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This November, voters in L.A. County will decide whether to approve Measure W, a public funding measure to capture, treat and reuse stormwater throughout the region. Through a modest parcel tax, $300 million in funds would be made available for cities to build a lattice of nature-based projects throughout the region, such as green streets, wetlands and parks that capture and store rain and runoff. The measure would increase local water supply, improve water quality, provide more open space and reduce trash along our shorelines.

Here, Heal the Bay and our partners L.A. Waterkeeper and Natural Resources Defense Council address many of the misconceptions that have been raised by opponents of this common-sense measure.

MYTH: It hardly ever rains in Southern California. We don’t need to spend millions to capture a few sprinkles each year.

FACT: We can capture and reuse billions of gallons of stormwater and other runoff each year in L.A. County, enough to meet the needs of 2.5 million Angelenos.

In the decades to come, climate change means that greater L.A. will whipsaw from drought to floods to drought. We must use our wet years to ensure we have enough clean water when the dry ones come. Even on the driest day in August, tens of millions of gallons of runoff flow to the sea each day. During a single storm, up to 10 billion gallons of this liquid gold runs through our stormdrains and into the ocean. We need to capture, clean and reuse water – every drop, every day of the year.

MYTH: We’ve got enough water right now. We’ve got bigger problems to fix.

FACT: We take water for granted – at our own peril. 

With climate change worsening, extended periods of drought in our region are a given. We’ve got to stop importing 70% of our water at great cost and expense of fossil fuels. It’s just not smart. We now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to replumb our region and source more water locally. Water is the lifeblood of our city. Let’s not waste it.

MYTH: This sounds like a good idea. But we simply can’t afford it right now.

FACT: The measure will pay dividends for years to come, saving taxpayers money in the long run. The average property owner would pay $83 a year to improve water quality and boost water supply.

With our current system, we are literally pouring water – and money – down the drain each day. This measure will provide a smart return-on-investment in four specific areas:

  • Enhanced public health: Hundreds of thousands of beachgoers each year get sick from swimming in runoff-polluted beaches in L.A. County each year, at a cost of nearly $200 million.
  • Reduced regulatory costs:  L.A. County is on the hook for an estimated $24 billion over the next two decades to meet strict water quality mandates set by the State Water Control Board.
  • Lower water costs: Importing water from up north is expensive and unreliable – and it only will get worse as climate change takes hold.
  • Improved economy: Dirty beaches, trashy rivers and polluted water are not conducive to tourism; we need to protect the value of greater L.A.’s $16 billion coastal economy.

MYTH: No one knows where the money will actually go. It will disappear into a rabbit hole in the General Fund.

FACT: Some 455 specific projects have already been identified by cities to help green L.A.

Some of the region’s best engineers have devised these multi-benefit infrastructure projects as part of watershed management plans that L.A. County cities must implement as a part of their stormwater permit. These projects have been approved not only by local cities, but by our regulatory agencies. We have the data-driven blueprints; now we need the funding to turn smart vision into reality.

MYTH: This is yet another financial burden on low-income communities and seniors on fixed incomes.

FACT: Low-income senior citizens would qualify for exemption from the Measure W parcel tax.

Low-income communities face the same penalties for not complying with the federal Clean Water Act, but they lack the resources to meet requirements.  Measure W provides funding for small-scale or community projects, for technical assistance and for stormwater education programs. Priority will be given to projects that benefit disadvantaged communities to assist in reaching compliance and avoiding federal fines.

MYTH: The measure penalizes property owners who have already made improvements capture rain or reduce runoff on their parcels.

FACT: Measure W includes a credit program for those who have already reduced runoff on their property (or commit to do so).

If you already installed a cistern that captures runoff from your roof, your roof no longer counts as a taxable impervious surface, and your tax estimate will go down. If you installed stormwater capture projects that eliminate runoff from your property entirely, and capture additional runoff from your neighborhood, you may receive a tax credit up to 100% of your original tax estimate.

MYTH: There is no mechanism to make sure the money is spent correctly.

FACT: A citizens oversight committee will provide transparency and accountability.

