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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: River Report Card

Heal the Bay releases scientific reports and annual bacterial-pollution rankings for hundreds of beaches in California and dozens of freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County during 2020 – 2021.

The thirty-first annual Beach Report Card study assigns A-to-F letter grades for 500 California beaches based on levels of fecal-indicator bacterial pollution in the ocean measured by County health agencies. In addition, we ranked water quality at 28 freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County during summer 2020 and shared findings from the third annual River Report Card.

Highlights from the Beach Report Card

Hotter days are here! Beach days and river trips are at an all-time high. The good news is California beaches had excellent water quality in summer 2020. 93% of the California beaches monitored by Heal the Bay received an A or B grade, which is on par with the five-year average.

Even so, our 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 high-risk water quality following a rain event. Less rain typically means that reduced amounts of pollutants, including bacteria, are flushed through storm drains and rivers into the ocean. However, this wasn’t the case this past winter. Rainfall across coastal counties in California was 41 percent lower than the historical average. Yet only 57% of California beaches had good or excellent grades during wet weather, which was worse than average. The lower grades are in part due to the high percentage of “first flush” samples in the wet weather dataset.

“As a surfer, I have spent a ton of time in the water since I was a little kid. The water quality at my local beaches is something I have always been observant of. Unfortunately there have been many times where the water quality has seemed very low and I’ve gotten sick from surfing in dirty water. I’m thrilled the World Surf League is partnering with Heal The Bay on the Beach Report Card for California. Everyone deserves access to clean water to surf, swim, and enjoy this precious resource – our one ocean!” –Conner Coffin

 

Download Beach Report Card

Read Beach Report Card summary en Español

 

California’s Beach Bummer List
Heal the Bay’s Beach Bummer List ranks the most polluted beaches in California based on levels of harmful bacteria in the ocean. The 2020-2021 Beach Bummer List includes beaches in San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Humboldt, and Santa Cruz Counties.

  1. Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, Tijuana River mouth – San Diego County
  2. Foster City, Erckenbrack Park – San Mateo County
  3. Capitola Beach, west of jetty – Santa Cruz County
  4. Foster City, Gull Park – San Mateo County
  5. Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach, between Lifeguard Tower and Boat dock – Los Angeles County
  6. Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, 3/4 miles north of Tijuana River – San Diego County
  7. Clam Beach County Park at Strawberry Creek – Humboldt County
  8. Foster City, Marlin Park – San Mateo County
  9. Candlestick Point, Windsurfer Circle – San Francisco County
  10. East Beach at Mission Creek – Santa Barbara County

California’s Beach Honor Roll List
Heal the Bay’s Honor Roll List includes 35 California beaches that scored perfect water quality grades year-round (compared to 42 beaches in the prior year). Most beaches on the Honor Roll are in Southern California because many Counties in Central California and Northern California do not sample frequently enough during the winter months. Orange County had the most beaches on the Honor Roll. Los Angeles, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Alameda Counties also had beaches with perfect water quality grades.

  1. Crown Beach, at Sunset Rd. – Alameda County
  2. Royal Palms State Beach – Los Angeles County
  3. Leo Carrillo Beach, at Arroyo Sequit Creek – Los Angeles County
  4. Puerco State Beach, at creek mouth – Los Angeles County
  5. Las Flores State Beach, at Las Flores Creek – Los Angeles County
  6. Broad Beach, at Trancas Creek – Los Angeles County
  7. Escondido State Beach, at Escondido Creek – Los Angeles County
  8. Nicholas Beach, at San Nicholas Canyon Creek – Los Angeles County
  9. Newport Bay, Promontory Point – Orange County
  10. Crystal Cove (CSDOC) – Orange County
  11. Newport Beach, at Orange Street – Orange County
  12. Newport Beach, at 52nd/53rd Street – Orange County
  13. Balboa Beach Pier – Orange County
  14. Balboa Beach, The Wedge – Orange County
  15. Crystal Cove – Orange County
  16. 1000 Steps Beach, at 9th St. – Orange County
  17. North Aliso County Beach – Orange County
  18. Treasure Island Beach – Orange County
  19. Carlsbad, at Encina Creek – San Diego County
  20. Carlsbad, at Palomar Airport Rd. San Diego County
  21. Solana Beach, Tide Beach Park at Solana Vista Dr. – San Diego County
  22. Guadalupe Dunes – Santa Barbara County
  23. El Capitan State Beach – Santa Barbara County
  24. China Beach, at Sea Cliff Ave. – San Francisco County
  25. Ocean Beach, at Lincoln Way – San Francisco County
  26. Sewers at Silver Shoals Dr. – San Luis Obispo County
  27. Morro Bay City Beach, at Atascadero – San Luis Obispo County
  28. Pismo State Beach, 330 yards north of Pier Ave. – San Luis Obispo County
  29. Hollywood Beach, at Los Robles St. – Ventura County
  30. C.I. Harbor, at Hobie Beach Lakeshore Dr. – Ventura County
  31. Oil Piers Beach, south of storm drain – Ventura County
  32. Silverstrand, at Sawtelle Ave. – Ventura County
  33. Ormond Beach, 50 yards north of Oxnard Industrial drain – Ventura County
  34. Ormond Beach, at Arnold Rd. – Ventura County
  35. Faria County Park, at stairs – Ventura County

Highlights from the River Report Card

Heal the Bay graded 28 freshwater recreation areas in Los Angeles County within the L.A. River, San Gabriel River, and Malibu Creek Watersheds during summer 2020. 70% of the freshwater grades indicated a low risk of illness, 17% indicated a moderate risk of illness, and 13% indicated a high risk of illness.

 

Download River Report Card

Read River Report Card summary en Español

 

L.A.’s Freshwater Fails List
Top 9 river recreation sites in Los Angeles County that are high-risk places to swim or boat.

  • 1. Tujunga Wash at Hansen Dam – Upper L.A. River Watershed
  • 2. L.A. River at Rattlesnake Park – L.A. River Watershed: Recreation Zones
  • 3. San Gabriel River Below North and West Forks – San Gabriel River Watershed
  • 4. L.A. River at Middle of Sepulveda Basin Recreation Zone – L.A. River Watershed: Recreation Zones
  • 5-6. Bull Creek – Upper L.A. River Watershed
  • 5-6. Lake Balboa Boat Ramp – Upper L.A. River Watershed
  • 7. Lake Balboa Outlet – Upper L.A. River Watershed
  • 8. L.A. River at Balboa Blvd. – L.A. River Watershed: Recreation Zones
  • 9. Switzer Falls – Upper L.A. River Watershed

L.A.’s Freshwater Honor Roll List
Top 10 river recreation sites in Los Angeles County that are low-risk places to swim or boat.

  • 1-8. San Gabriel River East Fork at Graveyard Canyon – San Gabriel River Watershed
  • 1-8. L.A. River at Benedict St. (formerly Frogspot) – L.A. River Watershed: Recreation Zones
  • 1-8. Gould Mesa – Upper L.A. River Watershed
  • 1-8. Hansen Dam Lake – Upper L.A. River Watershed
  • 1-8. San Gabriel River Lower North Fork – San Gabriel River Watershed
  • 1-8. Sturtevant Falls – Upper L.A. River Watershed
  • 1-8. San Gabriel River Upper North Fork – San Gabriel River Watershed
  • 1-8. Big Tujunga Creek at Vogel Flats – Upper L.A. River Watershed
  • 8-10. San Gabriel River Upper East Fork – Upper L.A. River Watershed
  • 8-10. San Gabriel River Upper West Fork – San Gabriel River Watershed

Equity and Access
The COVID-19 pandemic, a record-setting wildfire season, and extreme heat during summer 2020 highlighted the dire need for equity in our 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 and limited access to open space.

