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Category: Water Quality

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board chose to delay clean water progress last month by extending the deadlines polluters have to reduce their stormwater pollution, up to 6.5 years in some cases. Their decision allows the continued discharge of pollutants from across LA to drain through our communities and into the Pacific Ocean.


On March 11, the LA Regional Water Board voted to extend nine water quality deadlines, which were set decades ago to improve water quality and protect the health of our communities and our ecosystems. This sends a dangerous message that it is ok to continue contaminating our neighborhoods, rivers, and ocean even after long-standing deadlines have passed us by.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 protects our rivers and oceans by limiting the amount of pollution that can be discharged into them. Under the Clean Water Act, a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) refers to the maximum amount of pollution that a waterbody can handle before people get sick or aquatic life is harmed. Environmental groups fought hard to make the Regional Water Boards start paying attention to TMDLs starting in the 1990s. 

There are 59 TMDLs in the Los Angeles Region for various contaminants (trash, bacteria, etc) polluting our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. Some have deadlines as late as 2038, so there is still time to meet those limits. Others are due this year, and some have already passed. These TMDL deadlines were set decades ago with lengthy timelines that gave dischargers (called “permittees”) many years, in some cases nearly 20 years, to achieve these pollution limits. The deadlines were developed through extensive negotiations with all stakeholders. Heal the Bay and concerned community members from all over the County showed up at Regional Water Board hearings to demand pollution limits and clean water. At that time, we celebrated these TMDLs and believed our regulators would finally hold polluters accountable for meeting them.

Unfortunately, permittees are far behind schedule in reducing polluted discharges, as Heal the Bay reported back in 2019 in our Stormwater Report. Last year, the LA Regional Water Board confirmed this trend of very slow progress, reporting that only 6.6% of required pollution reduction projects were completed in the areas that received deadline extensions. The lack of measurability and accountability within the Stormwater Permit allowed this slow progress to go unnoticed for years. When it was finally daylighted, the LA Regional Water Board did nothing to correct it. 

As a result, there are several TMDLs with imminent deadlines that will not be met, and others that are well past due. Because of the extremely slow progress over the last 20 years, permittees are complaining that these ~20-year deadlines are now unrealistic, and have requested 10+ years of extra time! It seems they feel no urgency to clean up our community’s waterways.

Meanwhile, water quality suffers. You can see that by checking California’s List of Impaired Waters, where 208 waterbodies in the LA Region are listed as polluted by multiple contaminants. You can see it in UCLA’s 2019 Water Report Card, which assigned LA surface waters a dismal grade of D/Incomplete. You can see it in Heal the Bay’s River Report Card when bacteria still plagues our rivers even during dry weather, and in our Beach Report Card when grades across the board plummet during wet weather. There are other reports that tell a similar story, and we have yet to see any report that tells a different one. LA’s water is contaminated, stormwater is the primary source of that pollution, and no one is being held accountable for cleaning it up.

The recent hearing on TMDL deadline extensions was contentious. After much discussion, three of the seven Board Members voted to provide the 10 year extensions requested by permittees. But the majority of Board Members favored shorter extensions, and spoke powerfully in favor of clean water protection and environmental justice. In the end, they voted to approve extensions for nine TMDLs ranging from 1.5-6.5 years, rather than 10 or more years. While any extension delays progress towards achieving clean water, shorter extensions at least reign in further delays to achieving clean water.

Four of the Board Members also asked for better accountability from permittees, so we don’t end up right back here two decades from now, with poor water quality, wishing more had been done. Clear accountability can only be achieved through a strong Stormwater Permit. Unfortunately, our analysis of the Stormwater Permit clearly shows that the kind of accountability requested by the Board Members does not currently exist. 

One bright spot: the Stormwater Permit is up for renewal later this year, meaning we have a chance to make it better. We are asking Regional Water Board staff and Board Members to support clear, numeric pollution limits so we can hold permittees accountable to actually meet the new deadlines, because everyone in LA County deserves safe, clean water. 

Together we can Take LA By Storm to demand clear, measurable, and enforceable goals in the 2021 MS4 Permit. Sign up for emails to stay informed of the process and how you can take part!

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This month, through our Angler Outreach Program, we’re spotlighting Seal Beach Pier in Orange County.

Seal Beach Pier, located in Orange County, is one of the longest wooden piers in California. It was built at the beginning of the last century and has suffered damages caused by storms and a fire in 2016 that destroyed the restaurant located at the end of the pier. Fortunately, most of the pier was saved from the flames.

