Heal the Bay Blog

Category: News

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.

Nov. 30, 2016 — After nearly 30 years guiding the influential Friends of the Los Angeles River, Lewis MacAdams has decided to hand over the reins. Here, longtime ally James Alamillo, Heal the Bay’s urban programs manager, reflects on our shared history.

Heal the Bay and the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR) both got their start in 1986, upstart nonprofits focused on grassroots change. The organizations have since matured and have shaped the Los Angeles environmental scene for the past 30 years. As though they were cut from the same fabric, Heal the Bay founding president Dorothy Green and FOLAR co-founder Lewis MacAdams both made it their life’s work to protect two iconic landscapes of Los Angeles — the Santa Monica Bay and the Los Angeles River. Mobilizing everyday people, they developed a successful formula to rehabilitate, protect, preserve, and share special places with current and future generations.

The two Los Angeles environmental giants, and their respective organizations, began crossing paths in the early 1990s when the Los Angeles County Flood Control Department and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed raising the walls on the Los Angeles River – an effort known as the Los Angeles County Drainage Area Project, or LACDA.

Both Dorothy and Lewis were so adamant about instituting comprehensive watershed management planning principles to the Los Angeles River and other watersheds, that they formed the Coalition to Restore our Watershed, also known as Un-Pave LA. Over the next six years, they fought the LACDA project to ensure that watershed principals were incorporated into the project’s Environmental Impact Report. Although the LACDA project was eventually built, the process gave birth to yet another organization – the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, a group intent on bringing watershed management principals to public agencies.

Since then, FOLAR and Heal the Bay have collectively worked together to improve the Los Angeles River and its tributaries. Through it all, Lewis has always been part of the process, whether it was supporting volunteer clean-up programs, talking to media, testifying before the Regional Water Quality Control Board on a 401-water quality certifications or a total maximum daily load for trash, reviewing data collection on fishing or swimming, promoting the river’s restoration, or supporting the ARBOR Study.

While the partnership between Heal the Bay and FOLAR will continue, Lewis’ passion for the river will be greatly missed. Heal the Bay is honored to have traveled the Los Angeles River journey with Lewis. We wish him well as moves on to his next endeavor.

Nov. 21, 2016 — Amid all the uncertainty in Washington D.C., Heal the Bay promises to keep a sharp eye on what a new administration means for our local environment, writes Dr. Rita Kampalath, Heal the Bay’s science and policy director.

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.

While we’re still celebrating the tremendous wins that the California environment scored in the recent elections, we have been hearing voices of concerns from many Heal the Bay supporters about changes afoot on the national level. After months of campaign rhetoric, there’s a lot of uncertainty about the real-world policies and appointments rolling out from a new leader in the White House.

Given our 31-year role as a staunch defender of our local seas and watersheds, we’ve been paying particular attention to discussions about such topics as the purpose of the EPA and ongoing climate change policy. In my role of heading policy for an organization always guided by the best science, I’ve frankly been dismayed to hear opinions expressed by the new administration on some issues related to our core work. These initial reactions range from mildly concerning to truly alarming, given that some pronouncements are simply at odds with established scientific consensus. As a result, we’re going to be watching what goes on at the federal level closer than ever.

Below are topics our policy team will be keeping an eye on in the coming months as the new administration formalizes its course of action:

Climate change: Despite the consensus of the vast majority of the scientific community that man-made climate change is very real, the issue remains a contentious topic for federal legislators, and a key policy area to watch going forward. The choice of a well-known climate change skeptic as leader of the EPA transition team has been disheartening, especially as Myron Ebell is also mentioned as potentially heading up the agency long-term.

The past few years have seen tremendous progress in the U.S. accepting our responsibility to take action for warming temperatures, highlighted by our ratification of the Paris Agreement last year. The incoming administration has expressed a clear stance on withdrawing the U.S. from this landmark agreement. This is obviously a global issue to be grappled with, but we have been working on climate resiliency with local municipalities for years. Rising seas, erosion, and flooding are very real possibilities on our shorelines in the not-too-distant future. But to fix the problem, we need to admit there is a problem.

Energy: Strongly tied to U.S. actions on climate change are our energy policies in general, which may have additional impacts on natural resources and air and water pollution. Here on the California coast in particular, we’ll be watching out for any policies or actions that may open up our lands, in particular those offshore, to additional oil drilling and fracking. We’ll also look out for actions on recently adopted or still in the works policies such as the Clean Power Plan and mercury standards that seek to tighten standards on a range of air and water pollutants. These obviously have enormous potential impacts on the health of our local waterways and neighborhoods.

Clean Water Act: Last year, the EPA issued the Clean Water Rule (“Waters of the U.S.” rule), which clarified the definition of waters that are protected by the Clean Water Act. Thankfully, this definition recognizes the interconnectedness of waterbodies, and the impact that upstream waterbodies can have on navigable waters, and thus formalized protections for precious water resources such as certain wetlands and tributaries that previously may have been subject to debate. The new administration has made it clear that this rule will be a prime target for elimination.

