Heal the Bay, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Los Angeles Waterkeeper developed the “Vision 2045” report with bolder goals, targets and recommendations for the stormwater capture, water supply, water quality, equity, science, finance, and policy.
Los Angeles County residents passed a landmark funding measure (Measure W), which imposed a parcel tax on impervious surfaces to fund stormwater projects to increase local water supply, improve water quality, and provide community benefits through the Safe, Clean Water Program (SCWP). With an annual budget of approximately $280 million, the SCWP has the potential to transform how Los Angeles County manages stormwater, prioritizing climate resilience and community health and well-being. The SCWP is currently undergoing its first official assessment through the County’s Biennial Review process, offering an opportunity to assess progress, reflect on the achievement ofVision 2045 Report Final12-2023 Press Release Safe Clean Water 2045 Vision Plan – HTB NRDC LAWaterkeeper goals, set targets, and make recommendations.
In 2018,Despite numerous successes, the SCWP must be bolder in its goals, targets, and timelines in order to accelerate the equitable transformation of LA County to greener, more local water self-sufficient and climate-prepared communities. With numerous water quality deadlines passed, an environment that is becoming hotter and less hospitable, and frontline communities bearing the brunt of the impacts, we must act now by setting ambitious yet realistic goals for the SCWP. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Heal the Bay, and Los Angeles Waterkeeper developed the “Vision 2045” report with bolder goals, targets and recommendations for the SCWP on water supply, water quality, equity, science, finance, and policy. See our top-level goals, and additional recommendations the full report (below).
Heal the Bay was honored by the Los Angeles City Council for the impactful role of both the Angler Outreach Program and Heal the Bay Aquarium on October 20 2023 with the official declaration of Heal the Bay Day.
Heal the Bay staff have been glowing with pride since Los Angeles City Council officially declared October 20, 2023, as “Heal the Bay Day in LA.” Led by Los Angeles City Councilwoman Traci Park (CD11), a special presentation was held with City Council colleagues to formally honor the organization while highlighting the 20th anniversaries of its Angler Outreach Program as well as the Heal the Bay Aquarium. These keystone programs use science, education, community action, and advocacy to fulfill Heal the Bay’s mission to protect coastal waters and watersheds in Southern California. The Angler Outreach Program and Aquarium continue to be champions of public health, climate change awareness, biodiversity, and environmental justice for our local communities.
Honoring the Platinum Anniversaries of Two Keystone Programs
From Summit to Sea, the effects of Heal the Bay’s legacy of impactful environmental programming can be seen throughout Los Angeles, advocating for Angelenos and local ecosystems alike.
For two decades Heal the Bay’s award-winning multi-lingual Angler Outreach Program has educated more than 190,000 pier and shore anglers about the risks of consuming fish contaminated with pollutants and toxins, which fish that contain higher levels of toxins and the amounts that can be safely consumed. The work ripples out beyond the coast, touching the lives of people throughout Los Angeles County who fish to sustain themselves and their families.
Also celebrating its platinum anniversary, Heal the Bay Aquarium, located at the Santa Monica Pier, welcomes more than 100,000 guests annually and hosts a variety of public programs and events that highlight local environmental issues and solutions. The award-winning marine animal exhibits and education programs work to equitably inspire the next generation of environmental stewards with programming for Title One students, seasonal camps, and community partnerships.
Heal the Bay at Los Angeles City Hall
The “Heal the Bay Day” presentation was led by Councilwoman Traci Park (CD11) and joined by Councilmembers Katy Yaroslavsky (CD5) and Councilmember Tim McOsker (CD15), who collectively recognized Heal the Bay’s efforts to protect our waterways by bringing science, education, and advocacy into communities all over LA. Councilmembers Imelda Padilla (CD6), Curren Price (CD9), Bob Blumenfield (CD3), and Council President Paul Krekorian (CD2) also shared thoughtful stories about Heal the Bay and partnership projects.
Heal the Bay President and CEO Tracy Quinn led staff, board members, and Heal the Bay supporters to the council chambers floor to accept the commendations and take time to recognize all who make Heal the Bay’s impactful work possible. She pointed out that “Heal the Bay started with a single focus; to heal Santa Monica Bay but over the years we have become an organization that works to protect safe clean water for all of Los Angeles.”
“Water is something that connects us all, especially here in Los Angeles” Quinn went on to say. “Every one of your 15 districts [represented here] has a direct impact on the health and availability of water for all. And it starts on your streets, in your backyards, and in your parks.”
“I want to thank those of you who have already partnered with us and invite those who have not yet, to join Heal the Bay in its final mission to protect our Coastal waters and waterways, and to ensure safe and reliable water for all Angelenos.”
Councilmember Traci Park (CD11) whose district includes much of the westside including Venice, led the ceremony, “As the caretaker of our City’s coastal district, to get to partner with the leaders in Heal the Bay who are advancing smart water policy here in Los Angeles and beyond, as they do beach cleanups and do educational work, hosting them today in Council was an absolute honor.”
Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky (CD5) kindly pointed out the range of Heal the Bay’s efforts, “There is no greater organization doing this work — making sure everybody knows how dirty our water is than Heal the Bay. Part of what makes Heal the Bay so special is that they extend their work beyond your typical beach cleanup, though they do a spectacular beach cleanup.”
Councilmember Tim McCosker (CD15) whose district includes areas along the coast took the conversation beyond cleanups to describe Heal the Bay’s “holistic approach to make sure that we are reducing the amount of pollution that gets out there, eradicating the pollution and educating folks, as well as proposing legislation to make sure that we continue to heal the planet through healing the ocean.”
It was a day the Heal the Bay Team will never forget. Whether you are new to the organization as a volunteer, staff member, or supporter, or have worked to environmentally empower Los Angeles with Heal the Bay since 1985, this day was a victory for all of you. The beautiful plaques featured above commemorate October 20, 2023, as “Heal the Bay Day in LA”, but these City Hall resolutions cement our organization in the story of Los Angeles forever.
Thank you to all the volunteers, donors, and supporters who continue to make our work possible.
The LA Regional Water Board approved an agreement for one of the nation’s most polluted sites. Concerns about transparency, accountability, and loopholes in this agreement leave the public vulnerable to continued contamination from the Santa Susana Field Lab.
LATEST UPDATE OCTOBER 19, 2023
We called for accountability. The Regional Board listened.
In August 2022, The Los Angeles Regional Water Board approved an agreement with Boeing to eventually consider removal of water quality regulations at their highly contaminated Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) site, formerly known as Rocketdyne, located in the hills above Simi Valley. This would only happen after soil cleanup has been completed, and after they have proven that surface water runoff from the site is clean. That proof of whether runoff is clean, however, depends on how well it is regulated – we don’t know what we don’t check for. The Los Angeles Regional Water Board voted today on updated regulation of runoff from SSFL, keeping the most stringent water quality limits, adding even more monitoring, and addressing the potential for surface water pollution to contaminate local groundwater through stormwater holding ponds. In this action, the Board has ensured that, if and when they consider removing regulation at this site at some future time, we can be sure that it would not happen at the expense of public and environmental health. There will also be publicly accessible quarterly reports on Boeing’s soil cleanup efforts at the site moving forward, which will help to keep Boeing accountable. Thank you to the Regional Board for using your authority to ensure protections for these lands and water resources!
UPDATE AUGUST 11, 2022
THE REGIONAL WATER QUALITY CONTROL BOARD VOTED ON AUGUST 11 to approve an agreement concerning Boeing’s highly contaminated Santa Susana Field Lab, formerly known as Rocketdyne, located in the hills above Simi Valley. The agreement sets up a process by which Boeing will eventually be able to remove its water quality regulations after cleanup has been completed, and after they have proven that runoff from the site is clean. Heal the Bay attended the 10-hour-long August 11 hearing and, while we fully support cleanup, we voiced our concerns that this agreement would not adequately protect water quality or public health and asked for a postponement to make improvements to the plan. We also raised concerns with the process — the agreement was made behind closed doors, the public was not able to submit written comments, and the only opportunity to speak was at the hearing. Due to an overwhelming turnout from members of the public, input at the hearing had to be further reduced from the typical 3 minutes to 1 minute and cut off completely at 5pm.
Both Boeing and the Regional Board claimed that this agreement was necessary for Boeing to commit to the required cleanup work, and that a delay in approval of the agreement would only delay the cleanup efforts. Stakeholders were put in an unfair position, threatened with delayed cleanup if we did not support an agreement that we had remaining concerns about. However, the blame for delays should not be placed on stakeholders and community members; these concerns and objections are not what is slowing down the process — Boeing has yet to even start a cleanup that was supposed to be completed back in 2017. As community member Marie Mason mentioned to me at the hearing, “If Boeing wanted to do the right thing, they would have done it 20 years ago,” and could have avoided the impacts of pollution and contamination exposure during that time. Further, the cleanup plan itself also raised concerns (see more on this in the next section) and while the decision before the Board was not specifically on the cleanup plan, the cleanup and the agreement are inextricably linked, and approval of the agreement meant a de facto approval of the cleanup plan.
Despite the overwhelming call for either a no vote or a delay, the Board unanimously approved the agreement, with minor edits. Heal the Bay will remain engaged on this issue because the bottom line is that cleanup to a level that is fully protective of human and ecological health needs to happen as soon as possible.
The history of contamination at the Santa Susana Field Lab
Boeing, NASA, and the Department of Energy own the Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) site, where industrial activities were conducted from 1949 to 2006 to test rocket engines and nuclear reactors. This site contains high levels of contamination from these past activities, which have negatively affected the ecosystem, the groundwater, and the surface water that runs off the site, as well as the communities that rely on those water resources. Additionally, SSFL is located on top of a hill, which means that runoff from the site flows downhill into the community to the north in Simi Valley, feeds into the headwaters of the Arroyo Simi waterway, and feeds into theheadwaters of the Los Angeles River. Contamination from this site affects the entire LA Region, but the impacts are felt most severely in local communities.