Like the rest of California’s public piers, fishing at the Seal Beach Pier is free. A fishing license is not required, but fishing regulations must be followed regarding the size and species that can be caught.

The pier is open to the public from 6am to 10pm, and has amenities for anglers including areas to clean fish, trash cans to deposit the waste, and specific receptacles for used fishing lines to prevent animal entanglement and pollution issues in the ocean. Anglers enjoy the pier individually or with friends and family members, bringing their own food and chairs to enjoy fishing and a day at the beach. During the weekends you can often observe entire families enjoying a day of fishing.

At Seal Beach Pier it is very common to catch corbina, perch, mackerel, topsmelt, and halibut. It’s even possible to see sharks! I have also seen how anglers work as a team – experienced anglers often readily share their bait with first-timers so that everyone can enjoy a good fishing day.

Seal Beach Pier is within the red zone, where the consumption of white croaker, barred sand bass, black croaker, topsmelt and barracuda should be avoided due to their high levels of toxins such as dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Signs on the pier list these five fish as contaminated.

People who regularly eat fish caught near the contaminated areas face greater health risks because of prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals such as DDT and PCBs.

Due to COVID-19, Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program has suspended its educational activities at this pier. But once the health authorities allow it, we will return to the pier to educate pier anglers about the risk of consuming contaminated fish from the nearby superfund site at Palos Verdes Peninsula. Stay up to date on our Angler Outreach Program by checking out our latest blog posts.


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Seal Beach Pier, ubicado en el condado de Orange, es uno de los muelles de madera más largos de California. Fue construido a principios del siglo pasado y ha sufrido daños provocados por tormentas y un incendio en 2016 que destruyó un restaurante ubicado al final del muelle. Afortunadamente, la mayor parte del muelle se salvó de las llamas.

Al igual que el resto de los muelles públicos de California, la pesca en Seal Beach Pier es gratuita. No se requiere una licencia de pesca, pero se deben seguir sus regulaciones con respecto al tamaño y especies de peces que se pueden capturar.

El muelle está abierto al público de 6 a.m. a 10 p.m. y cuenta con comodidades que incluyen áreas para limpiar pescados, botes de basura para los desechos y receptáculos para desechar hilos de pesca usados para evitar enredos con animales y problemas de contaminación en el océano. Los pescadores disfrutan del muelle individualmente o con amigos y familiares, trayendo su propia comida y sillas para disfrutar de la pesca y cerca de la playa. Durante los fines de semana, a menudo se puede observar a familias enteras disfrutando de un día de pesca.

En Seal Beach Pier es muy común pescar corbinas, mojarras, macarelas, pejerrey y lenguados. A veces es posible ver tiburones. También he observado cómo los pescadores trabajan en equipo y a veces comparten sus cebos cuando alguien va a pescar por primera vez. Los pescadores experimentados comparten fácilmente su cebo para que todos puedan tener un buen día de pesca. 

Seal Beach Pier se encuentra dentro de la zona roja, donde se debe evitar el consumo de corvineta blanca, cabrilla, corvineta negra, pejerrey y barracuda debido a sus altos niveles de toxinas como dicloro-difenil-tricloroetano (DDT) y bifenilos policlorados (PCB). Los letreros en el muelle señalan a estos cinco peces como contaminados.

Las personas que consumen regularmente peces capturados cerca de las áreas contaminadas enfrentan mayores riesgos para la salud debido a la exposición prolongada a sustancias químicas tóxicas como el DDT y los PCB.

Debido a COVID-19, el Programa Educacional Pesquero de Heal the Bay ha suspendido sus actividades educativas en este muelle. Pero una vez que las autoridades de salud lo permitan, regresaremos al muelle para educar a los Pescadores sobre el riesgo de consumir pescado contaminado que vienen del sitio Superfund cercano a la península de Palos Verdes. Manténte informado sobre nuestro Programa Educacional Pesquero consultando nuestras últimas publicaciones en el blog.


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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.



We’re celebrating International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month by shining the spotlight on five environmentalists who inspire us.

Women of color are impacted by environmental issues like water pollution and climate change impacts at disproportionate rates as a result of systemic inequity and injustice.1 Racism and a lack of access to education, economic status, and health resources often leave women and people of color out of the conversations and decisions that impact them the most, specifically about land use, natural resources, and environmental policy.