Funding: Although it may be difficult to abolish entire agencies or programs completely, the power of the purse is no joke. We will be watching to see how funding of agencies, research, and grant programs related to the environment changes under the new administration. Certainly, the billion-dollar restoration plan of the L.A. River put forth by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will now be viewed through a new prism, leaving lingering questions about how the long-gestating project will now move forward.

New regulations: While we’re lucky to live in a state that is pretty consistently a leader in the nation on environmental laws, we’ll be vigilant for any federal regulations put forward that may seek to preempt state laws. While this approach may be beneficial in some instances where the federal law is more protective or establishes consistency among states, we’ll be wary of any attempts to limit the protections we as a state can ensure for our treasured natural resources.

Infrastructure spending: Given the current degraded state of our infrastructure, Heal the Bay supports infrastructure spending and improvements. At the same time, we cannot set up a zero sum game between infrastructure and climate change as the new administration’s 100-day plan suggests. And infrastructure spending must be invested in projects that lead to more sustainable communities and incorporate best management practices in terms of energy and water use.

Heal the Bay was founded on the belief that, like the rights to free speech, equal treatment, to practice whatever religion you choose, and to love whomever you choose, we have a right to an environment that doesn’t pose a risk to our health and well-being. These rights and values are what make America great now! While we, as always, are rooting wholeheartedly for the success and forward progress of our nation, we believe that erosion of any of these rights is absolutely incompatible with any definition of success, and certainly any definition of progress.

Feeling like you want to take action in these uncertain times? We’ve got dozens of volunteer opportunities for you and your family.

UPDATE: 4:14 p.m., Nov. 10, 2016:

While California waits for the last 3 million mail-in votes to be counted, it is projected by a number of influential media outlets that Proposition 67 will PASS! Once the Secretary of State declares the results official, the plastic bag ban will go into effect immediately. This makes California the first state to pass a comprehensive ban on single use plastic bags. As the nation looks to California as a progressive environmental leader, we hope that our hard-fought, grassroots-led victory inspires other states to enact a bag ban of their own.

We’re grateful for the passionate, powerful coalition of environmental groups, community leaders, and dedicated volunteers, without whom this victory simply wouldn’t have been possible. 

For the latest Prop 67 results coverage, check out the Sacramento Bee and New York Times.

Nov. 9, 2016 — Tova Handelman, Heal the Bay’s Coastal Resources Coordinator, dives into the election results and finds some treasures worth celebrating.

So much has happened in the last 24 hours. The dust has yet to settle from the presidential and state elections. Through the haze, it can be hard to see the long, grueling path that led us here. Even more uncertain is what the road ahead looks like for the country, and its environmental progress.

Well before the primaries and up until yesterday, Heal the Bay – alongside our incredible partner organizations, and fueled by dedicated members like you – led efforts to enact some real environmental change locally and across California during this election season. We advocated for several propositions and city measures before, and are truly proud to see the results of our efforts this time. This campaign season has given us a lot of firsts–some good and some downright puzzling. But we are proud to say that this is the first time we’ve seen such across-the-board success for the environmental measures we worked so hard to endorse.

Let’s take a look at some key environmental measures on the ballot–and what will happen next:

Measure A: PASSED!

A big victory with a huge margin, Measure A passed with 73.5% of the Los Angeles vote. This means that an annual parcel tax of 1.5 cents per square foot of development will generate approximately $94 million per year. This money will go directly to local communities to protect, enhance, and maintain our local parks, beaches, and open spaces.

Measure M: PASSED!

Sick and tired of traffic and its effect on air quality in Los Angeles? You’re not alone: Measure M passed overwhelmingly with nearly 70% of the vote – well over the two-thirds share it needed to pass. Measure M adds a half-cent sales tax and extends the existing half-cent increase passed in 2008 with Measure R. This tax will generate $120 billion over 40 years to fund major extensions to subway lines, including a line under the Sepulveda Pass to connect the San Fernando Valley to West Los Angeles.

Measure CW: PASSED!

Residents of Culver City voted to create a dedicated funding source in the form of a parcel tax to pay for water quality programs that will prevent pollution in our waterways, beaches, and the Ballona Creek Estuary. The tax is expected to generate $2 million per year, and all money will be used in Culver City to reduce water pollution. This will ultimately help to improve water quality in Santa Monica Bay!

Proposition 65: FAILED!

Try as they might, the plastic bag manufacturing companies behind Prop 65 couldn’t trick us into undoing California’s plastic bag ban. This proposition was intentionally vague to confuse voters by thinking they were voting for an environmental fund, when the fine print actually said the bag ban would be overturned should Prop 65 pass. Thanks to our tireless volunteers and incredible efforts from partner organizations, we were able to get the word out and educate voters on the issue. Looks like Californians do their homework, because we are now one step closer to banning plastic bags from grocery stores statewide.