Each city will be given flexibility in spending the 40% of funds raised that go back to municipalities, while annual reporting and audit requirements will ensure it is spent responsibly on appropriate projects. The 50% of funding going to regional projects is awarded competitively and has even more stringent requirements to ensure responsible spending. Five separate committees will ensure that funding is given to projects that meet required criteria and that there is a 110% benefit return to disadvantaged communities. Spaces are reserved on the Watershed Area Steering Committee for a wide array of stakeholders, including community, environmental and business voices.

MYTH: We would all pay this tax, but it will only benefit a few people in certain areas.

FACT: All communities in greater L.A. will benefit from Measure W.

The measure will fund a wide range of project types and sizes, from neighborhood to regional in scale. The program allocates funds to areas in proportion to the taxes generated in that area. The combination of municipal programs (40% of tax revenue), regional projects (50% of tax revenue — with 110% benefit return to disadvantaged communities), and a requirement for a range of projects sizes will provide an equitable distribution of funds and an equitable distribution of benefits.

MYTH: This is a forever tax, with no “sunset clause.”

FACT: The Board of Supervisors can eliminate the funding measure in 30 years.

The tax is set at 2.5 cents per square foot of impervious surface on a given parcel. That price will never increase with inflation, which means that its value (and relative cost to the taxpayer) will decrease over time. After 30 years, property owners will pay the equivalent of approximately 1 cent per square foot, at which time the tax will be up for review by the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors. By this time, operations and maintenance will account for the vast majority of spending, so that cities do not have to dip into their general fund to keep these projects going for years to come.

MYTH: Green projects cannot reduce flood risk as well as gray infrastructure like concrete stormdrains and channelized rivers.

FACT: Nature works.

Many cities around the world are using nature-based projects to capture stormwater. Many of these initial projects are showing that green streets, wetlands and infiltration parks do reduce flood risk, while also providing many other benefits to its community. Portland, Ore., and Philadelphia are already using green solutions to meet the challenges in their rain-intensive communities, such as flooding and erosion. Here in L.A. County, the Elmer Avenue Neighborhood project has dramatically reduced flooding along streets used by residents and local school children.

MYTH: The taxing of individual property owner’s permeable surface is an arbitrary and unfair method for addressing the region’s stormwater issues.

FACT: A parcel tax is the fairest way for addressing the problem of stormwater runoff.

Fees based on the amount of impermeable surfaces make sense because they correlate directly to the source of polluted runoff. Property owners can implement project that capture their stormwater on-site to reduce their tax burden. The average parcel tax is estimated at $83, but property owners can go to a County website to determine their annual assessment. They can also appeal if they think their parcel tax is determined inaccurately.



From native storytelling to underwater ROV exploration, this weekend’s Marine Protected Area celebration at Zuma has plenty to offer, writes guest blogger Melina Watts. 

When ocean systems are allowed to function, the beauty of the sea generates life and vitality.  Marine Protected Area are protected underwater parks and have become a powerful tool for healing the world’s oceans.

This Saturday, Heal the Bay is joining Los Angeles Marine Protected Area Collaborative  for an “Honor the Ocean” event at Zuma Beach to celebrate these jewels off our local coastline.

Thanks to the hard work of many committed people, the state of California has established safe havens near Point Dume, Palos Verdes Peninsula and Catalina Island. Vulnerable species, pressured by overfishing and other human impacts, now have a chance to recover and breed.

Like terrestrial wildlife preserves, MPAs only succeed in protecting marine life if they are supported by the people who live, recreate and work in or near the MPA. We are reaching out to community members, tourists, surfers, fishers and students to celebrate these special places, our own “Yosemites of the Sea.”

The diverse members of the Collaborative bring unique expertise to the event. The day will begin with a Chumash blessing ceremony next to a tomol, a hand-constructed canoe, to connect to marine traditions that have existed for millennia. Midday storytelling by Tongva and Chumash elders will share the ecological and spiritual connection to the sea that flows through both Chumash and Tongva cultures.

Using recreation as a tool to connect guests to marine protection, Malibu Makos Surf Club will offer free surf lessons adjacent to the event. Los Angeles County Lifeguards will teach sidewalk CPR, and allow guests to check out the lifeguard longboards.

Given the driving need to preserve and restore marine biodiversity, Honor the Ocean offers a remarkable array of opportunities to learn on site about local marine life, including sea mammals, fish, algae, insects and birds.