Despite these challenges, women of color continue to create powerful and lasting change in their own communities and abroad.

We thank the environmentalists and activists who continue to fight for what is right despite facing opposition for their bold ideas and for simply being who they are. Women and girls are leaders in their communities and agents of change. Supporting and listening to them will benefit the health of our planet and people for generations to come.

Get to know five environmentalists who have an inspiring legacy of activism.

Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011), Kenya

Founder of the Green Belt Movement, which has planted over 51 million trees, Professor Maathai focused on environmental conservation and women’s rights. She studied biology in her undergraduate and graduate school programs and later won the Nobel Peace Prize for her vast contributions to sustainable development.

 

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Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores (1971 – 2016), Honduras

Berta Cáceres was an indigenous environmental justice activist and grassroots leader who created the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH) in Honduras. She fought courageously against illegal and harmful mining and logging as well as the construction of a dam that would cut off water, food and medicine for the indigenous Lenca people. Cáceres Flores was tragically murdered in 2016, sparking international outrage. The Cáceres family continues to demand justice for this corrupt violation of human rights. 2

 

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Isatou Ceesay (b. 1972), The Gambia

Isatou Ceesay is known as the Queen of Recycling in The Gambia, and rightfully so. Though she was kept from finishing school, she created the Njai Recycling and Income Generation Group, which turns plastic bag waste into purses, creating revenue streams for local women. Ceesay also educates and empowers women through environmental advocacy.

 

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Winona LaDuke (b. 1959), White Earth Indian Reservation

Founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project and Honor the Earth, LaDuke is an environmentalist and political activist with Indigenous communities. She focuses on sustainable development, renewable energy, climate change, and environmental justice. The White Earth Land Recovery Project is one of the largest non-profit organizations in the United States dedicated to recovering original land and maintaining tribal food, water, and energy rights. Follow Winona on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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Vanessa Nakate (b. 1996), Uganda

Vanessa Nakate founded The Rise Up Movement and uses her voice and platform to share stories about activists in Africa who are striking due to inaction against the climate crisis. Recently, she spoke at the COP25 event in Spain (the United Nations Climate Change Conference) and joined dozens of youth climate activists from around the world to publish a letter to attendees of the World Economic Forum in Davos urging them to take immediate steps to prevent further harm. Follow Vanessa on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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About the author: Mariana Estrada is a digital advocacy intern at Heal the Bay. She grew up in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles where she enjoys a lively community of close-knit families and great food. She became interested in environmental issues like air quality at an unusually young age due to living in the city. Estrada’s area of focus is combining humanities and environmental issues to create effective and meaningful storytelling that renders real results. She studies English Literature and double-minors in Environmental Systems and Society and Environmental Engineering at UCLA.

1 Gender and climate change-induced migration: Proposing a framework for analysis. Author Namrata Chindarkar. Published by School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, College Park, USA. Published on 22 June 2012. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254496452_Gender_and_climate_change-induced_migration_Proposing_a_framework_for_analysis
2 Berta Cáceres: 2015 Goldman Prize Recipient South and Central America. Published by The Goldman Environmental Prize. Retrieved from https://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/berta-caceres/



Spotlighting Belmont Pier in Long Beach, a busy fishing spot, and Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program.

Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier is located in Long Beach near the Belmont Shore neighborhood. The current pier opened in 1967 and is 1,800 feet long. At the end of the pier, there is a large hexagonal area with two “wings” extending 120 feet from each side, giving the pier an overall T-shape.  

Belmont Pier is popular for fishing and like other piers, a fishing license is not required to fish there. However, anglers must make sure to follow fishing regulations regarding size, limits, and seasons for certain species.  

Over the last 18 years, Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program (AOP) has been educating anglers at Belmont Pier (and 7 other piers) about fish contamination, which fish to avoid eating, and which fish are safe to eat. This program is part of the Fish Contamination Education Collaborative (FCEC)which is managed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of a far-reaching public education and outreach program about the Palos Verdes Shelf superfund site.  

The Belmont Pier is located in the red zone, where levels of DDT and PCBs are high due to the nearby contaminated site. These toxins can travel through the food chain and accumulate in certain fish – fish caught in the red zone that should not be consumed are the white croaker, black croaker, barred sand bass,  topsmelt,  and barracuda.  