Heal the Bay has been working for years to eliminate plastic pollution from our waterways and beaches. Two years ago, we rejoiced when SB270 passed, making California the first state to ban plastic grocery bags. The plastic bag manufacturers didn’t take the news well, however, and spent over $6 million to get the bill back on the ballot as a referendum in the form of Prop 67. Our volunteers spent long days at tabling events and long nights phone banking to encourage voters to uphold our statewide plastic bag ban, and it seems like their efforts paid off. The polls are too close to call just yet, but the projections are promising. Once the final verdict is called, the plastic bag ban will go into effect immediately at grocery stores, pharmacies, and liquor stores across the state. Paper bags will still be available for 10 cents. Over 660 ocean species have been found to ingest or become entangled in plastic pollution, so a statewide ban is a HUGE victory for the environment–and ocean animals.

Though it is unclear what will play out nationally, there is one thing you can certainly count on: Heal the Bay will continue to fight to protect what you love. Supported by thousands of ocean-loving Angelenos and guided by sound science, we will press on to advance local, regional, and statewide environmental policies and educate the next generation of ocean advocates.

Thanks to you, we won so much yesterday. And with your help, we will continue fighting, stronger than ever, for a cleaner, healthier, bluer Los Angeles.

Sept. 30, 2016 — This Saturday, October 1, marks the opening weekend of the recreational lobster fishing season in California, officially beginning at 12:01 a.m. This is one of the busiest weekends on the water in Southern California, and it’s important that people stay safe and know the rules. So, here’s Heal the Bay’s cheat sheet to the recreational lobster regulations.

On the resource side, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife recently adopted California’s spiny lobster fishery management plan (FMP) to ensure that the fishery is sustainable for both the commercial and recreational sectors, while keeping the Southern California lobster population healthy and thriving. New regulations associated with the FMP won’t take effect until next year’s 2017/2018 lobster season. Heal the Bay participated as the environmental stakeholder on the advisory committee for the management plan.

Spiny lobster play an important role in our kelp forest and rocky reef systems, keeping things balanced by feeding on sea urchins, mussels, and other invertebrates. And, it’s not just people that enjoy rich, sweet taste of lobster, California sheephead, cabezon, horn sharks, and other animals also eat lobster. The good news is that lobster populations are generally doing pretty well in Southern California, especially with the implementation of marine protected areas in 2012.

There has been a commercial fishery in California for spiny lobster since the late 1800s, and now California’s lobster fishery is consistently one of the top five in the state. It is almost entirely based in Southern California. The commercial fishery season typically opens about 5 days after the start of the recreational lobster season.

Because lobster are most active at night, recreational fishing also largely occurs in the dark. Conflicts between boats, divers, and hoop-netters are not uncommon during opening weekend. Here are a few tips to stay safe while lobster fishing, especially during the busy opening weekend:

  • Never dive alone. Always dive with a buddy, and keep him or her close. Divers who are dozens of feet apart may not be quick enough to respond in an emergency situation. When free-diving, one buddy should remain on the surface while the other dives in case of a shallow water blackout situation.
  • Don’t dive in areas you are unfamiliar with. If you’d like to try a new spot, check it out in the day first to familiarize yourself before heading out at night.
  • Watch the weather and ocean conditions. Winds and surge can threaten boats and divers, especially near rocky areas and close to shore.
  • If you are setting hoop-nets, be aware of your line. The polypropylene line can get tangled in your boat prop if you are not careful and may disable your boat.
  • Keep a back-up flashlight or headlamp aboard your boat. Divers should also carry a back-up dive light.
  • As a diver or boater, avoid encroaching on boats that have staked out a spot.
  • Inform someone at home of your dive plan or boat plan before you head out on the water.
  • When driving your boat at night, watch the water closely for lights and bubbles from submerged divers and avoid those areas. If you end up too close to divers, put your boat into neutral until you pass them to avoid an unsafe encounter.

And, here’s a recap of the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) recreational lobster fishing regulations. Check the DFW website or sport-fishing guide for detailed regulations:

  • All recreational lobster fishermen 16 years old and older must have a valid sport fishing license.
  • All recreational lobster fishermen (regardless of age) must have a spiny lobster report card in their possession while fishing for lobster or assisting in fishing for lobster. Report cards must be reported online at by April 30, following the close of lobster season.
  • A $21.60 non-return fee will be charged when purchasing a spiny lobster report card if the previous year’s report card is not returned or reported by the April 30 deadline. To avoid the fee, you may either return or report your card by the deadline, or skip one lobster fishing season. After skipping one season, you can purchase a spiny lobster report card the following season at no extra cost.
  • The recreational catch limit is seven lobster, and no more than one daily bag limit of seven can be taken or possessed at any time. (You cannot have more than seven lobster per angler at home at any given time).
  • Minimum size limit is 3.25 inch carapace length (measuring from the rear of the eye socket between the horns to the back of the body shell, or carapace). You must carry a lobster gauge to accurately measure catch. All undersize lobster must be released immediately after measurement.
  • Do not tail your lobster. Separating the tail from the head makes it impossible to determine whether the lobster is legal size or not, so the lobster must be landed whole.
  • Open lobster recreation season runs from the Saturday before the first Wednesday in October, through the first Wednesday after March 15. The 2016-2017 season runs from October 1, 2016 – March 22, 2017.
  • Lobster can only be taken by hand or hoop net, and recreational fishermen are limited to no more than five hoop nets/person and vessels may not carry more than 10 hoop nets. When fishing from land, fishermen are limited to two hoop nets.
  • Interference with commercial traps or recreational hoop nets is prohibited.

Both commercial and recreational fishing are part of California’s coastal culture. And, charismatic lobster are also a favorite species to spot for non-consumptive divers, making great photo subjects as well. Be safe and have fun this lobster season!

More information is available on the Department of Fish and Wildlife website and through this tip-card.

Spiny lobsters are most active night, posing some challenges for divers.

Aug. 25, 2016 — Popular recreation zones in the L.A. River suffer from elevated levels of bacterial pollution, according to a new technical report from Heal the Bay that analyzed water quality during the busy summer season. Here we address concerns people may have and share our vision for a healthier river.

What exactly are “recreation zones” on the L.A. River?
Recreation zones in the Los Angeles River are areas where people are allowed to access the river. Non-motorized boating is allowed in these areas as well as fishing (with a license), walking and bird watching. There are two recreation zones: a two-mile stretch in the Sepulveda Basin (Encino) and a two-and-a-half mile stretch in Elysian Valley (Frogtown). Recreation is also allowed at the mouth of the L.A. River in Long Beach.

The L.A. River is navigableWhy and when were they created?
The L.A. River was designated a “navigable” waterway back in 2010 by the US EPA, meaning that it’s protected by the Clean Water Act. This designation was the result of years of advocacy by many groups, including Friends of the Los Angeles River, NRDC, Heal the Bay, and other environmental groups as well as a group of kayakers and boaters who paddled 51 miles of the river to show that the river is in fact navigable (check out the documentary “Rock the Boat”). In 2011 a pilot recreation program was started in the Sepulveda Basin, and in 2013 the Elysian Valley recreation zone was opened. The zones are open for recreation during the summer months (typically from Memorial Day to the end of September) and during safe flow conditions.

How many people recreate on the L.A. River in a given year?
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.

Why is Heal the Bay testing water quality on the L.A. River?
Heal the Bay is well known for its Beach Report Card, which has provided A-to-F water quality “grades” each week for over 450 beaches in California since 1990. However, we’ve also been monitoring freshwater rivers, streams and creeks since 1998 through our Stream Team program. We believe that assessing water quality in a variety of waterbodies provides a clearer, more robust picture of environmental health throughout Greater Los Angeles. Recently, our focus has shifted to popular freshwater recreational spots, which, aside from the L.A. River, includes swimming holes in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Trash found in the L.A. RiverWhat kind of bacteria is Heal the Bay testing for?
Heal the Bay tested for two types of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) — E. coli and Enterococcus. Our staff scientists — led by Dr. Katherine Pease — collected and tested water samples weekly for fecal indicator bacteria at three sites in the two recreation zones in the Sepulveda Basin and Elysian Valley areas of the river over a three-month period in summer 2015. Bacteria levels varied among the sites in the new L.A. River study, but overall were quite high. For example, samples for one type of fecal indicator bacteria, Enterococcus, exceeded federal standards 100% of the time at two sites in Elysian Valley (Rattlesnake Park and Steelhead Park) and 50% of the time in Sepulveda Basin. The Rattlesnake Park site also suffered from a 67% exceedance rate for E. coli.

What illnesses are associated with those bacteria?
FIB, while not necessarily harmful themselves, indicate the possible presence of pathogenic bacteria, which have been found to cause ear infections, skin rashes, respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal illness. High levels of FIB are particularly concerning in areas where people come in contact with water through activities like swimming, fishing, and kayaking.

How does the bacteria get in the water?
The Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, for the L.A. River identifies several contributors of harmful 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, wildlife, and human waste.

The L.A. River can be lush and greenIs anyone really surprised that the L.A River suffers from poor water quality?
Learning that parts of the river suffered from poor water quality was not a revelation to many Angelenos. The surprise for most people was learning that there were lush, green, navigable parts of the river with actual rapids—portions of the river that actually look like a river. We hope that by spreading awareness of these “wild” spots, people will be more inspired to act as ambassadors for the river’s improvement.