Scientists and staff from the participating groups such as Heal the Bay, L.A. Waterkeeper, the Bay Foundation, California State Parks and the Cabrillo Marine Museum will offer natural history interpretation and talks. Via a beach walk, Linda Chilton from USC Sea Grant will teach citizen scientists how to use the iNaturalist app, which allows people to document and upload their discoveries in the wild. Heather Burdick will guide participants in a scavenger hunt.

Guests will have a unique chance to see state-of-the-art science in action. USC Sea Grant will bring a new underwater remotely operated vehicle. Attendees can see footage collected in Los Angeles County’s Marine Protected Areas. California Department of Fish and Wildlife will have a warden on site to explain MPA regulations, and offer free copies of the LA MPAs Fishing Guide.

Given that ocean health depends upon healthy watersheds, both the City of Malibu and Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains will provide insights about how human activities on shore impact marine systems.

In northern Los Angeles County, local MPAs start at El Matador (just below County Line) and come all the way down to Paradise Cove. In this area there are two categories of MPAs: the Point Dume State Marine Reserve, and the Point Dume State Marine Conservation Area.

In the Point Dume reserve area, one of the most protective of MPA designations, all fishing and harvesting is prohibited. This area stretches from El Matador to Point Dume.

In the Point Dume conservation area, limited recreational and commercial fishing are allowed and fishing is regulated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. This area ranges from Point Dume to Paradise Cove.

Thinking globally, for the last three decades, countries around the world have created MPAs to protect marine environments and preserve biodiversity. Some 2.07% of the sea worldwide is now protected though some type of MPA.

If you plan to attend, please register for the event here. We hope you will join us in this celebration of marine life and First Nation culture!

 



Heal the Bay is celebrating a major victory in the hard-fought fight to clean up chronically polluted beaches in Malibu — the opening of the Malibu Civic Center Treatment Facility. 

Malibu is one of the most breathtaking and desirable places to live in Southern California, but it has held a dirty little secret – septic systems in and around its cultural center have fouled nearby coastal waters for decades.

Malibu Creek, Malibu Lagoon, and the surrounding ocean, including Surfrider Beach, are critically polluted and numerous studies point to septic systems as a major contributor. Swimmers who recreate in these waters run the risk of all kinds of illnesses.

But today Heal the Bay staff and members celebrated an important milestone in what has been a long and protracted fight to reduce water pollution in Malibu – completion of the Civic Wastewater Treatment Facility.

It was all smiles at a ribbon-cutting Friday, but the battle to get the treatment center built was fraught with tension and even some rancor over the past two decades.

For more than 15 years, Heal the Bay has called for the Malibu Civic Center’s septic systems to be replaced by a centralized wastewater treatment facility. It has been a long and bumpy road, with officials complaining about costs and some residents worried about the specter of development if sewers are put in. But our advocacy  has now yielded tangible results.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a Septic Prohibition in 2009 that required the phasing out by 2019 of all septic systems in the Malibu Civic Center Area (think Malibu Pier, Pepperdine, Malibu Bluffs Park). And in 2015 the Malibu City Council unanimously certified the Civic Center Wastewater Treatment Facility Final Environmental Impact Report and later secured funding for the facility.

Malibu City Councilmembers, along with Heal the Bay staff and members of the California State and Regional Water Control Boards, were all in attendance last Friday to cut the ribbon on the new facility.

It was especially gratifying to see Mark Gold, past Heal the Bay president and current board member, in attendance. Amid often fierce opposition from city officials and some Malibu property owners, Gold led the charge to demand an end to septic tanks in the Civic Center area for many years. He helped broker an MOU between the city and the regional water board that phased out septic tanks and mandated the building of a more modern treatment facility. (You can read more about his war wounds in one of his blog posts here.)

The wastewater treatment site is located at the intersection of Civic Center Way and Vista Pacifica. The facility will treat wastewater from properties in and around the Civic Center, and use the recycled water produced by the facility for irrigation of local parks and landscaping.

With a snip of the giant scisssors, history was made and Malibu ocean-users can now breathe a sigh of relief. Thanks to all our donors and advocates who helped Malibu officials do the right thing!



Apryl Boyle, our chief aquarist, celebrates a misunderstood species in our local waters. 

If you’ve spent significant time in Santa Monica Bay during the summer, you’ve probably seen or bumped into a ray in the ocean shallows.

At times I’ll be surfing, look down, and see several swim by that are looking for their next meal. Their graceful stride reminds me of a bird in flight and is mesmerizing to watch. Among the animals you’ll see in the Bay: stingrays (Urolophus halleri), bat rays (Myliobatis californica), thornback rays (Platyrhinoidis triseriata), and the shovelnose guitarfish (Rhinobatos productus).

At the Huntington Beach Pier, I saw a man who had caught a very large shovelnose guitarfish and had it laying out in front of him. As the animal gasped for air, I attempted to kindly convince the man to release it back to the wild. The breeding-age animal surely deserved better treatment.  I tried to explain that larger fish keep our oceans healthy and in balance. He wasn’t having it. Some primordial fear had this man convinced he was doing the world a service by killing this creature. The incident continues to haunt me.

Rays are higher-level predators that hunt and consume mollusks, worms, crabs, and other small fishes. They are in the same group as sharks, as they have a skeleton made of cartilage rather than bone. They’re the most diverse of the cartilaginous fishes, with approximately 600 species around the world.

They range in size from a human adult’s hand to those with a nearly 20-foot wingspan, such as the manta ray pictured below. They can be found all over the world’s ocean, from Antarctica to tropical water (although they’re more abundant in warmer water). Because they have such a wide diversity and distribution, rays are critically important to nearly all marine ecosystems and have distinct niches where they live.

Fossil records indicate that stingrays existed as far back as 150 million years ago but over 100 species are threatened today. Humans pose a real threat to their existence through overfishing, habitat loss, and accelerating climate change.

Like sharks, they are feared and largely misunderstood. They’re not normally aggressive and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some that had amazing personalities and would greet me whenever I was near. Yes I had food for them, but they were always quite friendly.  I’ve even been “hugged” by rays.

But what about being stung?

Stingrays do not indiscriminately sting humans without provocation. Sometimes people accidentally step on a ray as they walk out into the ocean. The animal’s instinctual reaction is for the tail to come up as protection. The tail has a stinging mechanism, or barb. It is jagged and has a fish hook-type shape. If you try to take the barb out of your skin carelessly it will rip more of the flesh than when it entered. If you are stung, you need to immediately soak the area in water as hot as you can stand and seek immediate medical assistance.

How can you avoid being stung? Try shuffling. No, not the Super Bowl Shuffle of the 1980s, the timeless Stingray Shuffle.  Shimmy your feet as you enter the ocean. This creates a vibration that alerts rays you’re near and they need to move. Trust me, they don’t want to be stepped on. I surely wouldn’t want a creature exponentially larger than I am stepping on my back. I would definitely react defensively and that’s what they do.

Want to see a ray up close? Come visit the round stingrays at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.



Staff scientist Ryan Searcy takes a closer look into the state’s decision not to drop fecal coliform regulations at California beaches. It’s an important example of our advocacy at work, and how collaboration with regulatory agencies can lead to better environmental policies.

Advocating for sound, science-based environmental policies is often both frustrating and rewarding. In California, we advocates are lucky that regulators generally share a similar goal of achieving a safe, healthy, and clean environment. However, we often find ourselves at disagreement on how to achieve that goal. In the end, when regulatory officials change policies or adopt a new regulation, our hope is that the best science guides the process. All relevant stakeholders should have their say, so that the policy or regulation serves the public and the environment to the highest benefit.

At the end of August we saw one example of this as the State Water Resources Control Board approved updates to the beach water quality standards provided in the California Ocean Plan. While it is true that Heal the Bay does not agree with all of the changes the State made to these standards, we want to particularly highlight a major success: that in the 11th hour, the State, along with Heal the Bay and other stakeholders, worked together to rewrite the standards to be more health protective by retaining fecal coliform.

In any given sample of ocean water, you are likely to find a veritable zoo of algae, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other organisms. Fecal coliform, along with total coliform and Enterococcus, are the three primary fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) monitored and regulated at California ocean beaches to help us determine if it’s safe to swim. FIB in the water do not necessarily get you sick themselves, but presence of these organisms may also indicate the presence of the organisms that do get you sick, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Norovirus. Swimming in water with high levels of FIB is correlated with an increased risk of skin rash, eye and ear infections, and gastroenteritis. Because of this, the State protects beachgoers by setting and enforcing water quality standards for FIB.

Last year, the State began the process of updating the water quality standards in the Ocean Plan, something that hadn’t been done since the 1980s. Initially, both total coliform and fecal coliform were dropped from the ocean regulatory standards, while standards for Enterococcus only were retained. To support this decision, the State initially cited the EPA’s 2012 meta-analysis of 27 epidemiological studies that concluded, among other findings, that Enterococcus alone was the best predictor of illness from a day at the beach. However, EPA’s analysis is not the most recent nor relevant science on water quality at California beaches. Only two of those 27 studies were performed in marine waters in the United States, and only one was performed in California; both were completed before the year 2000.

Recent epidemiological studies performed at California beaches since 2012 actually show that both Enterococcus and fecal coliform are indicators of elevated health risk. Even more interesting is that some of these studies also show that fecal coliform is a good indicator in certain types of exposure and environmental conditions where Enterococcus is not. The Colford et al. study performed at Doheny State Beach in 2012 indicated that both fecal coliform and Enterococcus were indicative of risk of gastrointestinal illness, and that when a swimmer’s entire body was submersed, fecal coliform was indicative of risk of illness when Enterococcus was not. The Surfer Health Study, performed in San Diego by our friends at the Surfrider Foundation and the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) in 2017, showed that fecal coliform was strongly correlated to certain illnesses in periods of wet weather when Enterococcus was not.

Additional to its known correlation to health risk, fecal coliform levels have often exceeded California standards, even at times when Enterococcus does not. Heal the Bay maintains a large database of FIB samples taken by California beach agencies, and these data fuel our Beach Report Card and NowCast programs. Our analysis of over 328,000 historical FIB samples taken at over 700 sites in the summer seasons from 1998 through 2017 showed that nearly 23,000 (7%) of those samples exceeded state standards for at least one FIB. Of those exceedances, nearly 3 out of every 4 days in which a health standard was exceeded at a California beach, Enterococcus was partially or fully to blame. So Enterococcus is undeniably an important indicator at ocean beaches.

However, the remaining measured exceedances were not due to Enterococcus. Fecal coliform exceeded California standards alone (that is, when total coliform and Enterococcus did not) in more than 16% of all recorded exceedances, an amount that Heal the Bay argues is significant when considered with its known correlation to health risk. Looking deeper into the data, we saw that fecal coliform was the FIB in highest exceedance at a number of well-known beaches. Troubled beaches like Cowell Beach, Pismo Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, and La Jolla Cove (among others) may not have been prioritized for getting cleaned up if fecal coliform were dropped from regulation.

Fortunately, a fecal coliform crisis was averted.

The State was set to adopt the revisions to the Ocean Plan, including the amendment that dropped fecal coliform standards from the regulations, at a public hearing in February of this year. Days before the adoption hearing, the lack of consideration of the relevant California science and the historical FIB data mentioned above were brought to the State’s attention, and the hearing was postponed in order to consider fecal coliform standards further.

After a meeting in the spring with a stakeholder group composed of Heal the Bay scientists; expert water quality scientists from Stanford, UCLA (including our former chief Mark Gold), and SCCWRP ; the California Coast Keeper Alliance; and representatives from some of the Regional Water Boards, the State went back and evaluated the relevant California-based science and the historical FIB sample data from California beaches, using them as evidence to rewrite the standards to retain fecal coliform. When the amendments to the water quality standards in the California Ocean Plan were finally adopted last month, the existing fecal coliform standards were retained, and the state agreed to continue to consider the relevant science and data in future updates of the Ocean Plan.

The clawback marked a huge win for California beaches and the people who visit them.

It was also a good example of a regulatory process that involves consideration of sound science and collaboration between a regulatory agency and its stakeholders. The task is not done, though. Heal the Bay looks forward to continuing the conversation with the State Water Board and other stakeholders as we continue to work towards water quality regulations that ensure our beaches are all available for Californians to safely enjoy.

You can read the State Water Board staff report that documents their full analysis here, starting on page 62.



 

Heal the Bay’s science and policy department recommends the following votes on ballot measures that directly affect the health of Southern California shorelines and inland waterways.

YES on Proposition 68

 A vote to authorize $4 billion in general obligation bonds for parks, natural resources protection, climate adaptation, water quality and supply, and flood protection. The bond measure addresses some of California’s most important water, park and natural resource needs.

The issue: California has been facing frequent and severe droughts, wildfires, and the impacts of climate change. This bond measure would invest in our natural resources and help prepare for any possible disasters. Funds would help keep toxic pollutants out of our drinking water, clean up groundwater, increase local water supplies, and create safe parks for children while protecting the land around the rivers and lakes that provide our drinking water. Prop 68 commits 40% of the bond measure funds to underserved, low-income communities. Accountability will also be ensured through annual audits. Help provide clean water and safe parks for every community with this measure.

The stakes: California continues to face a reduction in support of our water supplies and natural resources from our federal government. Many communities in Los Angeles are underserved, lacking safe spaces and parks for their children to use, as well as lacking access to safe drinking water in their homes. With the continued drought, natural disasters and wildfires could become more frequent and damaging. By capturing and recycling more water locally in communities, Californians can help prepare for these devastating events by increasing our local water supply while protecting our natural resources for future generations.

Our recommendation: Stand up for clean, safe drinking water and protect our natural resources. Vote YES.

YES on Proposition 72

A vote to prevent property tax increases for homeowners who install rainwater capture and reuse systems.

The issue: Stormwater is a great potential resource for water supply on a local scale as well as throughout California. Homeowners can install rainwater recycling systems that collect, store and reuse thousands of gallons of stormwater each year for outdoor use in landscaping and gardens. These projects reduce the use of potable water in landscaping, buffer the effects of drought, and benefit our entire state. Currently, installation of a rainwater capture system can increase property value, and consequently increase property taxes owed. Help Californians conserve water by eliminating this extra tax for homeowners who choose to capture and reuse rainwater.

The stakes: Much of the rain that falls in California is wasted as stormwater runoff, which flows through our waterways and out to the Pacific Ocean. In Los Angeles County alone, 80 billion gallons of stormwater runoff is lost every year. In the process, stormwater transports oil, trash and other contaminants into our rivers, our lakes and our ocean. These pollutants pose a serious risk to public and environmental health. Californians who choose to install rainwater capture systems help to improve water quality and reduce water waste. These efforts should be encouraged and rewarded.

Our recommendation: Reward homeowners who choose to recycle our rainwater resources. Vote YES.

 

 



Wildlife along our inland waterways are getting ready for their Heal the Bay close-ups, writes staff scientist Dr. Katherine Pease.

If you live in L.A., you know it’s not too hard to find its wild side. We all know our share of party animals. But let’s talk about the real-life fauna  — the wildlife that has found a way to co-exist in the concrete jungle of L.A.

Heal the Bay has joined a new consortium of environmental groups working together to collect data about the amazing animals that call the area around the L.A. River home.

We’re working with the National Park Service to use “camera trapping” to monitor wildlife activity along the L.A. River corridor. Cameras are set up in the wild, triggered by motion and heat and left out for weeks to months at a time to document passing animals. It’s similar to the now-famous camera-trap photos of mountain lion P-22 in Griffith Park and other animals throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. (In the photo above, you can see a screen grab of an active coyote.)

The new photographic data will help us understand urban biodiversity and how animals use the L.A. River corridor. We expect lots of shots of our urban wildlife neighbors, including opossums, squirrels, coyotes and raccoons.  The information will help inform protections for wildlife, which will certainly be impacted by the city’s ambitious $1-billion plan to revitalize the river.

Some 39 cameras are being placed near the L.A. River from its headwaters in the Woodland Hills areas to south of downtown L.A. The sections are broken up into grids and different organizations are “adopting” grids. Heal the Bay has adopted grid #9. This grid covers the Sepulveda Basin Area and upstream from there to Reseda. Each grid has (or will have) three cameras and the cameras will be deployed for a month at a time in the months of April, July, and October.

Heal the Bay staff and volunteers are responsible for deploying the cameras, checking on them mid-month, and taking them out at the end of the month. We will help clean up the photos (remove photos of ourselves, vegetation, etc.) and then the images will be uploaded to Zooniverse. Anyone using the site can help tag and identify wildlife in the photos.

Heal the Bay has been monitoring water quality in the Sepulveda Basin recreation zone since 2015, so we are excited to see what wildlife is using this area in addition to the humans who boat, fish, and hike there.

The new camera-trapping initiative also supports recent City of L.A. efforts to promote and protect biodiversity in our region. Last year the City Council funded an index to assess urban biodiversity, policies and project to enhance biodiversity, and options for community engagement and outreach strategies. Heal the Bay is serving as a member of the Biodiversity Expert Panel to help inform this city-wide effort.

And the County of L.A. is just beginning an update of its L.A. River Master Plan. Heal the Bay is proud to be a member of the Steering Committee. We want to ensure that the L.A. River Revitalization plans include ecological and water-quality improvements. Data on wildlife and biodiversity of the River will guide planning by providing basic baseline information on what wildlife is there. We can use that information to set goals for ecological restoration and to assess success.

Stay tuned for more photos and updates over the upcoming months. Once the project is established in Zooniverse, we will share it with you all so you can pore through the many photos.

Other organizations participating include Friends of the Los Angeles River, The Nature Conservancy, LA Conservation Corps, Friends of Griffith Park, and others. The project is part of a nationwide effort to understand the impacts of urban development on wildlife. Currently, eight cities are part of this Urban Wildlife Information Network and another 12 cities are expected to participate in the next two years.

More information can be found in this post from the National Park Service.



In a guest blog post, Mark Gold, our former president, reflects on the lasting legacy of the late jurist Harry Pregerson — a man who truly healed the Bay.

When one thinks about the esteemed and distinguished career of U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harry Pregerson, his leadership on environmental protection is not what first comes to mind. However, his Clean Water Act decisions were nothing less than transformative for the City of L.A. and the Santa Monica Bay.

In the mid-1980s, Judge Pregerson was the presiding judge on the groundbreaking Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant case that led the City of L.A. to invest more than $4 billion into modernizing the treatment plant to meet the full secondary treatment requirements under the Clean Water Act. The resulting federal consent decree also required the replacement of significant portions of the city’s sewer system and the initiation of a stormwater pollution abatement program.

The highly contentious case was brought by the state and federal government and the newly formed environmental group Heal the Bay — a friend of the court on the case. Shortly after the settlement, I began volunteering for Heal the Bay and meeting with Judge Pregerson, the city, the state, and the U.S. EPA at semi-annual consent decree meetings. More than any other experience in my career, these meetings taught me how to affect successful environmental change, and Judge Pregerson was the reason why.

Judge Harry Pregerson, who passed away last week at the age of 94, was about the most unassuming person you have ever met. He was folksy and put everyone at ease, even when the animosity between the disputing parties was at its greatest point. By the late 1980s, he still was not an expert on sewage or even the Clean Water Act, but he was masterful in getting disparate parties to find common ground and even to develop mutual respect.

Subsequent to the Hyperion case, he was the key figure in litigation from the then Santa Monica Baykeeper over the city’s chronic sewage spills into L.A. waterways. The result: new investments amounting to more than $1.5 billion in sewage infrastructure and a seven-fold reduction in annual sewage spills.

Despite these extraordinary successes, I most admire Judge Pregerson for standing up to Mayor Richard Riordan’s administration in their attempts to get out of the Hyperion Consent Decree. The state was in a recession and upgrading Hyperion was deemed a waste of money by leaders in the administration. With no fanfare and no media, the sludge-judge shut down the effort. Ethics triumphed over cost cutting and the environment was the beneficiary.

Judge Pregerson was a highly ethical, humorous, and incredible human. As a result, he presided over one of the most successful urban environmental transformations in U.S. history. Foes became lifelong friends and the Santa Monica Bay went from having a dead zone, routine enormous sewage spills, and fish with tumors, to an unparalleled environmental success story. None of this would have happened without the quiet, unassuming leadership of Judge Pregerson.

It is hard to believe that Judge Pregerson is gone. We will still see his name on the 105 freeway, at the Harry Pregerson Child Care Center, and on the lab building at Hyperion. And, I’ll continue to think about all he has meant to Los Angeles’ environment when I look at my office bookshelf to see the commemorative cowboy-hat shaped hardhat so many of us received during the Hyperion Full Secondary celebration in 1998. He bettered the lives of so many and always fought for what was right. L.A. is a better place because of him.

You can read more of Mark’s thoughts about sustainable L.A. by following his blog posts.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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