Our Angler Outreach Program is currently suspended due to COVID-19, but when we were able to have in-person outreach, Belmont Pier was regularly one of the top piers in terms of numbers of anglers we talked to. In 2018, we reached 9,801 anglers across 8 piers in the LA region. AOP team members visited all the piers for equal amounts of time, but talked to over 2,500 anglers at Belmont Pier alone (approximately 25%).


Belmont Pier on February 25, 2021

When we conduct outreach to anglers, we also collect data on the types of fish they are catching and each anglers’ zip code . We collect zip code data from new anglers,  and those we have not done outreach to before. In 2018, we collected zip codes from 1,165 anglers at Belmont Pier. The areas where the most anglers came from included Long Beach, as well as surrounding inland areas of Carson, Bellflower, Paramount, and Huntington Park. Collecting this data helps ensure that outreach is also conducted in the communities where anglers reside, through the community partners of the FCEC, along with piers.

In 2018, we documented that anglers at Belmont Pier caught 1,051 fish (over a total survey time of ~144 hours). Of those fish, the majority (85%) were mackerel. We did find that 61 (or 6%) of those fish were on the “do not consume” list, including white croaker, topsmelt, and barred sand bass. There is still a need to continue educating anglers about fish contamination and ensuring that they have the knowledge to protect themselves and their families.


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Necesitamos su ayuda para hacer responsables a los contaminadores y a sus aliados políticos.

Una reciente investigación del LA Times destapó que la corporación contaminadora Montrose no solo vertió medio millón de barriles con residuos contaminados con DDT en la bahía, el doble de lo estimado, sino que junto a agencias del gobierno escondieron el vertido cerca de la isla Catalina durante décadas, exponiendo a personas, animales y ecosistemas marinos enteros a uno de los compuestos químicos tóxicos más peligrosos que se ha hecho nunca.

Heal the Bay está presionando a las agencias y a los cargos electos para que se ocupen de limpiar el DDT y protejan la salud pública.

Foto de LA Times, David Valentine, ROV Jason

Originalmente desarrollado como insecticida, el compuesto químico DDT es conocido hoy en día por su impacto en la salud y la destrucción del medioambiente. El DDT es especialmente devastador porque nunca desaparece. El productor de DDT más grande de los Estados Unidos, Montrose Chemical Corporation, tenía su base en Torrance entre 1947 y 1982. Y durante esa época vertieron cientos de toneladas de residuos tóxicos al océano en la zona de Palos Verdes. Fueron a juicio y terminaron pagando un acuerdo, y el área fue designada como superfund site (zonas contaminadas de Estados Unidos que requieren una respuesta de limpieza a largo plazo por contener contaminantes nocivos) por la EPA en 2000.

Décadas más tarde, nos enteramos de que la misma corporación contaminadora vertió cerca de la isla Catalina el DOBLE de DDT que se había estimado previamente, junto a otros compuestos tóxicos además. Nadie está rindiendo cuentas por ese medio millón de barriles que se están filtrando a nuestro suelo marino hoy en día.

Las agencias gubernamentales necesitan redoblar sus esfuerzos de una forma clara. No nos podemos escurrir de estos desastres del pasado. Y tampoco podemos ignorar los retos que suponen estos compuestos tóxicos para el presente y el futuro.

Las pruebas demuestran que el DDT ha entrado en la cadena alimenticia, afectando la salud de miles de personas que comen alimentos del mar procedentes de la bahía, y también está llevando a especies, como las águilas calvas, hacia la extinción. La comunidad científica y los expertos en salud están preocupados por el impacto a largo plazo de la bioacumulación de DDT en el océano.

LA no puede esperar otra década para lidiar con los compuestos tóxicos en nuestro océano. La crisis climática está acelerando la subida del nivel del mar y las temperaturas, que ya de por sí tienen un impacto suficientemente negativo en el océano y nuestras comunidades.

Heal the Bay está lista para embarcarse en otra batalla para proteger nuestro océano, hacer responsables a los contaminadores, y a mantener al público, especialmente a los pescadores locales y usuarios recreativos del agua, informados sobre los riesgos para la salud del legado tóxico de DDT en LA. Su contribución posibilita nuestra misión de mantener el agua limpia para todos. Done a Heal the Bay.

Traducido por Beatriz Lorenzo


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A Note from our CEO

As the year comes to a close, we feel energized for what’s ahead. 2021 will not be business as usual. There is too much at stake. Now is our chance to take bold action for present and future generations.