Will I get sick if I go kayaking in the L.A. River?
The odds are that if you go on a kayak trip on the L.A. River you won’t get sick. But there’s always that risk – especially if you don’t follow common safety procedures. We do know that the water quality is uncertain and known to have bacteria levels that are frequently over accepted thresholds. The thresholds that the US EPA and the Regional Water Quality Control Board have put forth are based on epidemiological studies and risk. Recreation in waters that are over accepted bacteria thresholds means that there may be an increased risk of illness when you come in contact with the water. An increased risk of illness is not a guarantee that you will get sick. Certain activities are more risky when water quality is poor; for instance, swimming and submerging your head is more risky than wading; swimming is more risky than kayaking; kayaking is likely more risky than hiking (at least with regards to picking up a waterborne illness), and so on, with the risk dependent on how likely you are to ingest or contact water. Whether we realize it or not, we all make decisions every day based on risk, such as driving a car, eating questionable leftovers, or playing a sport. Deciding what to do with this water quality information depends on the risk level you are comfortable with.

Heal the Bay staff scientists kayaking the L.A. RiverDoes Heal the Bay support kayaking and other recreational uses on the L.A. River?
Heal the Bay has long advocated for public access to and use of open space and waterways, whether it is in Compton Creek, Malibu Creek State Park, Ballona Wetlands, or the beach. Benefits from utilizing these open spaces are clear in terms of individual and community health as well as fostering environmental stewardship and engagement. Less than 10 years ago we worked successfully alongside many partner groups to get US EPA to designate the L.A. River as a navigable waterway, in part so it could be used more for recreational purposes. 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.

I want to go kayaking. How do I book a trip?
There are a number of groups who lead kayak tours of the river. You can take your own kayak or steerable non-motorized boat down the river or you can book an individual trip or a group trip through the kayak concessionaires listed here.

What can I do to keep safe if I do go?
Swimming is not allowed in the Sepulveda Basin or Elysian Valley recreation zones. We recommend limiting your contact with the water, particularly avoiding hand-to-face water contact, entering the water with an open wound, if immunocompromised, or after a rainfall. After water contact, we recommend rinsing off with soap and water. We also encourage all visitors to learn about water quality and ask questions. Check the most recent water quality results from Heal the Bay. Bacteria-related water-quality information will be posted on this page weekly during the summer months or open recreation season.

Who is responsible for making sure the river meets clean-water standards?
The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has the authority to enforce Clean Water Act guidelines for the L.A. River. The board issues permits and regulations for the L.A. River, such as discharge permits for water reclamation plants, stormwater permits for cities along the River, and Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for pollutants, such as bacteria. A TMDL basically sets the amount of pollution that a waterbody can handle while still maintaining its beneficial uses, such as recreation, wildlife habitat, and groundwater recharge. There is a TMDL for bacteria pollution in the L.A. River Watershed; this document identifies entities that contribute to bacterial pollution and sets limits and timelines to achieve reductions in pollution.

The L.A. River can be quite picturesqueWhat does Heal the Bay envision for the river in the next few years?
We envision a river where people can explore, kayak, fish, and even swim without fear of getting sick. However, this goal is likely many years away. In order for this vision to be realized, community members and municipal and non-governmental agencies need to work together to support efforts aimed at reducing pollution in the river, such as stormwater capture projects. Heal the Bay is also advocating for more flexible funding options to support these projects. Understanding the impact that we as individuals can have is also key to making behavioral changes that can improve the quality of runoff entering the river – picking up after our pets, properly managing our trash, and not overwatering our lawns or washing our cars in the street.

In the meantime, Heal the Bay hopes to see readily available water quality information for people visiting the river, as well as more informative signage so that people understand the simple precautions they can take to minimize their risk of illness. Further, we will push for immediate abatement actions to reduce bacterial inputs, particularly in dry weather. For instance, if a stormdrain is determined to be a major source of bacteria, a low-flow diversion should be explored, where the runoff is diverted to the sewer system to be treated instead of reaching the L.A. River.

Group of kayakers on the L.A. RiverWhat can I do to help improve water quality on the L.A River?
Heal the Bay was founded on the principle of concerned citizens standing together to right an environmental wrong. In 1985, we pressured the Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant to improve its treatment process and stop discharging sludge into Santa Monica Bay. The same principle can be applied to the improvement and stewardship of the Los Angeles River. If enough people are aware of the problem, and commit themselves to collaboratively finding solutions, a healthy, clean L.A. River is within reach.

We urge Angelenos to explore and get to know their river, to pay attention to conversations about the River happening at council meetings and other agencies and make sure that their voices are also heard in these venues, and to support efforts that will lead to lasting change and improvements in the water quality of the river.

This FAQ is available in Spanish here.

Aug. 17, 2016 —  Just departed president Alix Hobbs made asking the hard questions look easy, writes Communications Director Matthew King.

No. It’s one of the simplest words in the English language, but often one of the hardest to say.