In 2007, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) set requirements to fully clean up the contaminated soils at SSFL by 2017. But after decades of litigation and delays (led by Boeing), we are now five years after that deadline, and the cleanup has barely even begun. The longer we wait for Boeing to clean up their mess, the longer our ecosystems and communities are exposed to the contamination. In fact, the 2018 Woolsey fire remobilized existing contamination, leading to 57 distinct surface water violations in a single wet season. Had the cleanup been completed by 2017, as originally required, these violations would not have occurred. To add insult to injury, nearly all of Boeing’s fines associated with those violations were waived. Members of the community are the ones paying the price. According to a study by epidemiologist Hal Morgenstern of the University of Michigan, “the incidence rate [of cancer] was more than 60% greater among residents living within 2 miles of SSFL than among residents living more than 5 miles from SSFL.”
To avoid additional delays, CalEPA announced in May 2022 that a new cleanup settlement had been negotiated over the past several years between DTSC and Boeing, with an agreement that Boeing would not sue over this one. However, with no opportunity for public engagement, or even public comment, stakeholders have been left with so much uncertainty surrounding the new cleanup requirements. Community groups, non-governmental organizations, and even municipal legal consultants have reviewed the final cleanup agreement. These expert reviews have revealed a number of contamination limits altered in the latest version, and there is uncertainty on whether these changes are based on the best available science.
The agreement between Boeing and the Regional Board
The LA Regional Water Quality Control Board, which regulates only the surface water runoff at this site, drafted an agreement (also known as a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU) with Boeing to outline how Boeing can eventually remove its water quality regulations. The MOU requires Boeing to complete the soil cleanup as required by DTSC, and conduct modeling and monitoring to prove that surface water runoff is clean. The Regional Board believes that this MOU provides an extra safety measure, setting additional milestones to protect surface water quality, even if the cleanup agreement is flawed.
Although we agree with this in theory, the MOU can only offer this type of reinforcement for surface water quality protection if significant changes were made to the agreement language. Unfortunately, the Regional Board offered no opportunity for written comment on the MOU. Luckily, Heal the Bay was able to attend the hearing in person and provide our full statement in writing to the Board members, even if our verbal comments were cut short.
To address remaining concerns about the agreement, we asked the Regional Board to commit to providing a period for written public comments on the monitoring program to show whether surface water runoff is clean.
We recommended that the MOU must ensure regulation of past industrial activity, not just of future construction activity.
While the MOU had the potential to provide assurances for protection of surface water, the potential was not there for groundwater. We urged the Regional Board to reclaim regulatory authority of groundwater to ensure that the long-term quality of both surface water and groundwater at this site were sufficiently protective of human and ecological health.
If buried contaminated soil is left behind under the DTSC cleanup requirements, an earthquake or another fire followed by flooding could re-mobilize buried contamination. We demanded that the MOU include a statement to ensure that the responsible parties would have to address any and all remaining contaminated soil so long as they pose a risk to human or ecological health.
“This MOU is an opportunity to provide a backstop to protect surface water quality even if there are flaws in the cleanup agreement. However, the MOU can only offer this type of reinforcement if some changes are made… To ensure that our concerns are addressed, we request that the Regional Board commit now, within the language of the MOU, to providing a period for written public comments on the monitoring program.” – Elana Nager, Heal the Bay
Heal the Bay Policy Intern, Elana Nager, provides public testimony at the August 11, 2022 Hearing of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board concerning the Santa Susana Field Lab Memorandum of Understanding.
In response to Heal the Bay’s comments, the Regional Board did commit to our recommendation #1, to provide a period for written public comments on the monitoring program — a program that will determine whether the cleanup was successful. We have remaining concerns about how rigorous that monitoring program will be, but by securing a public review we will at least get the chance to address those concerns later on.
“We request that the ‘or’ in this statement be removed… Coverage must be specifically related to past industrial activity. One word makes a world of a difference.”
– Prince Takano, Heal the Bay
Heal the Bay Policy Intern, Prince Takano, provides public testimony at the August 11, 2022 Hearing of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board concerning the Santa Susana Field Lab Memorandum of Understanding.
Although Board Member Christiansen attempted to include provisions for all of Heal the Bay’s recommendations, our two biggest concerns about re-mobilization of contaminated soil and pollution of groundwater were ultimately left unaddressed. In fact, when the Regional Board asked DTSC to address these concerns, DTSC Director Williams responded simply that groundwater will be monitored, and that the geology at this site is complicated. There was no additional discussion.
Even with the severely limited public process, significant remaining concerns, and the hundreds of voices asking for a either a no vote or a delay (including surprising testimony from former Regional Board Chair Lawrence Yee, who attended as a member of the public to ask the Board to reject the agreement), the Regional Board unanimously approved the MOU, with minor edits.
Where do we go from here?
The few small changes to the MOU do ensure a better public process moving forward, but do not ensure that this MOU will protect surface water quality or public health. However, we might have another chance to hold Boeing accountable for contaminated surface water runoff through their current water quality regulations (or discharge permit), which is up for renewal right now and will be upheld until cleanup is complete and they have proven that surface runoff is clean. There will be another Regional Board meeting later this year to discuss that permit. Heal the Bay will be there advocating for a strong permit that is protective of water quality not only in runoff from the site, but also runoff on the site, which can infiltrate into the ground and further contaminate the soils and groundwater. Stay tuned for more information about that meeting, and how you can join Heal the Bay to hold Boeing accountable.