Climate change must be slowed or much will be lost. Heal the Bay pushes government leaders to protect water and biodiversity from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Santa Monica Bay.

Clean water and safe, accessible open space are fundamental for public health. Heal the Bay fights for strong permits that require green solutions to our local pollution problems.

The toxic legacy of plastic production and waste impacts our everyday life. Heal the Bay supports a ban on disposables that harm our neighborhoods and wildlife habitats.

A better world is possible when we empower our youth. Heal the Bay gives students the tools to advocate for their future by testifying at hearings and writing letters to elected officials.

We must recover environmental policy rollbacks. Heal the Bay has the expertise to regain ocean, river, and wetland protections, and solve today’s problems by upholding the Clean Water Act.

We are living in a critical decade for our planet. The hard work in front of us won’t happen by itself. Your donation to Heal the Bay supports our mission of making the coastal waters and watersheds in Southern California safe, healthy, and clean through science, education, community action, and advocacy.

Amidst all the challenges, you can trust that Heal the Bay is here for good. We will not stop until we succeed.

Donate

Thank you for doing your part.

Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay President and CEO

Interested in learning more about Heal the Bay’s impact in 2020? View Shelley’s reflection on the year behind us.

 



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

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Heal the Bay’s Communications team sat down with Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay CEO and discussed her reaction to the in-depth story in the Los Angeles Times uncovering DDT dumping near Catalina that happened more than three decades ago.

What is your reaction to the recent LA Times article on DDT pollution in the Bay? 

I am shocked. We know about the superfund site off of Palos Verdes. We worked on the scientific and legal investigations in the 1980s and 1990s. We supported U.S. and state agencies in their lawsuit against Montrose Chemical Corporation and three other companies, which was finally settled in 2001. Heal the Bay helped create the Angler Outreach Program to inform local subsistence anglers about the toxic waste that contaminates the fish they are catching to feed their families. 

But these thousands of barrels of DDT dumped near Catalina were not part of the discussion.  

It took years to negotiate the cleanup requirements for the Palos Verdes site. It’s just unfathomable the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Justice (DOJ), and the State Water Board all knew about the additional contamination and did not make that part of the cleanup and mitigation requirements.  

The impacts of half a million barrels of leaking DDT are far-reaching.  

DDT is an especially devastating chemical because it never goes away. It gets into ocean animals and concentrates as it moves up the food chain. It harms untold numbers of fish, marine mammals, and birds, as well as people in especially vulnerable communities – people fishing to feed their families.  

And in this time of climate change, this DDT dumped in the waters off Catalina is yet another blow to our ocean. Oceans are already stressed from warming and acidification, as well as overfishing and pollution from products like plastics, that never biodegrade or leave the environment.  

How can we hold polluters accountable? 

It’s so hard. Sometimes as nonprofits we have to fight unethical corporations and our own governments. Today we’re talking about DDT from Montrose Chemical Corporation. Last month we saw Exide Technologies, Inc. was allowed to walk away from the toxic lead and arsenic mess they created for three decades near 110,000+ residents in East LA, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Bell Gardens, Vernon, Cudahy, Maywood, Bell, and Huntington. 1 Support East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in the fight to hold Exide accountable.

Corporations can leave. Government officials can leave. But our communities stay. 

This DDT was dumped decades ago and a settlement for a portion of the pollution was already reached. Now we will fight again to hold these polluters accountable. We will start by asking the EPA, DOJ, Coastal Commission, and the State Water Board what jurisdiction they have to bring further claims against the parties responsible for the DDT dumping, and by collaborating with agencies who show they want to fix this problem. We demand solutions and will take action to reach them.      

What more needs to be done to protect communities and habitats? 

In addition to legal action, here are three things we must do:   

  1. We need a lot more education for people who rely on fish they catch to feed their families. Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program is the model: we reach the most vulnerable people, in their own languages, and in places where they feel comfortable receiving this information. 
  2. We need more frequent and extensive monitoring of sediment and fish, to track contamination that can harm animals and the people who eat them. Every five years is not enough; we need detailed assessments to understand what is happening to the DDT that is out there.
  3. We must find a way to clean up the DDT and PCBs in our ocean. We know the pilot project to cap the Palos Verdes site was not a success, but that does not mean we walk away. The EPA, NOAA, and other agencies must convene the experts who can come up with the next step and the next, until we find a way to deal with this toxic legacy.   

 Tell us what you think should be done. Contact Us.

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1 East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice