2016 –Dr. Katherine Pease, Heal the Bay’s wetlands scientist, takes the wraps off a new website to guide the restoration of L.A.’s few remaining wetlands.

In April 2015, Heal the Bay, along with partners Friends of Ballona Wetlands, Surfrider Foundation, and Los Angeles Waterkeeper, released a comprehensive, scientific set of principles for wetland restoration projects in Southern California.

Now that greater Los Angeles has lost 95% of its coastal wetlands, a concerted effort to protect the remaining 5% is critical for the overall health of our region. Using a science-based approach, the coalition has developed clear guidelines to support the restoration of such key ecosystems as the highly degraded Ballona Wetlands in Playa del Rey.

Besides providing habitat for animals, wetlands help buffer against climate change, provide much-needed open space, and act as natural water-purification systems.

Nine other organizations signed on in support of those guidelines. Since then, we have shared our principles with the California Coastal Commission, the California Fish and Game Commission, elected officials, and the public at our “Meet the Wetlands” event in July 2016. Now we are hitting the web!

The coalition has created a website to showcase our collective Principles of Wetland Restoration. We have shared the site with the nine groups that signed on to the principles as well as with local wetlands experts; their constructive feedback has been instrumental in the website development. Individuals and organization can sign on in support of the Principles.

The website will serve as an additional tool for educating the public, as well for advocating for the restoration of Southern California’s remaining wetlands. We expanded on the pithy principles and gave examples of each principle in practice. We also compiled a list of restoration projects that have implemented a majority of the principles we believe are necessary for a successful and comprehensive project.

Looking forward, we are eagerly awaiting the long-delayed release of the plans (draft Environmental Impact Statement/Report) for the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands, expected from the state’s Department of Fish & Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers sometime next year.

We will use this website to educate elected officials and the public about the need for scientific and comprehensive wetland restoration projects that bring back functioning ecosystems. We look forward to seeing the principles in action at Ballona and beyond.

If you support the restoration of Southern California’s wetlands, read more about the Ballona Wetlands and sign our petition asking for an expedited EIR release.