EDITOR NOTE: Since the publishing of this blog post, the Regional Board has reached out to Heal the Bay to clarify that the reduced speaking time offered during the hearing was a direct result of the unusually large turnout from members of the public. The article has been updated to acknowledge these conditions.
Written by Annelisa Moe. As a Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist, Annelisa helps to keep L.A. water clean and safe by advocating for comprehensive and science-based water quality regulation and enforcement. Before joining the team at Heal the Bay, she worked with the Regional Water Quality Control Board in both the underground storage tank program and the surface water ambient monitoring program.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has decided to rescind the previous delay after tests showed spiny lobsters no longer pose a significant risk for domoic acid exposure in LA and Orange Counties. This decision was made after samples from Oct. 2 and 9 indicated domoic acid levels were below the concerning federal threshold. Recreational lobster fishing commenced at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13, and commercial fishing will begin just before sunrise on Wednesday, Oct. 18.
Updated October 6, 2023
The much-anticipated opening of California’s spiny lobster season is facing a delay in some local areas due to a concerning public health and environmental issue: elevated levels of domoic acid. This potent neurotoxin is produced by harmful algal blooms, events that are intensifying under the influences of climate change.
It’s important to emphasize the danger of domoic acid – we recently saw major impacts to marine life from domoic acid poisoning. Domoic acid is produced by Pseudo-nitzschia, a marine algae that seems to flourish under certain ocean conditions. When these toxins accumulate in seafood, particularly shellfish, they can pose serious health risks for humans ranging from nausea to severe neurological impairments and, in extreme cases, exposure can be fatal. Climate change is exacerbating the frequency and severity of these harmful algal blooms, making it a pressing concern.
The delay impacts both recreational and commercial fishing in certain regions of Los Angeles and Orange counties. Areas surrounding the delay-area are under a health advisory which advises people against consuming spiny lobster viscera (internal organs) and roe (eggs). Cooking does not rid the lobster of these toxins.
Recreational fishing, originally set to commence on September 29, 2023 at 6 p.m., and commercial fishing, beginning October 4, 2023, are both affected. For recreational enthusiasts, the delay is in effect in waters from the northern boundary of the Point Vicente State Marine Conservation Area (off Rancho Palos Verdes) to the Long Beach Breakwater. Meanwhile, commercial areas that are off-limits include waters off Palos Verdes, LA County to Huntington Beach, Orange County.
The California Spiny Lobster. Source: US National Park Service
The delay will remain in place until toxin levels have decreased. The CA Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), in coordination with the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) and CA Department of Public Health (CDPH), will continue to test lobsters and re-open the areas when two lobster samples obtained at least a week apart are below the health hazard threshold. To stay updated about the delay, refer to the CDFW and CDPH websites. Continue following Heal the Bay for coverage of the California spiny lobster season delay.
The Heal the Bay Angler Outreach team will educate pier anglers on preventing the consumption of lobster contaminated with domoic acid and local fish contaminated with DDT during our visits to various piers in Southern California this season. You can help defend our marine life by volunteering with us!
But rather than simply listing them here, we are turning today’s blog over to Mark Gold, former president and CEO of Heal the Bay. Mark joins us to describe “Abe”, as he was affectionately called, and his incredible influence and work to mold the Heal the Bay we are today. In the words of Mark Gold:
“In the mid 1990’s, Mark came to me at Heal the Bay as an accounting student at Pepperdine. He was ‘bored out of his skull’ and wanted to do something to help out the Bay. And he expressed a strong dislike of polluters because of what they had done to the Bay, creeks and rivers that he grew up in. So, as the nurturing soul that you all know me to be, I gave him a horrible task as an intern – to review stormwater permit annual reports for all 88 cities in the County and to write a report on their compliance status. Any normal person would have tapped out and bailed on such a task. Abe stayed for another 12 years!! After his internship, he went on to get his master’s degree in landscape architecture from Cal Poly Pomona. That was a commute. One of the cool and innovative parts of their master’s program was that you had to complete a group project thesis for a client: in this case – Heal the Bay. Abe being Abe, he got his three partners including Eileen Takata, a mainstay as the watershed and EJ conscience at the Army Corps, to work on the project. In typical audacious fashion, Abe got the team to create the Malibu Creek Watershed StreamTeam, which turned into the premier volunteer watershed monitoring program in the state. The comprehensive program had monthly water quality monitoring for nutrients, fecal indicator bacteria (FIB), pH, dissolved oxygen (DO) and other contaminants, sediment macroinvertebrate biodiversity sampling, and the most audacious component – mapping the entire Malibu Creek and its tributaries for physical changes and stream health in the creek. They mapped all the creeks in a 109 square mile watershed.