“A day at the beach and the river shouldn’t make anyone sick,” said Dr. Shelley Luce, President and CEO of Heal the Bay. “With the closures, stress, and uncertainty of the pandemic, it is no surprise that people sought out our local waters in 2020. While we’re thrilled about the excellent water quality across California, our marine ecosystems are still threatened by climate change and other pollution sources. This is alarming as we expect people to increasingly seek out ocean shorelines and freshwater swimming holes to cool off as temperatures rise. Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card and River Report Card give access to the latest water quality information and are a critical part of our science-based advocacy work in support of strong environmental and public health policies that improve the health and resilience of our ocean, our rivers, and our communities.”

Tips to stay safe at ocean and freshwater areas

  • View beachreportcard.org and healthebay.org/riverreportcard for the latest water quality information.
  • Avoid shallow, enclosed beaches and freshwater areas 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.

About Heal the Bay
Heal the Bay is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1985. We use science, education, community action, and advocacy to fulfill our mission to protect coastal waters and watersheds in Southern California. 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.

About Beach Report Card
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 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 iPhone and Android devices.

The Beach Report Card is made possible in part through generous support from SIMA Environmental Fund, Swain Barber Foundation, 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 we have 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 made possible in part by generous support from Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust and Garfield Foundation.

Media inquiries only please: Contact us


The Beach Report Card is made in partnership with World Surf League.



Resumen ejecutivo

Heal the Bay desarrolló el Boletín de Calificaciones de Ríos (River Report Card) para brindar información de fácil manejo sobre la calidad del agua a las personas que visitan las áreas recreacionales de agua dulce en el condado de Los Ángeles. Debido a que no existe un requisito estatal para el monitoreo de la contaminación fecal en las áreas recreacionales, los datos de calidad de agua que están disponibles a menudo son inconsistentes y difíciles de interpretar para el público. El Boletín de Calificaciones de Ríos nos proporciona información sobre la calidad del agua con los colores verde, amarillo y rojo para ayudar a las personas a tomar decisiones sobre dónde y cuándo es seguro meterse en el agua. Para el 2020, proporcionamos información en línea sobre las calificaciones de verano de 28 sitios en el condado de Los Angeles.

• De los 28 sitios calificados en el 2020, el 70% de las calificaciones emitidas fueron de color verde, el 17% amarillo y el 13% rojo.

• Ocho sitios en el condado de L.A. donde se puede nadar, no excedieron los límites bacterianos, de la cual obtuvimos calificaciones 100% ecológicas. Uno de estos sitios está ubicado en el canal principal del río de L.A., que es el primero para el Boletín de Calificaciones de Ríos.

• Nueve sitios recreacionales llegaron a nuestra lista de los Peores Sitios de agua dulce, lo que significa que experimentaron una mayor contaminación fecal durante el verano del 2020. La mayoría de estos lugares están ubicados en entornos urbanos.

• Tujunga Wash en Hansen Dam sigue teniendo problemas con la calidad del agua, lo que le valió el primer lugar en la lista de los Peores Sitios de agua dulce por tercer año consecutivo.

• El río San Gabriel por debajo de la convergencia de las bifurcaciones norte y oeste, fue lamentablemente la primera falta que tiene esta cuenca en el Boletín de Calificaciones del Ríos.

• Switzer Falls también hizo una aparición sorpresa en la lista de los Peores Sitios de agua dulce, llegando así, a la posición número nueve. Este sitio donde se puede nadar está ubicado en las montañas y ha tenido un historial de buena calidad de agua.

• El área del lago Balboa en la parte alta de la cuenca del río L.A. tuvo otro año decepcionante en términos de calidad de agua. La rampa para botes de Lake Balboa, la salida de Lake Balboa y el arroyo de Bull Creek entraron en nuestra lista de los Peores Sitios de agua dulce.

• Hermit Falls no fue monitoreado por LASAN (LA Saneamiento y Medio Ambiente) en el verano del 2020, pero se agregó el arroyo de Big Tujunga Creek en el sector de Vogel Flats como un lugar de monitoreo.

• Las ubicaciones de las zonas de recreación del Río de L.A. (L.A. River Recreation Zone) fueron monitoreadas durante el verano a pesar de estar cerradas al público. Además, debido a las limitaciones relacionadas con la pandemia, Heal the Bay no pudo monitorear el río de L.A. a la altura de la calle Benedict St. (anteriormente llamado Frogspot), así como también los desagües pluviales en Elysian Valley.

• Las áreas con desarrollo urbano tendían a tener calificaciones más bajas que las áreas naturales, y la mayoría de los sitios en esta lista se encuentran en áreas de paisajes urbanos. Los sitios en la cuenca del río San Gabriel y la cuenca superior del río de L.A. se encuentran en áreas menos desarrolladas y están menos afectadas por la escorrentías urbanas.

Heal the Bay, lidera ahora el esfuerzo para lograr la protección de la salud a las personas que se recrean en agua dulce en el estado. Estamos emocionados de anunciar que el asambleísta Richard Bloom, en asociación con Heal the Bay, ha introducido una ley que comenzará a abordar la falta de monitoreo y estandarización de la calidad del agua en áreas recreacionales – Proyecto de Ley 1066 de la Asamblea (AB 1066). Esta pieza de legislación propone encomendar al Consejo de Monitoreo de la Calidad del Agua de California para que defina e identifique lo sitios de recreación de agua dulce en todo el estado, así como recomendaciones para un programa de monitoreo apropiado para estos sitios. Esto es un paso fundamental para lograr mayor protección a la salud de los visitantes de sitios recreacionales. Heal the Bay continuará apoyando la ley AB 1066 y planeamos proponer una legislación futura que requerirá monitoreo y advertencias públicas para las áreas recreacionales de agua dulce.

Además del Boletín de Calificaciones de Ríos, Heal the Bay está trabajando activamente para evitar que la contaminación ingrese a nuestras vías fluviales. En el 2020, Heal the Bay lanzó una campaña llamada “Take L.A. by Storm” para apoyar a los nuevos defensores del medio ambiente y su participación en el proceso de los permisos MS4 para responsabiizar a quienes descargan contaminantes. El sistema de permisos se creó para ayudar a regular la cantidad de contaminantes que los dueños de permisos estaban poniendo en el medio ambiente y poder garantizar que las descargas contaminantes disminuyan con el tiempo. Desafortunadamente, ha habido una falta de responsabilidad en el programa de permisos MS4, lo que ha permitido a los dueños de permisos retrasarse en el cronograma para reducir las descargas contaminantes.



UPDATE: Good news! On 6/3/21, AB1066 passed in the Assembly and is now headed to the Senate.

Heal the Bay and Assembly Member Richard Bloom Introduce Legislation to Protect Public Health at Freshwater Swimming and Recreation Sites in California

Twenty-four years ago, the California Legislature took an important step forward in protecting public health at ocean beachesAB411, authored by Assembly Members Howard Wayne (San Diego) and Debra Bowen (South Bay), established statewide water quality standards, required standard monitoring protocols, and set uniform mandatory public notification procedures in place during poor water quality events. Prior to AB411, ocean-goers did not have access to water quality information leaving them vulnerable to serious illnesses such as stomach flu, respiratory illness and debilitating ear, nose, and throat infections, which are contracted from fecal contamination in the water.  