Heal the Bay has a team of passionate advocates whose heads are filled with big ideas. These well-meaning initiatives, cooked up in the excitement of a brainstorming meeting or a flurry of overly optimistic emails, can quickly take a life of their own. Other priorities established weeks ago are set aside, as the team chases the new concept like 8-year-olds scurrying in unison after a soccer ball at a Saturday AYSO game.

The problem with good ideas is that they are just ideas – and often not very good ones. (“Hey, let’s create a giant sea star on the beach made of glued-together cigarette butts!”) Pursuing them costs time and money – two of any nonprofit’s most precious assets.

Heal the Bay, like any well-run organization, simply needs someone smart to say No. Someone to ask the hard questions. For many years that person was Alix Hobbs, our just departed president.

It isn’t an easy job, nor a glamorous one, but it’s critical to our success. She had to make choices on matters as mundane as selecting our credit card company, and as soul-shaking as personnel reductions. And during my nine-year tenure here, Alix did it with conviction, fairness and a clear sense of purpose.

Nonprofits love to hold meetings.  We discuss items to death. We form subcommittees to offer preferred alternatives. Everyone has a voice, and consensus is desperately sought. But ultimately someone has to make a decision. And lately that fell to Alix in her duties overseeing Heal the Bay for the past two years.

A naval commander’s daughter, Alix was to the captain’s bridge born. When faced with a decision, she surveys the options as if scanning the open sea. After careful consideration, amid often conflicting voices, she’ll speak in a firm, clear voice about which way to point the boat. That confidence is reassuring to a busy crew seeking calm in the middle of a minor squall.

Alix had grown up professionally at the organization, serving capably in a variety of roles for nearly 20 years – from volunteer to Coastal Cleanup Day coordinator to Programs Director. But some of her greatest work came serving largely behind the scenes as Associate Director during the tenure of past president Mark Gold. Essentially acting as our CFO, she made sure the trains ran on time — managing budgets, overseeing operations, shepherding grants — so our policy and education teams could do their amazing work.

Then the board threw her into a new challenge – settling the HTB ship after a few turbulent years. As our new chief, she was tasked with spearheading the creation and adoption of a comprehensive 10-year strategic plan. She also was asked to lead a fundraising campaign to solidify our financial foundation as the regional economy finally woke from its slumber.

Speaking directly and confidently with the media and general public, Alix made my job as Communications Director easier. Statuesque with preppy good looks, she exudes self-assurance. I once told her that she reminded me of the dark-haired actress Ali MacGraw. She quickly shot back: “Who’s Ali MacGraw?,” making me feel a thousand years old. (If you’re under 40, you can Google “Love Story” or “Steve McQueen’s wife.”)

But Alix and I occasionally butted heads over the years, be it about staffing levels in my department or the tone of an email blast. I’m a right-brain type, acting on instinct and intuition; she’s a left-brainer, guided by reason and analytics. We usually approached a potential problem from differing perspectives. But we typically came to an agreement that best served the organization. To her credit, she trusted me to do my job and always gave me creative latitude and authority.

Having fulfilled her mandate, Alix is now moving on and has accepted a job as president of the Crystal Cove Alliance in Newport Beach. She’ll get a chance to test out her entrepreneurial skills and expand her management chops in the hospitality field.

The good news is that Alix will remain connected to Heal the Bay. She has accepted a voting position on our board of directors and will have a voice in our future direction.

With respect and gratitude, I look forward to hearing many more No’s from her.

Aug. 15, 2016 — Longtime board member takes reins from Alix Hobbs, who is departing for new job running the Crystal Cove Alliance in Orange County.

Heal the Bay’s board of directors has announced that Stephanie Medina will serve as interim president and CEO following the recent departure of  Alix Hobbs as chief of the environmental nonprofit.

Medina, a longtime board member and past chairman, will assume responsibility for financial, operational and strategic oversight of the organization.

She will share management duties with vice president Sarah Sikich, who oversees science and policy initiatives. In the coming months, the board will pursue a leadership search that includes both internal and external candidates.

The move follows the board of directors’ adoption of comprehensive 10-year strategic plan spearheaded by Hobbs, as well as a highly successful fundraising campaign to solidify the group’s financial foundation amid a slowly recovering regional economy.

Hobbs, a nearly 20-veteran of the Santa Monica-based nonprofit, has accepted a job as president of the Crystal Cove Alliance in Newport Beach. She will remain connected to Heal the Bay, and has accepted a voting position on our board of directors.

“The Heal the Bay family is exactly that — a family of devoted, passionate, capable and smart people,” said Hobbs. “So stepping away after all these years is emotional. But I depart knowing that we have left the next generation with something much better than what we inherited.”

A San Fernando Valley resident, Medina has held several management positions in the nonprofit and media sectors. She most recently served as a senior vice president of community relations for the Special Olympics’ World Games 2015, following positions directing Public Affairs at broadcast stations KTLA and KCAL/KCBS. She also served on the city of Los Angeles’ Transportation Commission.

“Having served on the board for so many years, I got to see the good work that our staff and volunteers do,” said Medina. “But now I get to come into our office every day! I couldn’t be more honored to lead the team in our next phase of growth.”

As part of its new strategic plan, the staff and board of Heal the Bay is focusing on three key directional goals in the coming decade:

  • To better protect public health, we will work to ensure that people can swim and fish at every beach in L.A. County without risk of getting sick.
  • To ensure a more sustainable water future, we will work to ensure that L.A. County sources 60% of its water locally through conservation and reuse by 2025.
  • To restore the vibrancy of our local oceans and watersheds, we will work to ensure that all greater L.A. coastal and river habitats are healthy.

July 27, 2016 — Heal the Bay released today a landmark study of water quality in the Los Angeles River. Dr. Katherine Pease, the study’s author, explains why improving the river’s water quality should be an integral part of any plan to restore it.

Last week’s massive 2.4 million gallon sewage spill into the Los Angeles River and subsequent closure of local beaches illustrates the serious water-quality challenges facing our inland waterways.

Sewage spills are unusual one-time events, but a new study that I have just completed demonstrates that bacterial pollution continues to plague the river on a chronic, long-term basis. We are releasing the results today.

The findings are a cause for both concern and opportunity — given the growing recreational uses of the river and a $1 billion revitalization plan for L.A.’s central water body.

The L.A. River Study

The study shows that popular recreation spots along the Los Angeles River suffer from very poor water quality, which poses health risks to the growing number of people who fish, swim and kayak in its waters.

Kayaking and other recreational opportunities are frequently described by participants as transformational in their perception of the Los Angeles River. Getting on the water helps people move beyond the stereotypical image of a concrete drainage ditch to a vision of a vibrant river filled with life and potential.

My transformational moment at the river took place in 2009 when I was asked by a friend to participate in River School, an educational event put on by Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR) in the Elysian Valley. We scouted an area by Fletcher Avenue the day before, searching for examples of native and non-native plants as well as aquatic life in scoops of water.

Sepulveda River BasinI was amazed at this newly discovered area that had been hiding in plain sight. I found a hawk pellet underneath an overpass of a busy street. I ate a mulberry from a tree growing in the river. I also saw signs of a waterbody that needed help. Pollution in the form of trash was obvious, but the unseen pollution was also troubling.

The importance of developing a personal connection to the river cannot be overstated. Heal the Bay hopes that people continue to have transformational moments in its waters and that the river itself can be transformed into a waterbody meeting its beneficial uses of recreation, recharging groundwater, and providing habitat for wildlife.

But we have a long way to go – as the study clearly demonstrates.

Building on Heal the Bay’s work as a watchdog for public health at local beaches, we began monitoring popular, previously unmonitored freshwater recreational areas in 2014 starting with swimming holes in the Santa Monica Mountains, and adding sites in the L.A. River in 2015.

Taking samples at the L.A. RiverHeal the Bay staff scientists collected and tested water samples weekly for fecal indicator bacteria at three sites in the two recreation zones in the Sepulveda Basin and Elysian Valley areas of the river over a three-month period in summer 2015.

Bacteria levels varied among the sites in the new L.A. River study, but overall were quite high. For example, samples for one type of fecal indicator bacteria, Enterococcus, exceeded federal standards 100% of the time at two sites in Elysian Valley (Rattlesnake Park and Steelhead Park) and 50% of the time in Sepulveda Basin. The Rattlesnake Park site also suffered from a 67% exceedance rate for E. coli.

These exceedances indicate risk for ear infections, respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal illnesses for people who come in contact with the water.

Much of the water that flows in the L.A. River is highly treated and sanitized wastewater from the city of L.A.’s Tillman Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys, nearly 16 million gallons a day. Tillman’s discharge is not considered a source of bacterial pollution, and without its flow there would likely be no kayaking in the Los Angeles River.

Train by the L.A. RiverAlthough the recreation zones were previously unassessed, monitoring in other stretches of the L.A. River show high bacteria counts, which led to the L.A. River’s designation by the state as a bacteria-impaired waterbody. The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has also imposed a bacteria Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, for the river, which identifies several contributors of harmful 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.

By law, cities along the river and entities who discharge into it are required to enact pollution-reducing measures to comply with the federal Clean Water Act. The final deadlines for these regulations are a ways off, with interim and final goals set for 2030 and 2037, respectively. However, cities have worked together to develop an Enhanced Watershed Management Plan to address these issues with shorter-term milestones along the way.

In the report, Heal the Bay staff scientists laud recent efforts to revitalize the L.A. River and to open up public access to recreational zones. However, water quality improvements are needed to expand these opportunities and protect public health.

The federal Army Corps of Engineers has an approved $1.3-billion plan to revitalize an 11-mile stretch of the river, focusing on habitat and recreational improvement. Heal the Bay strongly urges that rehabilitation work incorporate specific and measurable measures to enhance water quality.

The full report has a detailed list of recommendations for increasing beneficial uses while protecting public health. Among them:

  • Swimming: While many families recreate in the water, particularly on hot days, adults and children should avoid swimming in the L.A. River, particularly submersing their heads under water. We envision a swimmable L.A. River one day but current water quality is not yet at a healthful level. If there is any water contact, rinse off with soap and water afterward.
  • Kayaking and Angling: People should limit water contact, especially avoiding hand-to-face water contact. Users should not enter the water with an open wound, if immunocompromised, or after a rainfall. If there is water contact, rinse off with soap and water afterward.
  • Public notification: All groups promoting recreation in the L.A. River should provide water quality information and best practices to all participants, using consistent, accurate and prominent information on all outreach materials, and in multiple languages, consistent with the demographics of visitors.
  • Increased monitoring: The City of Los Angeles or responsible municipal agency should institute, at a minimum, weekly water quality testing for fecal indicator bacteria in the recreation zones during the open season (Memorial Day to the end of September), and at other known swimming spots along the Los Angeles River.

OSO Park Boat ExitThe City of Los Angeles recently convened a stakeholder workshop to discuss water quality issues in the L.A. River and specific near-term and long-term measures to ensure that the public is informed of water quality issues. We had a robust discussion about ways to minimize risk and to implement solutions to reduce chronic pollution. We are cautiously optimistic and look forward to working with the City to put these plans into motion.

At the regional level, Heal the Bay continues to advocate for funding for comprehensive water-quality improvement projects like increased stormwater capture and wastewater recycling. These measures would reduce polluted flow into our recreation zones while increasing local water supplies in a time of drought.

About Heal the Bay and the L.A. River

Heal the Bay has been monitoring water quality in streams and rivers since 1998 through our Stream Team program. In 2014 we initiated a pilot study to monitor human use and water quality of freshwater swimming spots in the Santa Monica Mountains, focusing on bacterial pollution and public health implications.

Dr. Katherine Pease, author of the L.A. River StudyWe are currently in our third summer of monitoring water quality in those swimming locations. Given Heal the Bay’s 25-year history of informing and educating beach-goers about beach water quality through our Beach Report Card, assessing the water quality of the Los Angeles River recreation zones was a natural next step.

Heal the Bay has a long history of work on the Los Angeles River; we have advocated for improved habitat, water quality, and recreation by weighing in on numerous policies and permits concerning the Los Angeles River such as TMDLs, the Recreational Use Reassessment (RECUR) study, permits for dredging and clearing vegetation, and other regulatory actions.

July 8, 2016 — Yesterday the Board of Supervisors voted to place the parks and open space funding measure on the ballot for this November – a crucial step in achieving our shared goals for access to clean, safe, water smart parks and open space across LA County! The measure will be a 1.5 cent per square foot tax levied annually – which means it will require a supermajority vote in November. $98 million dollars will be created by the tax, which will be managed by LA County’s Open Space District. There is a state measure moving through the legislature but local funding is key because it provides much needed maintenance money that the state bond will not.

Heal the Bay completed its 2015 strategic plan which included a new area of focus called Healthy Watersheds. To meet our new goal of connecting inland communities to their watersheds and to restore the vibrancy of our watersheds, Heal the Bay joined the #OurParks coalition with Trust for Public Land, Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy and many other groups to support the LA County Parks and Open Space measure. An unprecedented needs assessment illuminated $20 billion of needs across the county. The need for funding is urgent, since the last existing dedicated parks funding is set to expire in 2019.

Parks represent the vast majority of open space we have left in our dense, concrete laden watersheds. We have worked very closely with the Open Space District to ensure the grant programs within this funding measure will provide protection and opportunities for nature based solutions to our challenged water resources, including using parks to capture storm water, creating linear greenways along our rivers, and cool our cities – in addition to their traditional roles like creating safe places to play. This measure matched with future storm water funding will provide leverage for cities using parks to build projects to meet storm water quality mandates. The money can be used to:

  • Protect clean water resources, including rivers and creeks
  • Reduce gang activity and provide safe places to play
  • Ensure drinking water is safe at park and recreation centers
  • Remove asbestos, mold and lead paint from aging recreation centers
  • Protect and preserve parks and natural areas
  • Keep beaches open, clean and safe
  • Supports funding for high need areas

It was disappointing to hear the opposition from the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. When Gary Toebben, president, said “It’s pretty easy to have a cup of coffee when someone else is paying for it”, County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl replied, “You’ve had plenty of our cups of coffee.” She noted that commercial properties have received favorable treatment under Proposition 13, the property tax initiative approved by California voters in 1978.

What’s next? Click here to learn more about the campaign and final ballot language for the Safe Clean Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, Rivers Protection and Water Conservation Measure.