Every time you are in this watershed, thank Mark. That data was instrumental in so many environmental wins. He treated this watershed as if it was a family member. He did anything and everything for it. StreamTeam data led to pollutant and discharge reductions from the Tapia water recycling facility. Thanks Abe. As the eyes and ears of the watershed, Abe provided critical information that led to multiple enforcement actions at the Coastal Commission and the Regional Water Board. Thanks Abe. Ahmanson Ranch never would have been saved without him. First of all, he convinced me that we needed to make this supposed “lost cause” a Heal the Bay priority. This was after he mapped the creeks on the parcel in a clandestine manner – I remember his excitement about the red legged frogs’ grotto like it was yesterday. Then we had to convince our board to oppose a development for the first time in organizational history! The end result was partnering with Mary Weisbrock, Mati Waiya, Ventura County, Rob Reiner, Chad Griffin, Chris Albrecht and many others to stop the destruction of the headwaters of the Malibu Creek watershed – 10,000 people and 2 golf courses. Thanks Abe. And thanks Governor Davis for investing $150M for the permanent preservation of the Ranch. All those steelhead migration barriers removed in Solstice, Malibu Creek and other locales, nature based BMPs built, 101 wildlife underpass landscaped, and tens of acres of riparian habitats restored. Thanks Abe.
And thanks Mike Rowe and Dirty Jobs for highlighting Abe’s work. And finally – Malibu Lagoon. Or Mark’s Lagoon as he viewed it. From restoration design, to nature-based parking lot construction to the CEQA process to withstanding mean-spirited, vitriolic opposition, to construction, to planting to monitoring. Abe was leading every step of the way at Heal the Bay, LA Waterkeeper and the Bay Foundation. Magnificent work. Thank you, Abe.
But Abe was so much more than a landscape architect and practicing restoration ecologist. He was a larger-than-life figure with an irreverent sense of humor, a loud, booming voice, infectious laugh, enormous stubborn streak, strong ethics, generous spirit, opinions about everything, and tireless dedication. Mark Abramson was a doer, not a talker. He could spot BS from a mile away. And then he’d call it out. As his boss, he was unmanageable, but with all he accomplished, who cares? And his army of volunteers were as dedicated and loyal as he was.
Former LA Times journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Kenneth R. Weiss, summed up Abe in a profile article as, “Nothing seems to intimidate this espresso-guzzling, Marlboro-smoking, Altoid popping eco-cop in cargo shorts. Not the poison oak or stinging nettles that block his path to the creek. Not slogging through tainted water. Not accusations of trespassing (from the former Ahmanson Ranch development team) when he follows the creek to someone’s property.” Abe – we miss you. I’ll miss you yelling out “Goldie!!”. We will all miss that big laugh. We will miss sharing a beer and reminiscing about the good fight. We will miss your F-bombs and passion for protecting Santa Monica Bay and the Santa Monicas. We’ll miss your inimitable style of a broad brimmed hat, cargo shorts, a T, wool socks and hiking boots. We will miss that big heart. But we will remember you always – every time we set foot in Ahmanson Ranch or Malibu Lagoon. Abe’s Lagoon.”
READ MORE ABOUT THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF MARK ABRAMSON
Summer is officially here – the peak season for swimming outdoors. Heal the Bay releases its annual scientific reports on bacterial-pollution rankings for hundreds of beaches in California and dozens of freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County.
For more than 30 years, Heal the Bay has assigned annual “A-to-F” letter grades for 700 beaches from Washington State to Tijuana, Mexico including 500 California beaches in the 2022-2023 report, based on levels of fecal-indicator bacterial pollution in the ocean measured by County health agencies. In addition, since 2017, the organization has ranked freshwater quality, releasing report grades for 35 freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County for summer 2022 in its fifth annual River Report Card. The public can check out the updated water quality of their local freshwater recreation areas at healthebay.org/riverreportcard and ocean beaches at beachreportcard.org or by downloading the app on their smartphone.
BEACH REPORT CARD HIGHLIGHTS
The good news is 95% of the California beaches assessed by Heal the Bay received an A or B grade during summer 2022, which is on par with the average.
Even so, Heal the Bay scientists remain deeply concerned about ocean water quality. Polluted waters pose a significant health risk to millions of people in California. People who come in contact with water with a C grade or lower are at a greater risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, and rashes. Beaches and rivers usually have poor water quality following a rain event. More rain typically means that increased amounts of pollutants, including bacteria, are flushed through storm drains and rivers into the ocean. Sewage spills pose increased health risks and trigger immediate beach closures, which should be heeded until public officials clear the area. Last year an astounding 45 million gallons of sewage were spilled and made their way to California beaches. Only 56% of California beaches had good or excellent grades during wet weather, which was worse than average, and very concerning.
“As climate change continues to bring weather whiplash, our water woes will swing from scarcity to pollution. This year, record precipitation produced major impacts on water quality across Coastal California,” said Tracy Quinn, President and CEO of Heal the Bay. “Now more than ever, we must prioritize multi-benefit projects to manage stormwater as both a water quality and supply solution, all while ensuring that the public is kept informed of risks to public health.”
Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card and River Report Card provide access to the latest water quality information and are a critical part of our science-based advocacy work in support of strong environmental policies that protect public health.
Heal the Bay’s Beach Bummer List ranks the most polluted beaches in California based on levels of harmful bacteria in the ocean. The 2022-2023 Beach Bummer List includes beaches in Los Angeles, San Mateo, San Diego, and Orange Counties as well as the Tijuana Area. This year, Santa Monica Pier and Playa Blanca in Tijuana tied for the top spot as both faced significant water quality challenges.
1-2. Playa Blanca, Tijuana Area
1-2. Santa Monica Pier, LA County
3. Linda Mar Beach, San Mateo County
4. Marlin Park, San Mateo County
5. Erckenbrack Park, San Mateo County
6. Tijuana River Mouth, San Diego County
7. Pillar Point Harbor, San Mateo County
8. Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach, LA County
9. Poche Beach, Orange County
10. Gull Park, San Mateo County
BEACH HONOR ROLL LIST
This year, only two out of over 500 monitored beaches made it on the Honor Roll compared to 51 last year. Unfortunately, the unprecedented amount of rain that fell across California during the 2022–2023 winter led to an enormous dip in water quality and a very short Honor Roll list. The Honor Roll is typically dominated by Southern California beaches, in part, because many Northern and Central California Counties do not monitor beach water quality year-round. However, it appears that the wet weather from this past winter took its toll everywhere.
Point Loma, Lighthouse, San Diego
Bean Hollow State Beach, San Mateo
The record rainfall impacted the Honor Roll list in two ways: 1) fewer beaches received Winter Dry Grades because most of the winter data was collected during wet weather, and 2) increased precipitation negatively impacts water quality. In order to get on the Honor Roll, a beach must have zero bacterial exceedances all year under all conditions, which is extremely difficult to do with so much rainfall. The unsettlingly short Honor Roll was also impacted by our inability to grade one third of San Diego County’s beaches, which usually comprise a large portion of the Honor Roll (15 in the last report). in 2022 San Diego agencies began using a new testing method for bacterial pollution at nearly a third of beaches in the County, which is unfortunately not yet compatible with our grading methods in the Beach Report Card. Find out why we couldn’t grade nearly a third of San Diego beaches in the full report.
RIVER REPORT CARD HIGHLIGHTS
Heal the Bay graded 35 freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County within the L.A. River, San Gabriel River, and Malibu Creek Watersheds during summer 2022. Across all 35 sites and all dates graded throughout summer 2022, 65% of grades were Green (indicating no water quality health risks); 15% were Yellow (moderate health risk), and 19% were Red (high health risk). This was an improvement from the previous year.
We are thrilled to be debuting a new method for grading freshwater quality in summer 2023 in our weekly grades that are online. The method was developed with the help of a team of water quality experts and will use the same letter grading system (A-F) as the Beach Report Card to improve user experience and reflect the latest science.
“Our River Report Card identifies a disturbing trend between development and water quality. The natural areas in our watersheds, rivers and streams with muddy or sandy bottoms and ample flora, typically have the best water quality and are the safest for the public. In contrast, heavily developed areas, waterways encased with concrete (including within the L.A. River channel) and stormdrain inputs, tend to have lower water quality. We recommend checking out the River Report Card before heading out to the L.A. River because bacteria levels are often at unsafe levels and you can find a safer spot for cooling off,” said Dr. Alison Xunyi Wu, Water Quality Data Specialist and co-author of the River Report Card and Beach Report Card.
Avoid shallow, enclosed beaches with poor water circulation.
Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains, creeks, and piers.
Stay out of the water for at least 72-hours after a rain event.
Follow all local health and safety regulations, including all local pandemic-related regulations.
Check in with the lifeguard or ranger on duty for more information about the best places to swim.
Stay in the know! This year, the annual reports received state and national coverage – appearing in the New York Times, LA Times, and Associated Press.
ACCESS TO WATER RECREATION
The COVID-19 pandemic, record-setting wildfire seasons, and extreme heat have compounded the already dire need for equity in our recreational waters, and exposed major systemic failures; open spaces, including beaches and rivers, are not equally accessible to all people. Low-income communities of color tend to be the most burdened communities, bearing the brunt of environmental pollution, socioeconomic disparities, and limited access to safe, healthy, and clean water recreation. Heal the Bay is committed to expanding the user base of our Beach Report Card and River Report Card. We have started by working with local community-based organizations that are taking down barriers to water recreation for communities of color. Through this work, we will amplify what “safe, healthy, and clean access to water recreation” means in the communities where it is needed the most.
About Heal the Bay: Heal the Bay is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1985. They use science, education, community action, and advocacy to fulfill their mission to protect coastal waters and watersheds in Southern California with a particular focus on public health, climate change, biodiversity, and environmental justice. Heal the Bay Aquarium, located at the Santa Monica Pier, welcomes 100,000 guests annually and hosts a variety of public programs and events that highlight local environmental issues and solutions. Learn more at healthebay.org and follow @healthebay on social media or watch this short video.