AB411 requires weekly water quality monitoring from April 1 to October 31 as well as public notification of water quality conditions for beaches where annual visitation is 50,000 or greater or that are near storm drainsHeal the Bay was the primary sponsor for this bill, and our Beach Report Cardstarted in 1991, helped grow support for it. AB411 is still the guiding piece of legislation for recreational water quality monitoring in California. Unfortunately, freshwater swimming and recreation areas are not regulated or monitored consistently in the same way that ocean beaches are. California has fecal pollution standards for freshwater, but monitoring for that pollution is lacking. Many swimming holes across the State are not tested for water quality, and for those that are, the monitoring and public notification protocols are not consistent statewide.  

Rivers, lakes, and streams are popular areas where people swim, fish, kayak, wade, raft, and more. And for many people who do not live near the coast or for whom the coast is not easily accessible, these are the areas where they go to cool off and enjoy time with friends and family, and have a good time. People who visit freshwater swimming holes should be provided with the same protections that ocean beachgoers are given. People deserve to know if they might be exposed to fecal pollution so that they can adequately protect themselves. We are thrilled to announce that Assembly Member Richard Bloom, in partnership with Heal the Bay, has introduced legislation to address this public health disparity, AB1066 

AB1066 is the latest effort from Heal the Bay on addressing this issue. In 2014, Heal the Bay began monitoring freshwater recreation sites and providing that information to the public. We also began aggregating freshwater monitoring data from throughout LA County starting in 2017. This grew into our River Report Card (RRC), a free and publicly accessible website with updated water quality information throughout the greater LA region. Similar to the Beach Report Card, we have been using the RRC to advocate for increased monitoring and better water quality notifications across LA County. However, we want to take this to the next step and ensure people across the whole state have access to consistent water quality information that can help keep them safe.  

AB1066 would:  

  • Establish a definition for a freshwater recreation site based on frequency of use and identify sites state-wide to be monitored; 
  • Require weekly monitoring from Memorial Day to Labor Day for freshwater recreation sites by the owner/operator using a standardized protocol and metrics;  
  • Require public notification online and through signage for hazardous water quality conditions. 

 “I am pleased to author AB1066 to address a key public health challenge that many Californians face in outdoor recreation– ensuring there are science and health based bacterial standards, ongoing water quality monitoring, and public notification for freshwater bathing where needed.

California is a magnificent state and one that affords all our communities with opportunities to recreate outdoors. Our lakes, rivers and streams should be enjoyed by residents throughout the state, but we need to ensure that their public health is protected while doing so.” 

-Assembly Member Richard Bloom 

The protections in AB1066 are long overdue and were afforded to ocean beaches nearly 25 years ago. Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed on our work and ways to get involved.



Luke Ginger, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, recaps a tough summer for water quality monitoring at LA County’s freshwater recreation areas, and outlines the urgent need for equitable, climate-resilient communities in the face of a health pandemic, extreme heat, unprecedented wildfires, and beyond.

Heal the Bay concludes another summer of freshwater sampling and monitoring with the River Report Card. Over the course of the summer of 2020, we provided inland water-goers with water quality grades for 27 freshwater recreation sites across Los Angeles County, California. This included 5 sites in Malibu Creek State Park and the LA River, where Heal the Bay staff collected water quality samples. We updated grades on a weekly basis and posted them online to be viewed by the public. 

Summer 2020 was filled with many challenges that impacted our program. Due to COVID-19, Heal the Bay was unable to hire local college students to monitor water quality at recreation sites and storm drains like in previous years. Instead, Heal the Bay’s permanent staff carried out water sampling. This was a major blow to our program because one of our main goals has always been to provide knowledge, skills, and career training to emerging professionals. Additionally, without a full crew, we sampled fewer recreation sites and storm drains, leaving the public with less information on how to stay safe.

We also had to take extra precautions while sampling – wearing masks at all times, driving in separate vehicles, and sporting extra protective gear (face shields and extra-long gloves) to reduce exposure to potentially contaminated water. These were necessary precautions because the research on the risk of contracting COVID-19 from recreational waters is still ongoing. 


Photo by Alice Dison

There were also major changes in accessibility and use this summer at the sites Heal the Bay monitored. Malibu Creek State Park was open all summer, but the swimming holes (Rock Pool and Las Virgenes Creek) remained closed due to concerns over the ability to maintain proper physical distancing. However, this closure was not clearly enforced as we saw many swimmers throughout the summer. The official LA River recreation zones were open from Memorial Day until the end of September, but kayaking was not allowed due to safety concerns around COVID-19.   

Monitoring efforts by LA Sanitation, Council for Watershed Health, and San Gabriel Regional Watershed Monitoring Program were impacted this summer as well. There were weeks where certain recreation sites in the Upper LA River Watershed and San Gabriel River Watershed were not monitored due to park closures or overcrowding concerns. According to LA Sanitation officials, Hermit Falls was not monitored this summer because it is a particularly crowded area that posed a health risk to the water quality monitors. Worker safety is incredibly important, as is the health of all Angelenos and visitors. Unfortunately, these tough decisions resulted in critical water quality information not being available at a very popular location all summer. LA Sanitation instead sampled the Vogel Flats picnic area, which is a new addition to the River Report Card. Toward the end of the summer, monitoring in the San Gabriel River Watershed and some of the Upper LA River Watershed was cut short due to the Bobcat Fire and the subsequent closure of Angeles National Forest. 

This summer, the pandemic, a record setting wildfire season, and extreme heat culminated into one even larger public health crisis. The pandemic forced people to stay local and opt for close-by areas to take a swim. Because of this, as well as the reduced risk of contracting COVID-19 outdoors, people flocked in unusually high numbers to ocean beaches and freshwater recreation sites to stay active and cool. Unfortunately, if outdoor crowds become too big and dense, there is an increased risk of COVID-19 spread. The fact that so many people sought respite outside made clear the importance of open space for physical and mental health. But, the benefits of open space are not equally experienced by all. Black and Latinx communities have been systemically denied access to parks and nature, and there is a lot of work to do to provide justice for these communities. LA City and County must work hard to meet their target of 65% of Angelenos living within half a mile of a park or open space by 2025 (and 75% by 2035). 


Photo by Alice Dison

The summer’s extreme heat waves coincided with the largest wildfires in California’s history, which created harmful air quality across the entire west coast. Many people endured hazardous outdoor air quality in order to cool off at rivers, streams, and beaches. Tragically, exposure to wildfire-induced poor air quality exacerbates the harmful health effects of COVID-19. So for low-income households without air conditioning, it was impossible to escape harm; people were either subject to extreme heat at home or subject to harmful air quality outside. We must acknowledge that in the United States, the communities facing the brunt of climate change impacts like extreme heat and wildfire are disproportionately Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian people.

Summer 2020 was a tough time for many, and it underscores the need for immediate and equitable action to address the climate crisis and environmental justice.

Looking forward, Heal the Bay will continue to advocate for water quality improvements across LA County, so everyone is protected from waterborne illness. And, we will continue to push for nature-based policies that stem the impacts of climate change and make our communities climate resilient.


Summer 2020 Results

Here are the water quality results from the sites Heal the Bay monitored during summer 2020.