Beach Report Card with NowCast, in partnership with World Surf League, is Heal the Bay’s flagship scientific water quality monitoring program that started in the 1990s. For more than thirty years, the Beach Report Card has influenced the improvement of water quality by increasing monitoring efforts and helping to enact strong environmental and public health policies. Learn more at beachreportcard.org and download the free app on Apple and Android devices. The Beach Report Card is made possible through generous support from SIMA Environmental Fund, SONY Pictures Entertainment, and World Surf League.
About River Report Card: Currently, there is no statewide water quality monitoring mandate for rivers and streams in California, like exists for the ocean as a result of the Beach Report Card. Heal the Bay started the River Report Card in 2017 to push for new public health protections for freshwater areas in addition to serving the immediate need for increased public awareness about the risks at popular freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County. Learn more at healthebay.org/riverreportcard. The River Report Card is supported by Environment Now.
After a decade of volunteer surveys and scientific review, we now know that Marine Protected Areas are working, but inclusivity and climate resiliency must be considered to ensure the full benefits of these precious sanctuaries for all.
Nearly 24 years ago, the state of California passed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), forever changing the course of marine conservation in our coastal state. Following an arduous community centered process, California established a globally recognized network of 124 marine protected areas, or MPAs. These MPAs, which run up and down our nearly 1,000-mile coastline in varying degrees of protection, limit certain consumptive human behaviors like fishing and collecting tidepool animals in an effort to protect and restore biodiversity and coastal resources.
(Above) Heal the Bay Marine Protected Area Watch Volunteers completing MPA Survey Training at Point Dume, California.
After California instituted these Marine Protected Areas, there was an immediate need to establish a successful management program and a system to refine or adapt MPA Network over time based on both ecosystem and human data. The state built an adaptive management program, requiring a review of our MPA network every ten years.
Now, a decade after the final MPA was put into place, the very first California MPA Decadal Management Review (DMR) is underway. Led by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and California Fish and Game Commission (FGC), this review process looks at the four managing pillars of MPAs: research and monitoring, education and outreach, policy and permitting, and enforcement and compliance. For more info on the DMR process, check out our blog from last year.
How is this highly anticipated Decadal Management Review going? In mid-March, Heal the Bay’s MPA team traveled to Monterey along with activists, researchers, Tribal members, Tribal elders, enforcement officers, anglers, and community members to attend three days of MPA management review. We heard from MPA managers, Fish and Game Commissioners, Indigenous leaders, scientists, and many others through a series of meetings, panels, and open forums.
Here are our top four take-aways from California’s FIRST MPA Decadal Review thus far:
California’s MPAs are working. Long-term monitoring shows that, at least for highly fished species in certain areas, MPAs are supporting larger and more abundant fish compared to reference sites that are not protected. Further, modeling across the central coast showed connectivity and spillover, indicating that MPAs are behaving as designed (i.e., as a network) and that benefits are seen even outside and across MPAs. While there is still much more research to be done, these initial results are incredibly promising, and we expect these positive outcomes to increase with time.
Indigenous people must be elevated to MPA leadership positions. The Indigenous nations of our coastline have been and continue to be the original stewards of this land. They have cared for coastal ecosystems since time immemorial and their knowledge and perspectives are necessary components in managing and evaluating our MPAs. Unfortunately, Indigenous nations and people were largely excluded from the original MPA designation process. Heal the Bay supports the requests made by Tribal members for expanded access to the coastline and to be elevated to positions of leadership within the MPA management system. Access to the coast and all it has to offer must be expanded for all Indigenous people.
Future MPA management MUST prioritize climate resiliency. We are in the midst of unprecedented climate disruption, not only on land but in our marine and coastal ecosystems. California’s network of MPAs presents a unique opportunity to evaluate the climate resiliency potential of MPAs against climate stressors like increased temperature, increased acidity, rising sea levels, changing tides and storm surges, increased erosion, and decreased oxygen. Heal the Bay would like to see the future of MPA monitoring include climate resilience metrics.
MPA monitoring and research needs to broaden in scope. While the level of MPA research that has been conducted over the past 10 years is nothing short of impressive, there are areas where the state can do so much more. For example, long-term monitoring of MPAs should utilize innovative research tools like environmental DNA (eDNA) to measure biodiversity trends in space and time. Analysis of biological data must be expanded to compare the different types of MPAs in the network to assess how effective different levels of protection are. Finally, there are opportunities and a need to better analyze compliance, or how well people are following MPA regulations, to give us the full picture of MPA effectiveness. Heal the Bay is advocating for these expanded monitoring priorities to improve our understanding and management of MPAs overall.
(Above) Emily Parker, Coastal and Marine Scientist, and Crystal Barajas, Senior Community Science & Outreach Coordinator, represented Heal the Bay at the March 2023 Decadal Management Review Forum in Monterey, California.
At the meetings in Monterey, Heal the Bay advocated for the inclusion of Indigenous leadership, the prioritization of climate resiliency, and the broadening of MPA research in an oral testimony to the FGC Marine Resources Committee and submitted these suggestions via a written comment letter. We will continue this advocacy in future FGC meetings and as we meet with agencies, collaborate with partners and stakeholders, and engage the public.
California’s network of MPAs is still young. It will take more time and improved protection and management to see the maximum benefit for biodiversity. To see those benefits, the MPA network must remain intact and protections must, at the very least, remain as strong as they currently are. This first glimpse of our MPA,s success is incredibly exciting, and we can’t wait to see what 10 more years of MPAs bring.
What a night!! Thank you to all who were a part of the celebration. Your generous support of the Bring Back the Beach 2023 Gala enables Heal the Bay to continue (and expand) our mission to make coastal waters and watersheds in Greater Los Angeles safe, healthy, and clean. Guests enjoyed drinks, dancing and a one-of-a-kind experience in the Time to Act Augmented Reality Tents all at the iconic Jonathan Club right on the beach in Santa Monica.
Bring Back the Beach was a tremendous success, raising critical funds to reinforce our work!
With your support the event raised more than 🎉$925,000🎉exceeding all expectations and allowing Heal the Bay to continue our mission to #protectwhatyoulove: our irreplaceable Southern CA watersheds and coastal waters.
We were delighted you were part of the celebration honoring Assemblywoman Luz Rivas with the Dorothy Green Award; Amy Liu, Founder Tower 28 Beauty, with the Wave Award; and Jan & Marsh Mokhtari, Co-Founders Gray Whale Gin, with the Walk the Talk Award (Images below). We also hope you had fun!
Assemblywoman Luz Rivas & Tracy Quinn, CEO of Heal the Bay
Plastic pollution is a major problem in Los Angeles because plastic makes up the majority of LA County’s litter, according to a UCLA report commissioned by LA County’s Sustainability Office. LAist recently reported that about 85% of plastic is NOT recycled, “instead, it fills up landfills or ends up in the street and gets flushed into storm drains and ultimately the ocean, causing harmful and deadly consequences to ocean life” (Restaurants In Unincorporated LA County Are Now Banned From Using Plastics, Erin Stone). Consumers are often unaware that when plastic is recycled, thrown away, or improperly put in recycling bins it often ends up in the same place and is always detrimental to the environment.
For several years, Heal the Bay has been working with LA City and County to help create legislation aiming to break the harmful plastic cycle. And finally, there is some hope.
In 2023, THREE new laws are making big waves for the environment, and ultimately, reducing plastic in our oceans. They may sound confusing, but the result is simple, less plastic! Here is Heal the Bay’s quick breakdown of those laws:
Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish
The City of Los Angeles, in accordance with the first phase of the LA Sanitation and Environment (LASAN) Comprehensive Plastics Reduction Program, passed several exciting laws in 2022 to reduce waste and curb plastic pollution in our region. Since then, two of those laws have officially gone into effect as LA takes major steps to reduce single-use plastics.
The LA City law went into effect on April 23, 2023, and asserts that no restaurant or retail store can give, sell, distribute, or offer products made of EPS to any consumer. This includes cups, plates, bowls, takeaway containers, egg cartons, and even ice coolers. The first phase will only impact establishments with more than 26 employees and will expand to include all restaurants and retail establishments in April 2024.
The LA City “plastic bag ban” has been in place for nearly a decade, banning local LA grocery stores from handing out single-use plastic bags and charging ten cents ($0.10) for alternative single-use carryout bags. This law was a means to reduce plastic in the environment and encourage the public to invest in reusable totes bags instead. In 2023, the ban on single-use plastic bags was expanded to large retail stores. Now in effect, retail establishments that employ more than 26 employees should no longer offer flimsy single-use plastic bags to consumers and will offer alternatives or paper bags for a $.10 fee. As of July 2023, all other shops including apparel stores, farmers markets, and food or beverage facilities will join the list of places to ban the bag.
If you suspect your favorite clothing store, watering hole or eatery is unaware of these new rules, let them know! Education is the most important part of creating change in your community. You can also give LA Sanitation a call and let them know, too at 213-485-2260.
LA Countywide Changes
This year has brought a big environmental win to even more places beyond the municipality limits, impacting communities all over Los Angeles County.
Sticking a Fork in the Single-Use Plastic Problem
3) LA County Foodware Ordinance:
In April 2022, LA County celebrated Earth Month with the passage of unprecedented legislation to reduce single-use plastics and curb plastic pollution and it is already being rolled out. As of May 1st, you should no longer be offered single-use plastic foodware or Styrofoam products at restaurants in the unincorporated areas of LA County! But this ordinance does so much more:
Phases out single-use foodware that is not compostable or recyclable. Since plastic is neither, that means no more single-use plastic foodware!
Phases out the sale of products made of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) aka Styrofoam.
Requires full-service restaurants to use reusable foodware for customers who are dining on-site (including reusable plates, cups, bowls, silverware).
The ordinance will go into effect in phases but, for now, if you see a restaurant not complying, be sure to let them know or contact LA County Public Works.
A Huge Relief and Cause for Hope Heal the Bay volunteers have removed more than 4 trillion pieces of trash from LA County Beaches in the past 3 decades, and sadly, 80% was plastic. These ordinances are just the first steps on a long journey to end the local dependency on plastic in Los Angeles. With LA leading the way, the rest of California is following along with the passage of bills like SB54. There is finally real hope for a plastic-free future in LA with safe clean watersheds across the State.