Malibu Creek State Park

Rock Pool – did slightly better than last year

  • 64% Green
  • 35% Yellow
  • 0% Red

Las Virgenes Creek – worse than last year

  • 0% Green
  • 93% Yellow
  • 7% Red

Los Angeles River

Sepulveda Basin at Burbank Ave. – slightly better than last year

  • 31% Green
  • 69% Yellow
  • 0% Red

Rattlesnake Park – worse than last year

  • 15% Green
  • 33% Yellow
  • 51% Red

Steelhead Park – same as last year

  • 64% Green
  • 33% Yellow
  • 3% Red

Learn More:



Heal the Bay’s annual River Report Card Rates 28 Freshwater Recreation Sites in Los Angeles River, San Gabriel River, and Malibu Creek Watersheds

2020 so far has been the year of making the best of it. When it comes to freshwater resources in L.A. County, we don’t have many, but we do love our rivers and swimming holes. And many of us will be looking to explore more local freshwater recreation options this summer, whether it’s because we had to cancel our long-distance vacation plans or reconsider a trip to the beach due to Safer at Home measures.

But no trip to the river is worth getting sick. And unfortunately, many freshwater recreation sites in L.A. County do have levels of bacterial pollution that represent a significant health risk. Developed areas tend to be more polluted than those in the mountains and upper watersheds.

Our annual River Report Card is the most comprehensive report on freshwater bacterial water quality and health risks in L.A County. The report grades each freshwater recreation site with a Red, Yellow, or Green rating.

  • Green : Zero parameters exceeded; low risk of illness when there is water contact.
  • Yellow : One to half of the parameters exceeded; moderate risk of illness when there is water contact.
  • Red : More than half of the parameters exceeded; high risk of illness when there is water contact.

In addition to the annual report, which summarizes the data collected in 2019, we also have an interactive map at healthebay.org/riverreportcard, which is updated weekly, so you can check the latest water quality observation before choosing a place to go this summer.

A Note About Swimming in the Time of COVID-19

While we have a pandemic going on, it’s especially important to be safe any time you leave the house, including outdoor recreation. That means wearing a mask and keeping a safe physical distance from others.

Our water quality tests do not detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus in the water, but they do detect fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). The COVID-19 virus has been detected in sewage, indicating that fecal matter from infected individuals can contain the virus. We do not know how long the virus survives in sewage or in water, and we do not know if someone can contract the COVID-19 disease from coming into contact with water. Experts have stated that the transmission risk in water is likely very low because the virus mainly spreads through person-to-person contact. Since COVID-19 and FIB both enter our waterways through sewage, measuring FIB concentrations can help keep people safe from both.

Be sure to check for closures and specific restrictions at freshwater sites, trails, and open space before you head out. And, as always when you visit the river, make sure to pack out what you pack in. Be a water steward and keep plastics and trash out of the environment.

Be safe, have fun, and enjoy your local waters.

Download the annual River Report Card

See the annual River Report Card Media Release 

Check out the Weekly Updated River Report Card Interactive Map

Donate to Support This Work



Our team at Frogspot in Elysian Valley. The LA River’s soft, mud-bottom sections are capable of supporting vegetation and wildlife.

In the summer of 2019, Heal the Bay’s team of water quality monitors spent many sunny days gathering freshwater samples from Malibu Creek State Park and the LA River, and testing them for bacterial-pollution in the lab. (Dive deeper into the findings.)

We’re thankful to partner with Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC) who allowed us to work out of one of their labs, managed by Manuel Robles. As always, our team included local students eager to learn about water quality and public health. Along with sampling, this group also took part in outreach, educating and encouraging more people to be invested in improving the health of the LA River Watershed.

Read on for some of our team’s favorite highlights from the summer

Erik Solis
My favorite part about the summer program was not only the job itself, but the outreach to younger students who show interest in environmental science. I was able to tell them about what I do for Heal the Bay, why it matters, and how they can contribute themselves. It all comes together to make a positive impact in the community and encourage young minds to promote a cleaner L.A. watershed. I enjoyed the work I’ve done this summer, as I know I have done a huge service to the L.A. river area. I can recall this one time a couple of fishermen and women said, “Hey, the Bay healers are here!” Another favorite part was participating in the Coastal Cleanup day on September 21st, as not only was I able to meet a lot of people, talk to students, and clean up a river, but I was also able to bring my family out to participate and enjoy doing their part in doing a service to the Greater Los Angeles Area. I have also enjoyed the lab work, but it was a little overshadowed by the field work.
Stephanie Alvarez
As someone who grew in Los Angeles I wasn’t as aware of how much nature we still have in the city, and I want to help protect it and the people who want to enjoy it. My most favorite memory was when a few of us got to speak to high school students and saw how most of them grasped the urgency of keeping our water clean. They all had their own unique ideas and all agreed that keeping our waters clean was very important. This gave me even more hope that we will be able to save our bodies of water. As someone who wants to help find ways to clean water, in an effective and cheap manner, this experience helped me see the problem in different angles. I went into this program thinking only of how to clean water to drink it, and now I am thinking about how we can make it clean enough for people to swim in and wildlife to thrive in. This program helped me gain experience in the lab and helped me dream bigger. We were so lucky to have worked alongside many amazing people, and I wanted to thank Luke for being an amazing leader! I suggest, if you are reading this and you want to help your planet, to get involved. There are so many programs and events that you can sign up for free. Change always starts with one person! Together we can save our planet and our wildlife!
Blaire Edwards
I started off by trying something different and left with an abundance of information about the environment around me. My favorite part of this experience had to be learning about all the matters happening environmentally and what I can do to get more involved and help make a difference.
Christina Huggins
With so many adventurers heading outdoors to enjoy the summer weather, the highlight of sampling water quality for Heal the Bay this summer was the opportunity to connect with the community and educate them about their environment. From early morning hikes through the Santa Monica Mountains to curious explorers and hikers asking questions about our yellow boots and sample bottles. Getting the opportunity to be a part of keeping the public informed about freshwater quality has given me a new direction in my career and educational path.
Michelle Allen
The biggest highlight of working on the team this summer is knowing that what we do and the information we collect makes it to the general public. The fact that our samples that we test affect people’s choices to make safer decisions, is a huge part of why I love being a part of this team. Collecting samples is always something fun to me. I love the fact that we go out into nature and see how the land changes each time we go out while meeting people along the way.
Olivia Garcia
My favorite part of the summer was collecting water samples for analysis. I liked being able to see, understand, and make note of the factors that could potentially contaminate the water quality in the river. I was also fascinated with the quality control protocol. I gained a lot of knowledge about the importance of consistency in documentation and testing, and a better intuitive understanding of quality control as a whole. It’s hard to pick out what the overall highlight of the summer was because it was all so amazing.
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Christina and Michelle collecting samples from the popular Rock Pool in Malibu Creek State Park.

Learn more about our summer of freshwater sampling and our River Report Card.




Blaire, Olivia, and Luke collecting storm drain samples along the Elysian Valley.

Luke Ginger, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, recounts the latest season of freshwater monitoring, reveals the disappointingly poor water quality grades, and explains what this means for public health and the future of the LA River.

The summer of 2019 marked Heal the Bay’s sixth summer sampling in Malibu Creek State Park and the fifth summer sampling in the LA River freshwater recreation areas. Currently, there is no federal or state mandate or funding for monitoring freshwater recreation areas as there is for ocean beaches. So local freshwater stakeholders monitor water quality in LA County with their own funds. Heal the Bay samples in various places to fill in some of the sampling gaps left by those organizations.

This season, we regularly monitored the Rock Pool and Las Virgenes Creek in Malibu Creek State Park, the LA River at Burbank Boulevard, and three sites in the LA River near Elysian Valley. We also sample the storm drains along the Elysian Valley to help us understand the origin and amount of bacteria entering the LA River. In total, our team collected 96 river and stream samples, and about 84 storm drain samples.

 

Disappointing Findings, Yet Encouraging Outreach

Grades in the LA River recreation zones were disappointingly poor this summer. The four sites we tested had good water quality (green grades) just 16% of the time on average. That means bacteria levels exceeded at least one standard (yellow or red grades) 84% of the time in the LA River. Malibu Creek State Park sites had similar water quality where green grades were issued 19% and bacteria exceeded standards 81% of the time. For the public, this means that water quality presents indicates a risk for human illness more than 80% of the time.

In addition to protecting public health by reporting freshwater quality grades, our mission is to conduct outreach and get more people invested in improving the health of the LA River Watershed. This summer was jam-packed with events that allowed us to spread our message and make an impact. We tabled at events along the LA River, participated in river cleanups (including the first-ever Trash Blitz at Compton Creek) and also collaborated with Pacoima Beautiful, FOLAR and CSUN to educate high school students on water quality in the river. This fall, we are continuing our student outreach by giving lectures at local high schools and providing students hands-on experience collecting water samples.

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We tabled at the Wiltern for an Ice on Fire documentary event. We even got to take over the Wiltern’s Instagram account for the day!

Looking Forward

Protecting the public from potentially harmful water has been Heal the Bay’s mission for the past 30 years with the Beach Report Card, so our next step has been to provide the same water quality information for freshwater recreation areas. Because a healthy Bay starts with a healthy LA. To dive deeper into our freshwater work, check out our River Report Card. And stay tuned for the next release in Spring 2020, which will include a full assessment of these recent water quality grades.

We are also anxiously waiting for the release of the LA River Master Plan in December 2019, which is LA County Department of Public Works’ plan to revitalize parts of the river. We are eager to see an LA River that supports both nature and the surrounding communities without displacing them, so we urge everyone to follow the LA River Master Plan updates and get involved.


Our monitoring program also got some attention in the media!



River Report CardLas áreas acuáticas para nado y recreación en el condado de Los Angeles brindan oportunidades importantes para quienes disfrutan y valoran la naturaleza de nuestros ríos y arroyos. Desafortunadamente, existe poca información o notificación pública de la calidad del agua por parte del estado. Como resultado, carecemos de datos estandarizados y la información disponible para el público es mínima y difícil de interpretar.

Durante más de 30 años, Heal the se ha dedicado a hacer que las aguas costeras y cuencas hidrográficas del sur de California sean seguras, saludables y limpias.

Desde 1991, Heal de Bay ha priorizado la salud pública, informando y educando a la comunidad sobre la calidad del agua de nuestras playas a través de nuestro “Boletín Informativo de Playas” (BRC, por sus siglas en inglés).  Evaluar la calidad del agua en áreas de recreación acuática y brindar información al público en el condado de L.A. fue el siguiente gran paso de Heal the Bay. Un día de esparcimiento en las vías fluviales del condado de Los Ángeles no debería enfermar a nadie, por tal razón se estableció en el 2014 un programa de monitoreo en los sitios de recreación acuática y se desarrolló en el 2017 el programa River Report Card (RRC) o “Boletín Informativo de Ríos” para brindar al público información de fácil comprensión sobre la calidad del agua.

El RRC asigna calificaciones con los colores verde, amarillo y rojo en función a los niveles de contaminación bacteriana. Esto difiere del BRC de Heal the Bay, que asigna calificaciones a las playas con letras que van de la A a F; sin embargo, consideramos esta evaluación como un informe de calificaciones y nos referimos a los códigos de colores como calificaciones.

Desarrollamos una metodología de clasificación de verde, amarillo y rojo, así como también de sitios clasificados según los niveles de bacterias indicadoras de contaminación fecal. Verde indica buena calidad de agua con niveles de bacterias indicadoras de contaminación fecal bajo los límites permitidos por autoridades de salud. Amarillo indica que al menos uno o más exceden los límites permitidos y que puede aumentar el riesgo de adquirir enfermedades. Finalmente, el color rojo indica mayor riesgo de salud donde todos o casi todos los niveles de bacterias indicadoras de contaminación fecal superan los límites permitidos.

El “Boletín Informativo de Ríos” es el informe de calidad de agua más completo hasta la fecha en áreas de recreación acuática del área de Los Angeles. El conjunto de datos es recopilado por Heal the Bay, Programa de Monitoreo de la Cuenca del Río Los Angeles (LARWMP, por sus siglas en inglés), Oficina de Sanidad y Medio Ambiente (LASAN, por sus siglas en inglés) de la Ciudad de L.A. y Programa de Monitoreo Regional del Río San Gabriel (SGRRMP, por sus siglas en inglés). Los datos analizados fueron monitoreados durante la temporada seca 2017 y 2018 y cubre 27 sitios en su totalidad en tres cuencas hidrogróficas que son utilizadas para nado, pesca y kayak. Datos previos a estos años también están disponibles desde 2014, pero solo para determinados sitios. Se realizaron pruebas para detectar bacterias indicadoras de contaminación fecal que indican la presencia de microorganismos y virus que causan infecciones, irritación de la piel, enfermedades respiratorias y enfermedades gastrointestinales.

En todos los 27 sitios del año 2018, el 57% de las calificaciones fué de color verde, el 25% amarilla y el 18% roja. Las áreas urbanas tienden a tener calificaciones más bajas que las áreas naturales. Los sitios en las zonas de recreación de la cuenca del río de Los Angeles están rodeados principalmente de paisajes urbanos y tuvieron calificaciones más bajas que los otros sitios en este informe. Los sitios en las zonas de recreación del río de Los Angeles obtuvo 38% verde, 36% amarillo y 26% rojo. Los sitios de la cuenca del río San Gabriel y los sitios de la parte alta de la cuenca del río de Los Angeles obtuvieron las mejores calificaciones en general, probablemente porque se encuentran en paisajes naturales y no recibieron aguas de descargas urbanas que contienen contaminantes. Los sitios en la cuenca del río San Gabriel, que se encuentran en áreas naturales, obtuvieron 84% verde, 11% amarillo y 5% rojo para el 2018; los sitios de la parte alta de la cuenca del río de Los Angeles obtuvieron 70% verde, 13% amarillo y 17% rojo.

Los sitios de la cuenca de Malibu Creek se encuentran en un parque estatal y sus alrededores son en su mayoría áreas naturales, con algunos desarrollos urbanos en la parte alta de la cuenca. Estos sitios obtuvieron mejores calificaciones que los sitios en las zonas de recreación de la cuenca del río de Los Angeles, pero obtuvieron calificaciones más bajas que los sitios de la cuenca del río San Gabriel o de la parte alta de la cuenca del río de Los Angeles. Los sitios de la cuenca de Malibu Creek obtuvieron 50% verde, 39% amarillo y 11% rojo en el 2018.

Figura 1: Porcentajes de calificación de calidad de agua 2017 y 2018 para los sitios de monitoreo en el condado de Los Ángeles:  Cuenca de Malibu Creek, zonas de recreación de la cuenca del río Los Angeles, parate alta de la cuenca del río Los Angeles y cuenca del río San Gabriel. Los colores verde, amarillo y rojo son mostrados para cada área y temporada.

Los dos sitios con porcentajes más altos en color rojo para el 2018 correspondieron a Hansen Dam (80%) en la parte alta del río de Los Angeles y Rattlesnake Park (58%) en la zona de recreación Elysian Valley del río de Los Angeles. Sin embargo, seis sitios obtuvieron 100% color verde; cuatro de estos sitios están en la cuenca del río San Gabriel y dos en la parte alta de la cuenca del río Los Angeles. En comparación con el año 2017, las calificaciones del 2018 en general, mejoraron para la cuenca de Malibu Creek,  cuenca del Río San Gabriel y para las zonas de recreación de la Cuenca del Río de Los Angeles (el porcentaje para las calificaciones con color verde aumentó)

Al examinar los sitios individualmente, 15 de los 27 sitios obtuvieron un mayor porcentaje de calificación con color verde para el 2018 en comparación con 2017, 9 sitios obtuvieron un menor porcentaje de color verde y 3 no tuvieron cambios. En todo el condado, la proporción de calificación en rojo emitidos del 2017 a 2018 disminuyó en un 1%, y el porcentaje de calificaciones verde disminuyó en un 2%. Por lo tanto, a pesar de los aumentos observados en la calidad del agua, las disminuciones superaron ligeramente a los mismos.

Desde que Heal the Bay comenzó a monitorear los sitios acuáticos de recreación y hacer público los datos de calidad del agua, los cambios han sido positivos e incluyen:

  • Aumento del monitoreo bacteriano en zonas de recreación del Río de Los Angeles, tanto en sitios como frecuencias, realizados por LASAN.
  • Mayor notificación pública por medio de letreros acerca de la calidad del agua a lo largo de las zonas de recreación del Río de Los Angeles, realizados por LASAN.
  • Mayor difusión pública e información sobre la calidad del agua a través de correos electrónicos, sitios web y otros medios en línea por parte de las agencias que recopilan la información (LARWMP, LASAN y SGRRMP).

Basados en este informe, recomendaciones adicionales para proteger la salud pública incluyen:

  • Notificación y monitoreo estandarizado en todo el estado y región para áreas acuáticas de recreación; designando responsables para el monitoreo y notificación, y recomendar una legislación o algo similar a la Ley de Calidad del Agua de las Playas (AB411) que proporcione financiamiento y monitoreos estandarizados a los condados que realicen la labor.
  • El monitoreo debe incluir los Enterococcus, así como también E. coli para proteger la salud pública y debe incluir la media geométrica en los avisos de calidad del agua.
  • La notificación pública debe incluir la publicación de carteles sobre la calidad del agua en todos los sitios de recreación acuática, en inglés y español.

Personas dirigiendose a áreas de recreación acuática  pueden consultar el Boletín Informativo de Playas de Heal the Bay www.healthebay.org/riverreportcard Es recommendable ducharse con agua y jabón después de cualquier contacto directo con el agua para poder minimizar cualquier riesgo de salud.

 



A day spent enjoying the waterways of L.A. County should not make anyone sick.

Heal the Bay today released the annual River Report Card, which assigns water quality color-grades of Red, Yellow, or Green for 27 freshwater sites in Los Angeles County. Grades are based on levels of bacteria monitored in 2018 and prior years.

Our staff scientists put a ton of work into this comprehensive study of bacterial pollution in our local waterways. We encourage you to soak up all the stats and charts we’ve assembled in the report, so we are all better informed about water quality in our region.

The River Report Card is the most comprehensive water quality report to date on bacterial pollution in popular freshwater recreation areas within the Los Angeles River Watershed, the Malibu Creek Watershed, and the San Gabriel River Watershed. These valued public places are often used for swimming, wading, fishing, kayaking, and other activities, especially during summer months when communities seek relief from hot SoCal days.

Here are some of the major findings:

  • The good news is that over half of all the water quality samples taken at freshwater sites in 2018 received Green grades – so bacterial levels were not a cause for concern at the time of the sampling.
  • However, there is a significant risk of getting sick from freshwater contact in Los Angeles County during dry weather. In 2018, 43% of water quality samples monitored by Heal the Bay came back as Yellow or Red, signaling a moderate to high public health risk.
  • The River Report Card features a Top 10 Freshwater Fails list. Taking the top spot with the worst grades overall was Hansen Dam, located in the Upper L.A. River Watershed, which had the highest public health risk (this site received Red grades in 80% of water samples taken!). Just last week, it was reported that over twenty lifeguards in L.A. developed rashes after swimming at Hansen Dam. See the full list of Freshwater Fails on page 10.
  • The River Report Card also includes a Top 10 Honor Roll list of the freshwater sites with the best grades overall. Six locations earned perfect Green scores in every sampling, including four sites in the San Gabriel River Watershed and two sites in the Upper L.A. River Watershed. Heal the Bay recommends that the public head to Hermit Falls and the East Fork San Gabriel River areas for freshwater swimming, based on the 2018 water quality analysis. Water quality conditions are subject to change so it’s best to check the latest available data when choosing a swimming hole. View the entire Honor Roll list on page 11.
  • Freshwater sites in more natural areas tended to earn better grades than freshwater sites near development. Read the report’s conclusions on page 22.
  • Better State and regional oversight and funding are needed for monitoring and public notice of water quality in freshwater recreation sites. (Our full recommendations starting on page 25) Monitoring protocols and public notification in L.A. County are not standardized, and government agencies only test for E. coli. Testing should also include the fecal indicator bacteria Enterococcus. Solely monitoring for E. coli might be putting the public at unnecessary risk. More on page 23.
  • The River Report Card includes storm drain monitoring. See which eight storm drains in the L.A. River Elysian Valley Recreation Zone need to be prioritized for runoff remediation on page 29.

Download Report in English

Read Executive Summary in Spanish

Download Press Release

Donate to Heal the Bay

Tips for enjoying and staying safe in L.A.’s rivers, streams, and creeks

Before heading to a freshwater recreation area in L.A. County check out Heal the Bay’s River Report Card at healthebay.org/riverreportcard (New data coming on Memorial Day). If water quality is poor (Yellow or Red), consider choosing a site that has good water quality.

People can also minimize their risk by limiting water contact, avoiding submerging their heads underwater, avoiding hand-to-face water contact, and washing off after contact using soap and clean water. For all water recreation, users should avoid entering the water with an open wound, if immunocompromised, or after a rainfall. Always heed official regulatory signs posted by the City or County. Swimming is always prohibited in the L.A. River main channel.


About the River Report Card

We believe the public has a right to know about the conditions of our local waterbodies, and to make informed decisions about how they want to experience them. That’s why Heal the Bay developed the River Report Card — the most comprehensive water quality report to date on freshwater recreation areas in the greater Los Angeles area.

Heal the Bay began monitoring freshwater recreation sites in 2014 and developed the River Report Card program in 2017 to provide easy-to-use water quality information to the public. Water quality grades are based on the levels of fecal indicator bacteria (E. coli and Enterococcus) and are displayed as Red, Yellow, or Green. Green means there is a low risk of illness when there is contact with the water. Yellow indicates a moderate risk, while Red signals a high risk.

Since Heal the Bay started monitoring freshwater recreation sites and making water quality data public, some positive changes have included increased bacterial monitoring and public notification signage in L.A. River recreation zones as well as increased dissemination of water quality information to the public through emails, websites, and other online means by government agencies collecting water quality information. Our annual River Report Card 2018 includes additional recommendations for water quality monitoring and public notification protocols to be the most protective of public health.

Heal the Bay also manages the Beach Report Card, available at beachreportcard.org, which provides A-to-F letter-grades for water quality at hundreds of beaches on the West Coast.

Interested in learning more? Contact our team!



LA River Report Card - Heal the Bay - Water Quality Monitoring

(Heal the Bay’s River Report Card Team – From Left to Right: John Silva, Christopher Zamora, Dr. Katherine Pease, Vanessa Granados, Yuris Delcid and Nelson Chabarria)

Revitalizing the L.A. River is one of our big goals for 2018. But what is water quality monitoring really like in this increasingly popular outdoor area? Heal the Bay’s River Report Card team, led by Dr. Katherine Pease, is responsible for bringing Angelenos the latest water quality grades from the L.A. River during the summer. The team shares their first-hand experiences below from last summer, including a behind-the-scenes video that takes YOU into the L.A. River during a monitoring trip.


River Reflections & Looking Ahead to Summer 2018

By Dr. Katherine Pease

Summer feels long over, but the memories are still fresh. This past summer marked the completion of our 3rd season of water quality monitoring at fresh water recreational areas in the Los Angeles River and our 4th season at popular swimming spots in Malibu Creek State Park.

The summer of 2017 was especially exciting because we launched our River Report Card, which grades sites based on bacterial pollution levels. We provided the public with weekly water quality information for 18 sites around L.A. County. In 2018, we will add another 9 sites in the San Gabriel River watershed as we continue to grow this program.

Another deeply satisfying aspect of this past summer was the involvement of local students. Through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Urban Water funding grant that we received, we were able to hire five Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC) students for the summer to conduct water quality monitoring. In addition to scientific training, the team was also trained in communications (social media, blogging and outreach).

After their summer in the river, the River Report Card team created blog articles for the public and presentations for local high school students about their L.A. River monitoring project. Our goal was to engage more people in science and the environment with real-world examples and first-hand storytelling.

The culmination of months of work happened when our LATTC students presented to two Environmental Science AP classes at Thousand Oaks High School in the fall of last year.

Many of the Thousand Oaks high school students didn’t know much about the L.A. River or that you could kayak in it. The LATTC students told personal stories about their experiences in the L.A. River and how they were surprised at the number of plants and animals that call it home, how it is actually very deep in some sections (verified through an accidental kayak spill), and that pollution, both seen and unseen, unfortunately remains a major problem. Watching them present so passionately gave me a sense of excitement for our next generation of environmental leaders and problem solvers.

This year, we will be releasing a more technical wrap-up of our water quality results from summer 2017; some of the students will continue working with us on data analysis, report writing, and giving more presentations to high school students and agencies. We are sad but thrilled that one student will be leaving us to transfer to Arizona State University in January to study Geology.

As we look back on this amazing season, we share these personal stories below, written by the LATTC students on their experiences at the L.A. River. Enjoy!


Seeing the L.A. River From A Fresh Perspective

By Yuris Delcid

As a student of nursing, one of my goals has always been to help people in a positive way. When I heard about Heal the Bay, I felt I needed to join the crew.

I began my L.A. River Monitoring internship with Heal the Bay in the summer of 2017. It has taught me so much about the environment, why we need to care for the ocean, and the importance of educating the community on how to help.

One of the coolest parts of my Heal the Bay internship was envisioning how different the L.A. River could be, compared to how it appears in Hollywood movies! The L.A. River is not only concrete; it has natural wildlife living within. It’s amazing to see the L.A. River from this fresh perspective. Seeing all the different natural plants growing, birds watching me as I’m grabbing my water samples — observing rarities like an “albino fish” — I feel so much ­­peace and this makes me love what I do when I’m there.

Monitoring the L.A. River has changed the way I think about waterways. Testing the water quality for different types of bacteria, in example; E-coli and Enterococcus, has been eye opening. At first, it was surprising to discover which spots had the highest and lowest levels of bacteria in the river. Now I have a deeper understanding of where the water comes from and where it is discharged. And this knowledge informs how we can help keep the L.A. River clean, and how to protect marine life by keeping the oceans and water free of trash and pollution. I wish more people knew about their local watersheds in this tangible way.

This internship with HtB has given me more knowledge than I expected about water quality. I take overall precautions when I want to go to the beach or kayaking in a local creek or river. The experience has also given me tools to spread awareness of how important it is to stop water pollution.

So many people can care about the environment and take action to make a difference. We can all start making some changes in life. We can simply start by pledging not to use plastic straws, use reusable water bottles and/or stop using plastic bags.

My long term goals are to graduate as a Registered Nurse and help people by caring for them when they need me the most. This internship has taught me that you can accomplish your goals with perseverance and patience. Our work with the L.A. River has taught me that advocacy can engage more people in the community in making a difference.


Finding Purpose in the Process

By Vanessa Granados

I am inspired by nature and all that it brings. When I was seeking internships in my area of study (Chemical Technology) I found that most opportunities existed within the refinery, pharmaceutical, and food industries. I have always been inclined to the environmental side.

When I heard of the opportunity with Heal the Bay, I was excited to learn it was a non-profit environmental organization. It was the perfect route for the start of my career in order to gain environmental field experience.

After three months of working in the field, I have learned many observational and technical skills. One of the greatest things I’ve learned is how to record all the information and results. This scientific process is a big factor for anyone in the technical field. It’s a skill you have to learn. Plus, you should always be ready with the evidence to prove your results and conclusions. When you’re out in the field and lab, it’s important to follow procedures and be detail-oriented, so the final results have accurate context and information.

I had the opportunity to work in the L.A. River and see the vegetation and wildlife that thrives there. Yet many people do not know about it. I’ve seen crawfish, ducks, birds, eagles, red dragonflies, fish and rabbits. It is truly amazing to observe a flock of ducks or birds swimming down the stream with their family. It sparks a sense of initiative to do more for the L.A. River, so it can continue to flourish and eventually bring back diverse species to the river.

This internship has helped me contribute, and learn more about how to help our watersheds. By understanding what’s going on in the water, you are helping to protect our environment and health. Going out every Friday during the summer, collecting water samples to bring back to the lab, and analyzing for E-Coli is one way to monitor bacteria levels in the water. We do this to inform people about what’s going on in the L.A. River, whether they are kayaking, walking, or just enjoying the scene on a morning walk. The River Report Card from this summer is available online at Heal the Bay’s website: https://healthebay.org/riverreportcard/

Find events and learn more about how to help protect our resources mindfully. https://healthebay.org/events/


A Biological Balancing Act

By John Silva

My main goal when first applying was to help clean the waterways of Los Angeles. Growing up in this city I’ve seen much the streets littered with trash and smog in the air.

I was pleased to find out how much effort Heat the Bay puts into keeping the waterways of Los Angeles clean. When coming out of high school my only knowledge of Heal the Bay was that they held beach cleanups.

We were taken to sites all along the L.A. River to collect sample of the water to test for bacteria. We were given boots to wade in the water, but one site in particular was clean enough to go into bare foot. We graded the quality, based on how great of a risk if any, it presented to recreational water use.

Storm drain monitoring was something I was completely unaware of. The location of a storm drain can determine the origin of certain outflows and helps locate suspicious activity.

Although there is much work to be done, it’s a great feeling to know we are doing all we can to make the waters safe. Overall the best part of this internship was kayaking down the River. It was an experience I will remember for a lifetime and has encouraged me to get my own kayak and explore more waterways around the world.

LA River Kayaking
Photo by LA Times

During our outing, we were accompanied by an L.A. River guide who informed us of the flooding during the wet seasons and how trash accumulates along the riverbed near the dam. Plastic bags and trash could still be seen on treetops and lodged in bushes. Plastic was present at almost every testing site in the L.A. River, too. I wish people were more informed about how much trash and plastic end up in the water and ocean.

A long-term goal of mine would be to help inform people of the repercussions they have on the environment around them, animals and wildlife to be specific. One field of research I look forward to is Biological research, mainly human impact on surroundings. Through Heal the Bay, we can help reduce the amount of man-made waste and balance ecosystems to their natural homeostasis.


An Oasis in the City I Love

By Christopher Zamora

Growing up in Austin, TX I always found myself exploring the outdoors. The city is a green oasis in the middle of hot and dry Texas, surrounded by lakes and parted by the Colorado River. Camping was a ritual, hiking came naturally, and rock collecting became my obsession after visiting deep caverns in elementary school. I enjoyed all the natural landscapes the city and state had to offer. I was uncertain if I’d be able to keep these activities going when I moved to Los Angeles right before junior year of high school.

The sight of the concrete channel containing the Los Angeles River was strangely beautiful when I first glanced at it from the 4th Street Bridge, linking downtown to Angelenos east of the stream. Maybe because of Hollywood films and trending, record-breaking shows like Fear the Walking Dead, featuring the river in its gray concrete slabs. This famous view of the river, cemented and narrow, can be easily spotted in urban photography, music videos, and movies.

It wasn’t until my internship at Heal the Bay started that I began to venture into the Los Angeles River ecology and surround myself with places so unfamiliar and alien to the city.

Green, soft-bottomed, flora-and-fauna was thriving community in the middle of the city! It was so relieving to see the natural river zones. The great blue herons, blue damselflies, and western tiger swallowtail butterflies made the air seem “breathable” again. I had forgotten about the crowds and smog, and got lost in the tall greenery along the edges and center of the river.

The most prevalent color I noticed in the surrounding vegetation was a faint, dull green, very light in hue. The color belonged to a stalky cane-like plant. These tall plants dominated the area, grew in colonies, and varied in size from 3ft to 25ft in some areas. The team and I were informed by Dr. Pease that the plant, Arundo donax, was invasive and displacing the native plants.

We quickly realized the damage of the invasive species after seeing recently eradicated “arundo” stretched across the concrete bank next to the L.A River near Rattlesnake Park; looking back at the river with unfocused eyes, the dominance of the burgeoning plant really dramatized the scene.

It still surprises me how I manage to get startled by the random presence of arundo during our field work. It can be towering, and feel as if you and the river are being loomed-over together. Even the newly growing, short stalks can outnumber the group and myself. Any recreational kayaker, canoer, runner, walker, cyclist, fishermen/women, and near-stream park goers can catch a glimpse of these bad babies by just scanning the river briefly and looking for the contrasting stalky bamboo-type plant. It looks like a mass of unwanted neighbors disturbing and delaying the ambience of an upcoming thriving community. Learning about these types of issues made me aware that there is more to the health of the river than meets the eye, and it’s important to dig below the surface to learn about water quality and wildlife conditions.


The Time I Was In The Times

By Nelson Chabarria

We were in the school library – finishing up some data entry. The River Report Card had been released a week prior and we were about to refresh it with the latest test results. Weeks and hours and sunburns went into the grades, and to make them publicly available was simply gratifying. This moment felt pretty cool.

I was born and raised here. I’ve seen this “river” as I crossed the bridge to and from East L.A. I always thought of it as a ditch that divided the city. I am glad I was wrong about this. The river has its own ecosystem and interested groups that are invested in it.

I started classes in LATTC to come out of it working with some sort of water filtration or conservation leaning career. I want to be able to contribute in some way to making sure my city is smart in how it treats and uses the water we receive.

I never gave storm drains a second thought while driving. The few times they took my attention was during heavy storms where they flooded – the pooled water splashing unlucky pedestrians as cars passed. Sometimes I was unlucky. Now I am aware of its function, their contribution to the way water is handled here, and the importance of NOT contaminating streets with trash or toxic waste.

On a personal note it was great to come out and be featured in an LA Times newspaper article. I had explained the work to some family, but not all. I never expected to talk to a reporter about my background and the work I do in the river. Once the article was released it spread to people that were unaware of the work I was doing. The bombardment of questions, congratulations and support was one of the best feelings to come out of this program. I cannot thank Heal the Bay enough for making this possible.

My job was the same each week. I went out and collected samples. The next day they were read and the data was collected and posted. Even though it is the same every week, each time is always filled with new experiences. It can come from the people we meet at the river or the dynamics of our great team.

Heal the Bay’s internship program covered a wide range of public service opportunities in the water systems of Los Angeles. The idea, team and process meshed right in with what I am interested in. It is one of the main reasons why I decided on coming back into school during the summer!


Meet the Team

Heal the Bay has monitored water quality in Malibu Creek since 2014 and in the L.A. River since 2015. In the fall of 2016, we were awarded the U.S. EPA Urban Waters Grant. As a result, we have launched a unique freshwater monitoring program in partnership with a local college. Led by our very own watershed scientist Katherine Pease, we’re training five awesome Los Angeles Trade Technical College “LATTC” students to monitor the conditions in the L.A. River. We’re also working with two outstanding interns who support our Malibu Creek efforts.

Heal the Bay Staff

Dr. Katherine Pease
Longtime Heal the Bay staffer, Katherine has extensive experience assessing the water quality and biological health of greater L.A.’s watersheds, as well as assisting stakeholder groups with policy recommendations.
Annelisa Moe
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.

L.A. River Monitors (Summer 2017)

Nelson Chabarria
A native Angeleno, Nelson is obsessed with his pet pug, Goose. He is thrilled to be part of this L.A. River monitoring program.
Yuris Delcid
Hailing from El Salvador, Yuris is going to LATTC to get her Associate’s Degree in Registered Nursing. Nothing is more important to her than her family (except for maybe her two cats).
Vanessa Granados
Vanessa is attending LATTC for her Associate’s Degree in Chemical Technology. She plans to continue studying for a B.A. in Environmental Science or Agriculture, and to engage in activism for natural ecosystems.
John Silva
Majoring in Biology, John is passionate about animal welfare. He strives to one day open a holistic care center for domesticated animals.
Christopher Zamora
Christopher’s concerns are global; he aspires to participate in environmental geochemical research and to one day become an activist to improve (inter)national guidelines and policies.

LATTC Staff

Manuel Robles
Manuel Robles has been the Life Sciences Laboratory Technician at LATTC since 2012. He received his Bachelor’s in Biology from Cal State Long Beach and gets to work on the coolest biology projects.

Malibu Creek Watershed Monitors (Summer 2017)

Melissa Rojas
Melissa recently graduated from UC Davis with a B.S. in Environmental Science and Management. During her time there, water became a focal point for her studies in conservation and management.
Andrius Ruplenas
Born and raised in Santa Monica, Andrius studied at Santa Monica College for two years before transferring to Northern Arizona University, where he’s currently majoring in Environmental Studies. He just returned from a semester abroad in Costa Rica, where he got the chance to explore while studying Spanish.