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Category: Water Quality

The LA Regional Water Board approved an agreement for one of the nation’s most polluted sites. Concerns about transparency, accountability, and loopholes in this agreement leave the public vulnerable to continued contamination from the Santa Susana Field Lab.

THE REGIONAL WATER QUALITY CONTROL BOARD VOTED ON AUGUST 11 to approve an agreement concerning Boeing’s highly contaminated Santa Susana Field Lab, formerly known as Rocketdyne, located in the hills above Simi Valley. The agreement sets up a process by which Boeing will eventually be able to remove its water quality regulations after cleanup has been completed, and after they have proven that runoff from the site is clean. Heal the Bay attended the 10-hour-long August 11 hearing and, while we fully support cleanup, we voiced our concerns that this agreement would not adequately protect water quality or public health and asked for a postponement to make improvements to the plan. We also raised concerns with the process — the agreement was made behind closed doors, the public was not able to submit written comments, and the only opportunity to speak was at the hearing. Due to an overwhelming turnout from members of the public, input at the hearing had to be further reduced from the typical 3 minutes to 1 minute and cut off completely at 5pm.

Both Boeing and the Regional Board claimed that this agreement was necessary for Boeing to commit to the required cleanup work, and that a delay in approval of the agreement would only delay the cleanup efforts. Stakeholders were put in an unfair position, threatened with delayed cleanup if we did not support an agreement that we had remaining concerns about. However, the blame for delays should not be placed on stakeholders and community members; these concerns and objections are not what is slowing down the process — Boeing has yet to even start a cleanup that was supposed to be completed back in 2017. As community member Marie Mason mentioned to me at the hearing, “If Boeing wanted to do the right thing, they would have done it 20 years ago,” and could have avoided the impacts of pollution and contamination exposure during that time. Further, the cleanup plan itself also raised concerns (see more on this in the next section) and while the decision before the Board was not specifically on the cleanup plan, the cleanup and the agreement are inextricably linked, and approval of the agreement meant a de facto approval of the cleanup plan.

Despite the overwhelming call for either a no vote or a delay, the Board unanimously approved the agreement, with minor edits. Heal the Bay will remain engaged on this issue because the bottom line is that cleanup to a level that is fully protective of human and ecological health needs to happen as soon as possible.

The history of contamination at the Santa Susana Field Lab

Boeing, NASA, and the Department of Energy own the Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) site, where industrial activities were conducted from 1949 to 2006 to test rocket engines and nuclear reactors. This site contains high levels of contamination from these past activities, which have negatively affected the ecosystem, the groundwater, and the surface water that runs off the site, as well as the communities that rely on those water resources. Additionally, SSFL is located on top of a hill, which means that runoff from the site flows downhill into the community to the north in Simi Valley, feeds into the headwaters of the Arroyo Simi waterway, and feeds into theheadwaters of the Los Angeles River. Contamination from this site affects the entire LA Region, but the impacts are felt most severely in local communities.

In 2007, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) set requirements to fully clean up the contaminated soils at SSFL by 2017. But after decades of litigation and delays (led by Boeing), we are now five years after that deadline, and the cleanup has barely even begun. The longer we wait for Boeing to clean up their mess, the longer our ecosystems and communities are exposed to the contamination. In fact, the 2018 Woolsey fire remobilized existing contamination, leading to 57 distinct surface water violations in a single wet season. Had the cleanup been completed by 2017, as originally required, these violations would not have occurred. To add insult to injury, nearly all of Boeing’s fines associated with those violations were waived. Members of the community are the ones paying the price. According to a study by epidemiologist Hal Morgenstern of the University of Michigan, “the incidence rate [of cancer] was more than 60% greater among residents living within 2 miles of SSFL than among residents living more than 5 miles from SSFL.”

To avoid additional delays, CalEPA announced in May 2022 that a new cleanup settlement had been negotiated over the past several years between DTSC and Boeing, with an agreement that Boeing would not sue over this one. However, with no opportunity for public engagement, or even public comment, stakeholders have been left with so much uncertainty surrounding the new cleanup requirements. Community groups, non-governmental organizations, and even municipal legal consultants have reviewed the final cleanup agreement. These expert reviews have revealed a number of contamination limits altered in the latest version, and there is uncertainty on whether these changes are based on the best available science.

The agreement between Boeing and the Regional Board

The LA Regional Water Quality Control Board, which regulates only the surface water runoff at this site, drafted an agreement (also known as a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU) with Boeing to outline how Boeing can eventually remove its water quality regulations. The MOU requires Boeing to complete the soil cleanup as required by DTSC, and conduct modeling and monitoring to prove that surface water runoff is clean. The Regional Board believes that this MOU provides an extra safety measure, setting additional milestones to protect surface water quality, even if the cleanup agreement is flawed.

Although we agree with this in theory, the MOU can only offer this type of reinforcement for surface water quality protection if significant changes were made to the agreement language. Unfortunately, the Regional Board offered no opportunity for written comment on the MOU. Luckily, Heal the Bay was able to attend the hearing in person and provide our full statement in writing to the Board members, even if our verbal comments were cut short.

Heal the Bay’s Recommendations to improve the Santa Susana Field Lab MOU

  1. To address remaining concerns about the agreement, we asked the Regional Board to commit to providing a period for written public comments on the monitoring program to show whether surface water runoff is clean.
  2.  We recommended that the MOU must ensure regulation of past industrial activity, not just of future construction activity.
  3. While the MOU had the potential to provide assurances for protection of surface water, the potential was not there for groundwater. We urged the Regional Board to reclaim regulatory authority of groundwater to ensure that the long-term quality of both surface water and groundwater at this site were sufficiently protective of human and ecological health.
  4. If buried contaminated soil is left behind under the DTSC cleanup requirements, an earthquake or another fire followed by flooding could re-mobilize buried contamination. We demanded that the MOU include a statement to ensure that the responsible parties would have to address any and all remaining contaminated soil so long as they pose a risk to human or ecological health.

“This MOU is an opportunity to provide a backstop to protect surface water quality even if there are flaws in the cleanup agreement. However, the MOU can only offer this type of reinforcement if some changes are made… To ensure that our concerns are addressed, we request that the Regional Board commit now, within the language of the MOU, to providing a period for written public comments on the monitoring program.”
– Elana Nager, Heal the Bay

Heal the Bay Policy Intern, Elana Nager, provides public testimony at the August 11, 2022 Hearing of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board concerning the Santa Susana Field Lab Memorandum of Understanding.

In response to Heal the Bay’s comments, the Regional Board did commit to our recommendation #1, to provide a period for written public comments on the monitoring program — a program that will determine whether the cleanup was successful. We have remaining concerns about how rigorous that monitoring program will be, but by securing a public review we will at least get the chance to address those concerns later on.

Additionally, in response to pressure from Heal the Bay and a community-based coalition (including Parents against Santa Susana Field Lab, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Committee to Bridge the Gap, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), the Regional Board took our recommendation #2 and removed one small word – “or” – from the agreement. This small change will require permit coverage for stormwater discharges associated with past industrial activity, and permit coverage for stormwater discharges associated with construction, as needed for any future cleanup activity. Originally, permit coverage could have only addressed construction activity, which would have been insufficient.

“We request that the ‘or’ in this statement be removed… Coverage must be specifically related to past industrial activity. One word makes a world of a difference.”

– Prince Takano, Heal the Bay

Heal the Bay Policy Intern, Prince Takano, provides public testimony at the August 11, 2022 Hearing of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board concerning the Santa Susana Field Lab Memorandum of Understanding.

Although Board Member Christiansen attempted to include provisions for all of Heal the Bay’s recommendations, our two biggest concerns about re-mobilization of contaminated soil and pollution of groundwater were ultimately left unaddressed. In fact, when the Regional Board asked DTSC to address these concerns, DTSC Director Williams responded simply that groundwater will be monitored, and that the geology at this site is complicated. There was no additional discussion.

Even with the severely limited public process, significant remaining concerns, and the hundreds of voices asking for a either a no vote or a delay (including surprising testimony from former Regional Board Chair Lawrence Yee, who attended as a member of the public to ask the Board to reject the agreement), the Regional Board unanimously approved the MOU, with minor edits.

Where do we go from here?

The few small changes to the MOU do ensure a better public process moving forward, but do not ensure that this MOU will protect surface water quality or public health. However, we might have another chance to hold Boeing accountable for contaminated surface water runoff through their current water quality regulations (or discharge permit), which is up for renewal right now and will be upheld until cleanup is complete and they have proven that surface runoff is clean. There will be another Regional Board meeting later this year to discuss that permit. Heal the Bay will be there advocating for a strong permit that is protective of water quality not only in runoff from the site, but also runoff on the site, which can infiltrate into the ground and further contaminate the soils and groundwater. Stay tuned for more information about that meeting, and how you can join Heal the Bay to hold Boeing accountable.

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EDITOR NOTE: Since the publishing of this blog post, the Regional Board has reached out to Heal the Bay to clarify that the reduced speaking time offered during the hearing was a direct result of the unusually large turnout from members of the public. The article has been updated to acknowledge these conditions.

Written by Annelisa Moe. As a Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist, Annelisa helps to keep L.A. water clean and safe by advocating for comprehensive and science-based water quality regulation and enforcement. Before joining the team at Heal the Bay, she worked with the Regional Water Quality Control Board in both the underground storage tank program and the surface water ambient monitoring program. 



It’s been a year since the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant sewage spill. Where are we now?

ONE YEAR AGO TODAY, a catastrophic flood at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant (Hyperion) sent 13 million gallons of sewage into the Santa Monica Bay endangering the health and safety of Los Angeles County beachgoers and Hyperion workers. For several weeks after the spill, surrounding communities were blanketed in noxious fumes, and the Plant continued to discharge millions of gallons of undertreated wastewater into the ocean as repairs were made. Public notifications were alarmingly slow and reckless with L.A. County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) taking nearly 24 hours to close beaches and issue sewage spill advisories. This major breakdown in infrastructure and public notification is something we cannot afford to have happen again.

Here, we provide a short recap of the response to the spill as well as the most recent updates. For more information about the spill, check our original blog post.

The Response to the Spill

In the weeks after the spill, Heal the Bay supported motions put forth by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and the L.A. City Council to investigate the cause of the spill as well as the public notification protocols used by government agencies. These motions resulted in the creation of two reports – one created by L.A. Sanitation (hereafter 30-day Report), and one created by an ad hoc committee (hereafter Ad Hoc Report) of experts that included Heal the Bay’s CEO at the time, Shelley Luce, as well as Heal the Bay’s current CEO, Tracy Quinn, who was with the Natural Resource Defense Council. Around this time, L.A. Sanitation launched a website providing information and data about the recovery status of Hyperion in a bid for transparency. 

30-day Report 

The 30-day Report was released several weeks after the spill, and offered much needed clarity on the events leading up to the spill and an assessment of the damage to Hyperion. This report also provided a minute-by-minute account of the day of the spill. While this report was valuable, it did not identify the cause of the spill as there was not enough time for a thorough investigation.

Ad Hoc Report 

The Ad Hoc Report was released on February 11, 2022 and was more comprehensive than the 30-day Report. The Ad Hoc Report found that a series of missteps led to the sewage spill rather than a single sudden influx of debris that inundated Hyperion’s machinery, which was the original theory. The report recommended improvements and next steps for improving Hyperion’s operations including upgrades to the trash removal equipment; improved alarm functionality; and more staffing and training. 

Enforcement 

This event caused Hyperion to violate both water and air pollution regulations, which means they could be penalized by two government agencies: L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) and the South Coast Air Quality Management (SCAQMD) district. Both agencies state that investigations are ongoing, but we do have some information:

  • The SCAQMD has identified 39 separate air quality violations, but since their investigation is still in progress, there is no information about penalties at this point. The SCAQMD states that air pollutant levels no longer exceed state thresholds.
  • The LARWQCB has not released information about violations publicly, but we do know that there were sewage discharge and water quality monitoring violations. According to the LARWQCB, Hyperion may be fined between up to a maximum of $10 per gallon of sewage spilled depending on how severe the LARWQCB deems the spill. Given that 13 million gallons were discharged into the ocean, potential penalties could be $130 million dollars – with additional monetary penalties for each day they were in violation (up to $10k per day). Unfortunately, the LARWQCB has a poor track record when it comes to enforcement. In 2015, when Hyperion discharged 30 million gallons of sewage into the Santa Monica Bay, they were fined a little over $2 million or 7 cents a gallon. That penalty is well below the $10 per gallon maximum the LARWQCB could enact.  

Latest Updates 

On June 29, 2022, L.A. Sanitation (LASAN) provided the public with updates on the status of the Plant’s operations:

Completed  

  • LASAN worked with LACDPH and other agencies to improve public notification protocols.  
  • Additional staff have been hired at Hyperion. 
  • Alarms are audible and more visible in the Headworks facility; emergency protocols have been updated; and staff have received additional training. 
  • Certain buildings were upgraded to make them less vulnerable to flooding.
  • More effective air filters were installed to address fumes.  

In Progress 

  • Pipes carrying wastewater to the Plant will be inspected and cleared of debris. 
  • The flood control mitigation feature in the Headworks facility will be automatic and will not rely on an employee to activate the feature in case of an emergency.
  • All equipment in the Headworks facility will have the ability to be operated remotely in case conditions in the Headworks facility are too dangerous for workers.
  • Electrical equipment will be updated and protected so it can withstand a flood.
  • New covers will be installed on effluent storage tanks, which will help prevent noxious fumes from seeping into the surrounding neighborhoods. Sensors will also be installed around the facility’s perimeter to measure fume concentrations.  

What Comes Next 

We are glad to see that Hyperion has made so many upgrades to its infrastructure within one year of sustaining catastrophic damage. At face value, the updates to Hyperion’s operations, both completed and in progress, will prevent a similar disaster from happening in the future at the Plant. However, this will not be the end of major sewage spills in Los Angeles County. Until major infrastructure updates are implemented across the County, we can expect to see failures in our sewage system like the December 2021 spill in Carson. We urge decision makers to fund infrastructure updates to keep pollution out of our communities and ecosystems. 

LASAN will also need to work on rebuilding public trust as Hyperion transitions to full wastewater recycling by 2035. This transition means that Hyperion will no longer discharge treated water to the ocean, but will instead recycle 100% of its water to provide for a reliable and local source of water in the face of ongoing drought and climate change impacts. Heal the Bay is a strong supporter of this effort to reduce our reliance on imported water as well as reduce impacts to the ocean – we will be tracking the issue closely to ensure that public health is prioritized along with sustainability.

L.A. Sanitation and LACDPH have stated that they are working together on updated protocols for public notifications in case of a sewage spill, but we have seen little documentation or evidence of this. We urge both agencies to provide us with more information on how they will communicate with each other and the public in case of a sewage spill.  

Once LARWQCB and SCAQMD complete their investigations, they will levy a monetary penalty on Hyperion/L.A. Sanitation. Some of these funds could go towards Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) – which are projects aimed at improving the environment. For example, approximately $1 million of the penalties resulting from the 2015 Hyperion spill went to environmental education programs including Heal the Bay’s and LASAN’s Don’t Flush That campaign. Another $1 million went towards cleanup and abatement costs of the spill. We urge LARWQCB and SCAQMD to enact fines that will adequately remediate the damage caused by this spill and also act as a deterrent for future environmental violations. Check out L.A. Waterkeeper’s blog for more information. 

Heal the Bay will continue to monitor this issue and provide updates. We’d like to thank our local communities for diligently staying informed on this issue. Right after the spill happened, we received countless inquiries from members of the public, and in response we hosted a Live discussion on Instagram to answer your important questions. If you continue to have questions about the spill, please contact us.  


Written by Luke Ginger. As a Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist, Luke fights for the environment’s rights by advocating for water quality regulation and enforcement. He’s also looking out for the humans who go to the beaches, rivers, and streams by managing the Beach Report Card, River Report Card, and NowCast programs. 



Resumen ejecutivo
Heal the Bay se enorgullece en publicar el cuarto informe anual del boletín River Report Card. Este informe proporciona un resumen de las calificaciones de la calidad del agua en áreas recreacionales del condado de Los Ángeles (L.A.) durante el 2021. Los ríos, arroyos y lagos del condado de L.A. reciben multitudes de visitantes cada año y son vitales para satisfacer las necesidades recreacionales, áreas verdes y prácticas culturales de la comunidad. Desafortunadamente, muchos sitios de recreación en el condado de Los Angeles tienen problemas de contaminación por bacterias indicadoras fecales (FIB), lo que indica la presencia de patógenos que pueden causar infecciones, irritación de la piel, enfermedades respiratorias y gastrointestinales. Nuestro objetivo es resaltar las preocupaciones sobre la calidad del agua, abogar por mejorar este problema y brindar a los miembros de la comunidad información necesaria para mantenerse seguros y saludables cuando disfrutan de sus área recreacionales locales.

  • De los 35 sitios calificados durante el verano de 2021, el 59 % obtuvo luz Verde en su calificaión (lo que indica que no hay riesgos para la salud debido a la calidad del agua); El 17% obtuvo luz Amarilla (riesgo moderado para la salud) y el 24% luz Roja (alto riesgo para la salud).
  • Heal the Bay amplió el informe del boletín River Report Card para incluir seis nuevos sitios de monitoreo en la parte baja del río de L.A. desde Maywood hasta Long Beach. Si bien estos sitios no están oficialmente designados para la recreación, las personas acuden regularmente a esta parte del río. Los datos brindan información para los usuarios y nos dan una perspectiva para futuros esfuerzos de revitalización del río.
  • Siete sitios de monitoreo no excedieron los lilmites permitidos de bacterias patógenas, obteniendo así calificaciones ecológicas del 100 %. La mayoría de estos sitios están ubicados en el sector del Angeles National Forest.
  • Todos los seis sitios de monitoreo de la parte baja del río de L.A. experimentaron una muy baja calidad de agua, lo que los hace acreedores a los peores sitios de la lista. Las concentraciones de bacterias a menudo fueron diez veces mayores a los estándares de calidad de agua.
  • Después de los sitios de la parte baja del L.A. River, Tujunga Wash en Hansen Dam encabezó la lista de los peores sitios recreacionales con un 94 % de calificaciones que obtuvieron luz Roja, porcentaje más alto visto en este sitio desde que se inició el informe del River Report Card.
  • Por cuarto año consecutivo, a la altura de Rattlesnake Park en el río de L.A. esta otro sitio en lista de los peores sitios recreacionales. Este sitio popular recibe un flujo constante de contaminación bacteriana cerca del drenaje pluvial a la altura de la calle Fletcher Ave para quienes pescan, hacen kayak o caminan por sus aguas.
  • Las Virgenes Creek a la altura de la calle Crags Road experimentó un gran aumento en el porcentaje de calificaciones con luz Roja con respecto al año anterior. Este sitio en el Parque Estatal Malibu Creek ocupa la posición nueve en la lista de los peores sitios recreacionales.
  • Las áreas con desarrollo urbano tienden a recibir las peores calificaciones que las áreas naturales, y la mayoría de los peores sitios en la lista se cuentran en los 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 se ven menos afectados por la escorrentía urbana.

Heal the Bay estuvo conmovido por el gobernador Gavin Newsom quien firmó el Proyecto de Ley de la Asamblea (AB) 1066 en 2021. Este proyecto iniciará un proceso para proteger la salud pública y la calidad del agua en sitios recreacionales como ríos, lagos y arroyos de California. El proyecto de ley, escrito por el asambleísta Bloom y patrocinado por Heal the Bay, asignará al Consejo de Monitoreo de Calidad del Agua de California (California Water Quality Monitoring Council) para hacer recomendaciones a la Junta Estatal de Agua (State Water Board) de un programa uniforme de monitoreo de sitios recreacionales de agua dulce en todo el estado para diciembre de 2023. El programa del Consejo incluirá definiciones propuestas para sitios recreacionales y “sitios prioritarios recreacionales de contacto con el agua” en California. El Proyecto de Ley AB 1066 abordará las disparidades en el monitoreo de la calidad del agua entre sitios recreacionales de agua dulce y playas costeras.

Heal the Bay se compromete a mejorar la calidad del agua en las cuencas hidrográficas del condado de Los Ángeles mediante la creación de áreas verdes. Las áreas verdes, mejoran la calidad del agua local, aumentan la reutilización y el suministro de agua, reducen el carbono y mitigan el efecto aislado de calor urbano. Además de proporcionar áreas de recreación y hábitat para los animales vida Silvestre, pueden también funcionar como soluciones esenciales de múltiples beneficios para las aguas pluviales. Como ejemplo podemos mencionar la creación de Inell Woods Park: un nuevo espacio verde de múltiples beneficios y diseñado por la comunidad que se construirá este año en el sur de Los Ángeles. Heal the Bay construirá el parque de aguas pluviales en colaboración con el concejal de la ciudad de Los Angeles Curren Price Jr. y miembros de la comunidad para capturar, tratar y reutilizar la escorrentía urbana y proporcionar espacios verdes y recreativos a la comunidad. Los proyectos de beneficios múltiples como este son de uso eficiente y efectivo de nuestros contribuyentes que sirven tanto a las necesidades comunitarias como ambientales.



UPDATE 3/1/2022

Another ocean water desalination plant has been proposed for construction in Huntington Beach. This project has also been opposed by the environmental community and by the public for years. Poseidon will be applying for a coastal development permit to build their ocean water desalination plant with the CA Coastal Commission. This meeting was originally scheduled for Thursday, March 17, 2022. However, the meeting has been postponed, and no new date has been announced yet. Keep an eye out – we’ll let you know when it gets rescheduled.

UPDATE 2/10/2022

Two critical decisions were made in 2021 to protect LA’s coastal waters from the negative impacts of large-scale ocean water pumping. All too often, we see exemptions, extensions, and approvals for projects that threaten our coastal waters, but the tides may be turning!

Previous extension approvals allowed the Redondo Beach Once Through Cooling Facility to avoid fees associated with years of water quality violations; a trend that ended with this Regional Board Vote. And, LA County’s West Basin Board of Directors voted to terminate a massive ocean desalination project proposed for El Segundo in a shocking step forward for protecting coastal waters.

Are these victories signs of systemic change? And what can Californians do to keep this trend of transformation going while combating large-scale industrial interests that are dangerous to our environment and public health?

Let’s jump into what we mean by ‘ocean water pumping’ and how these two coastal project decisions uphold the Clean Water Act, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.

Protecting the Santa Monica Bay from Harmful Industrial Water Pumping

Industrial water use includes the large-scale pumping (or “intake”) of ocean water and it has severe negative impacts on the health of our coastal waters. The intake of ocean water threatens sea life with impingement (being sucked up against an intake pipe) and entrainment (being sucked up into an intake pipe), both of which can cause serious injury or death. The Clean Water Act of 1972, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, requires the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate this pumping to minimize those negative impacts.

At the end of 2021, two critical decisions were made right here in Los Angeles, that support these Clean Water Act regulations by limiting industrial ocean water intake and holding those who continue to use it accountable.

Rejection of Extension Request from the Redondo Beach AES Power Plant and Once-Through Cooling Facility


Seabirds and Pinnipeds are just a few species that can be affected by the Once-Through Cooling process used in locations like Redondo Beach (King Harbor / Dana Murry )

Once-Through Cooling (OTC) is a process used by power generating facilities to cool down generators using water. Most of these facilities, especially in California, are located along the coast, positioned to use ocean water. But this kind of large-scale ocean water intake is what threatens sea life with impingement and entrainment. After the water is used, it is usually released back into the ocean, but oftentimes at a higher temperature and with pollutants from the equipment, causing possible water quality violations and concerns for coastal wildlife.

OTC was first recognized as a threat to California’s fisheries, estuaries, bays, and coastal waters in 2005, leading to the approval of a Statewide OTC Policy in 2010. Heal the Bay was one of many stakeholders that worked together to craft the requirements of the OTC Policy. One major compromise was the long time schedule, giving all OTC facilities 10+ years to either shut down or transition away from OTC operations. Now that we are finally approaching those deadlines, we are seeing many of these OTC facilities asking for extensions beyond the original 10+ year grace period.

Over the last two years, the Redondo Beach OTC Facility has requested two separate extensions for operation. Despite opposition from environmental groups and Redondo Beach Mayor Brand, the State Board approved both, allowing the Redondo Beach OTC Facility to continue operations through December 31, 2023. The Redondo Beach Facility then requested an extension (referred to as a Time Schedule Order) from the Regional Water Quality Control Board to essentially waive any fees for water quality violations of the OTC wastewater they release during this time.

On December 9, 2021, the Regional Water Board voted 3-1 to deny this request after hearing clear opposition from NGOs like Heal the Bay, as well as from representatives from the City of Redondo Beach. This was the first time in years that the Regional Board has denied any Time Schedule Order request. The Redondo Beach Facility is still allowed to operate, but they are no longer exempt from fines associated with their contaminated OTC wastewater discharges. If the vote had gone the other way, it would have provided a clear and easy path for additional operational extensions. This critical decision by the Regional Water Board will help to protect water quality by putting pressure on the Redondo Beach Facility to shut down their OTC operations by the new December 31, 2023 deadline.

Termination of the West Basin Ocean Water Desalination Project

Desalination, or the process of sucking in seawater and removing the salt to convert it to freshwater, might initially seem like a logical way to get more freshwater for Southern California. But ocean water desalination has many negative impacts on the environment, and the truth is that we do not need it. Although Southern California does face consistent drought conditions, we can source enough water locally to support all of our water needs without ocean water desalination by focusing on smart water practices like water conservation, recycling efforts, and stormwater capture. One of the myriad problems with desalination is the ocean water intake process, which poses the same impingement and entrainment threat as OTC operations.

The West Basin Municipal Water District had proposed an ocean water desalination plant in El Segundo, intending to reuse decommissioned OTC piping to intake ocean water. This project has been hotly contested for decades, with strong opposition from the environmental community (including Heal the Bay) as well as from the public, because it is the most expensive and energy-intensive way to obtain fresh water and simply does not make sense for Southern California.

At a meeting of the West Basin Board of Directors on December 23, 2021, the Board voted 3-2 to terminate the ocean water desalination project, after hearing from 25 members of the public speaking in opposition to the project. Many factors contributed to this decision including a report from West Basin proving that ocean water desalination is not needed to meet water supply demands for LA. But a final vote from Board Member Houston, quoting the fact that there is no longer public support for the project, broke the tie.

Upholding the Clean Water Act to protect our water, ecosystems, and communities

West Basin’s decision to terminate its ocean water desalination project stopped new industrial intake from affecting our coastal waters and stopped an unnecessary, expensive, and energy-intensive system from being built. The Regional Water Board’s decision to deny the Redondo Beach Facility Time Schedule Order provides extra incentive for the Facility to stop intake operations and to shut down the inefficient, fossil fuel burning Redondo Beach Facility altogether. Both decisions protect coastal waters, ecosystems, and communities in Santa Monica Bay and uphold the Clean Water Act by minimizing the negative impacts of industrial intakes.

Save the Date to Advocate Against Ocean Water Desalination

Public interest and intervention played a big part in both outcomes, just as this huge turnout did for the decision on a desalination plant proposal for Huntington Beach at Coastal Commission meeting in 2013.

Both decisions were swayed by public demand for safe and clean water, but we cannot stop here. To shift the tides so that public and environmental protection becomes the standard, we need more decisions like these. You can help to advocate against ocean water desalination and demand safe and clean water for all.

Another ocean water desalination plant has been proposed for construction in Huntington Beach. This project has also been opposed by the environmental community and by the public for years. Poseidon will be applying for a coastal development permit to build their ocean water desalination plant with the CA Coastal Commission on Thursday, March 17, 2022. Check out this Fact Sheet from the CA Coastal Commission for more information or engage with our partners at Orange County Coastkeeper to advocate against ocean water desalination.

UPDATED NOTE: As of February 28, 2022 the March 17, 2022 meeting has been postponed and no new date has been announced. 




Cabrillo Beach is seen empty after the city of Long Beach closed the beaches due to a report of a spill of between two and four million gallons of untreated sewage into a canal in Carson, in Long Beach, California, US. December 31, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. (REUTERS / DAVID SWANSON – stock.adobe.com)

A massive and dangerous sewage spill happened late last week in Carson. Millions of gallons of raw sewage flowed through residential areas, into storm drains, in the Dominguez Channel, and out to the ocean.

Some Long Beach beaches, OC beaches and LA beaches are closed and will remain so until daily water quality testing for fecal-indicator bacterial pollution shows contaminants have reached an allowable level.

Heal the Bay is calling on officials and agencies to increase water quality monitoring during emergencies and to prevent sewage spills from happening by rapidly updating aging infrastructure.

Follow Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card for the latest water quality information.

 

LEARN MORE

 



(Photo Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP, NPR)

A federal grand jury has filed charges against the Houston-based oil company responsible for the Orange County Oil Spill that dumped 25,000 gallons into the Southern California ocean coastline. Is this a step forward for environmental justice, or just barely enough?

Amplify Energy and two of its subsidiaries were charged on December 15, 2021 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for negligence that led to the oil spill off the Orange County coast in October 2021. The energy company’s actions that led to the charges include:

  • Failing to properly respond to eight alarms from the pipeline’s leak detection system, and subsequently allowing oil to flow through a damaged pipeline for over seven hours.
  • Operating an oil pipeline with an understaffed and fatigued crew that was not properly trained on the leak detection system.

These charges come with a maximum penalty of five years of probation for Amplify Energy and potential fines, which may reach millions of dollars. We do not yet know what probation would look like for Amplify Energy, but in general, the judge presiding over the case can require them to change their operation or conduct if the corporation is placed on probation.

This action, while positive in that it highlights the extreme negligence that occurred, is unfortunately not enough of a deterrent for oil drilling companies to improve their practices or to go so far as to consider ending drilling. The fines are a drop in the bucket for an industry that generates over $100 billion annually, and indictments target the corporations and not the individuals in charge of the corporations, again softening the accountability blow.

The only way to prevent another oil spill from happening is to end oil drilling. It is clear that the system we have for overseeing and penalizing oil extraction companies is not sufficient for protecting our priceless and increasingly endangered ecosystems as well as fenceline communities and public health. Oil extraction companies continue to operate recklessly knowing that they can quickly recover financially.

To enact meaningful change we must phase out oil extraction all together whether it’s happening in the ocean or in our neighborhoods. We are excited to see the legislation that Senator Min will be introducing in January, which promises to end all drilling in California state waters. Ending offshore oil drilling does not mean that we can expand drilling on land – we must transition to renewable energy as soon as possible to address the climate crisis and the environmental injustices that the oil industry has inflicted on fenceline communities.

Take Action!

  • Urge the California State Government to place a buffer between oil and gas operations and our homes.
  • Get involved with local organizations working to end oil extraction in our neighborhoods.
  • Find out who your representatives are and ask what they are doing to protect the public and environment from oil extraction.


Our winters bring increased rainfall in the Los Angeles region. During this season, when many don’t usually flock to the beach like during warmer months, our Storm Response Team is our ocean’s first responder after major rain events. 

Winter Storms in LA

The biggest storm of the 2021-2022 winter season, as of yet, arrived in Southern California on Tuesday, December 14, 2021. “As far as intensity, it’s one of our stronger storms,” Kristan Lund, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said in the LA Times. “It’s definitely the strongest we’ve seen so far, and potentially one of the stronger ones we’ll see this season.”

While we desperately need the rain to quench our ecosystems, unfortunately it comes with a wave of trash. 

Stormwater is the major source of pollution for rivers, lakes, and ocean in Los Angeles County, California. The first flush from a major rain event brings a flood of water, toxins, debris, and trash from our streets straight onto our beaches through the storm drain system. The untreated runoff eventually dumps pollution onto local shorelines. This waste poses a significant risk for wildlife and marine life who can ingest trash or get entangled, and also for the health of our communities who can get sick from bacteria-polluted water.

Our local waters need your help combating marine debris after every big storm in LA during the winter.

Take Part in a Self-Guided Cleanup

Gather friends and family or go solo to take part in a storm response cleanup by spending 30 minutes to an hour cleaning up around your neighborhood or local outdoor space. Remember, trash removed from a street or park means that less waste will make its way through the storm drain system, onto our beaches, and then out to sea.

In addition to doing a cleanup near you, take a look at the map above and target these beach sites today or this week. Highlighted areas are near storm drain outfalls and usually have the most trash after it rains—so this is where you can make the biggest impact. 

Join the Storm Response Team

The rain is coming, are you ready to answer the call?

This won’t be LA’s last storm. Heal the Bay needs more volunteers to join our Storm Response Team for the rainy season to help remove trash, track data, and document photos. If you’re interested in joining our dedicated Storm Response Team to be the ocean’s first responder after #LARain, sign up to receive alerts about volunteer opportunities! 

Join the Storm Response Team

Already a Storm Response Team Member?

Keep an eye on your email inbox. About 24-hours after each rainfall has ended the Storm Response Team leader will email an alert with the location of the next cleanup. When the storm rolls in, collect your gear and get ready to answer the call! If you need a refresher on how to prepare, what to bring, and how to safely take part, review the most critical storm response information.

Critical Storm Response Information

 

Thanks for Being the Ocean’s First Responder

Whether you joined the Storm Response Team, are in the process of learning more about the issue, or are leading a cleanup of your own soon, THANK YOU!

Share your efforts on social media and encourage friends, family, and your network to get involved by tagging your finds with @healthebay and #healthebay.

 If you have questions about our Storm Response Team, please reach out to Emely Garcia.

 

Special thanks to our sponsor!



On December 3, 2021 our local water agency leaders gathered together to discuss the major water challenges impacting Greater Los Angeles and how to solve them at Heal the Bay’s first-ever ONE Water Day event.

ONE Water Day at Will Rogers State Beach

The sun was shining, the DJ was playing the hits, and our Heal the Bay team was setting up for a cleanup (while dancing in the sand) as we welcomed over 200 attendees to a first-of-its-kind networking opportunity at Will Rogers State Beach. ONE Water Day  brought together many prominent heads of local government agencies and engineering companies to meet and discuss the future of water in Los Angeles. There were more than 26 different organizations represented at this networking event, sparking countless partnerships, and raising over $120,000 for Heal the Bay.

The Cleanup

ONE Water Day attendees participated in a scavenger hunt to clean the beach and experience what trash and debris ends up at our beaches from all over our local watersheds.

After guests had time to mix and mingle, the day started off with a land acknowledgement to recognize the Tongva and Chumash tribal ancestral lands where the event was being held. Then attendees were invited to participate in a Heal the Bay scavenger hunt for trash. This hands-on and team-oriented beach cleanup was an opportunity for individuals from different organizations to collaborate and observe first-hand the realities of pollution.

In just 30 minutes, 19 teams collected 200 buckets of trash along two miles of the Pacific Palisades coastline. Amongst an eclectic array of waste, more than 600 cigarette butts were collected, with Team 12 taking home first place prizes for the most items captured.

After the cleanup, a panini lunch was served by the fantastic team of Critic’s Choice Catering, giving attendees a chance to recharge and enjoy the many event exhibitors and perfect beach weather on a winter day.

The Panel

ONE Water Day Panel, guest speakers from left to right; Martin Adams, Robert Ferrante, Adel Hagekhalil, Dr. Shelley Luce (host), Mark Pestrella, Barbara Romero, Dave Pedersen.

Next on the agenda was a panel conversation hosted by Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay CEO and President. The panel guest speakers included six influential leaders speaking on the topic of Los Angeles water. All were eager to discuss systemic water quality issues, the impacts of climate change, and the cooperative solutions they envision for Los Angeles.

Speakers included: Adel Hagekhalil, General Manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; Barbara Romero, Director and General Manager, LA Sanitation and EnvironmentRobert Ferrante, Chief Engineer and General Manager, Los Angeles County Sanitation DistrictsDave Pedersen, General Manager, Las Virgenes Municipal Water DistrictMartin Adams, General Manager and Chief Engineer, LA Department of Water and Power; Mark Pestrella, Director of LA County Public Works.

Energy was high and the feeling was hopeful as the ONE Water Day panel shared their visions for the future. Guest speakers from left to right; Adel Hagekhalil, Dr. Shelley Luce (host), Mark Pestrella, Barbara Romero.

Takeaways from the ONE Water Panel from Dr. Shelly Luce

ONE Water Day was a unique event. The panel was a rare honor and opportunity to question each of the guest speakers on their plans for building a sustainable water supply for Los Angeles in this time of extreme drought and climate change.

 We learned so much from our panel speakers at the event. The Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation and the Department of Water and Power are collaborating to recycle treated wastewater for drinking water. The LA County Sanitation Districts and the Las Virgenes Metropolitan Water District are doing the same in their respective areas, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. And, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works is collaborating with cities throughout the region to capture and treat urban runoff, aka stormwater, so it can be infiltrated into groundwater or reused for irrigation.

 This massive shift to conserving and recycling our water has taken place incrementally over decades. It requires a level of collaboration among agencies that has never occurred before.

 Adel Hagekhalil, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District, stated it perfectly:

We take water for granted, and we forget that water is essential to firefighting, to drinking, to our health and our safety; hospitals don’t run without water. Fire cannot be fought without water. Businesses cannot run without water Schools cannot be schools without water. Homelessness cannot be addressed without water. So, water is life,” Hagekhalil said. “Sometimes we’re willing to pay $200 for our cell phone, but are we willing to pay that money for the future of our water?”

 To demonstrate this commitment, Hagekhalil asked everyone at the event to stand and pledge to work every day toward the ONE Water goals. All did so, willingly and enthusiastically. It was a great moment for all of us who care deeply about our sustainable water future to affirm our commitment.

Thank You

A huge thank you to the amazing ONE Water Day Sponsors, our proud partners of Heal the Bay, and organizations that are leading the way in their commitment to environmental sustainability:

AECOM, WSP, Metropolitan Water District, LA Sanitation and Environment

 

Thank you to all the guests in attendance. Your initiative and dedication are vital toward building a bright and equitable future for water in Los Angeles.

See Event Pictures

 

 

Los Angeles has major water challenges to solve, and Heal the Bay sees events like this as an opportunity to upload the value of collaboration and accountability, to continue conversations that lead to solutions, and to create opportunities for partnerships like never before. This Heal the Bay event is the first of its kind for our organization, but is certainly not the last.

 

Want to support our ongoing efforts for for One Water?      Donate Here




Barrel containing industrial toxic waste found off the coast of California. (David Valentine / ROV Jason)

It’s hard to believe that it has been just over a year since the LA Times broke the shocking story of large-scale and widespread dumping of DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) waste in the deep waters of the San Pedro Basin, off the coast of Southern California, prior to about 1960. The dumping of DDT took place in unceded Tongva, Acjachemen, and Kizh ancestral waters.

The revelation of this extensive, deep-water dumping by UCSB scientist Dr. Valentine and story by LA Times environmental reporter Rosanna Xia horrified even those of us who have worked for decades on the well-known DDT Superfund site in shallower waters off the coast of Los Angeles, in the Palos Verdes shelf. However, this deep-water dumpsite was a lesser-known piece of the toxic legacy of DDT production by the Montrose Chemical Company in Torrance.  

DDT, a legacy pesticide, is known to have devastating and long-lasting impacts on wildlife, ecosystems, and human health. 

DDT was produced by Montrose from 1943-1983 at their Torrance factory, with much of their DDT-contaminated waste dumped into the sewer system and eventually released in the waters of the Palos Verdes shelf, off the coast of Los Angeles. This created the largest underwater Superfund site in the United States. Stormwater runoff from the factory contaminated the Dominguez Channel and Port of LA too, both of which remain poisoned to this day. And, over the last year we learned that DDT-waste was also taken in barges far offshore and dumped in the deep ocean.  

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 who rely on fishing to feed themselves and their families.  

There are still many questions that need to be answered about the nature and extent of DDT contamination in the deep ocean. We must discover the hard truth about how it continues to poison our ecosystems, including people and marine life. 

Since the LA Times article came out, there have been some steps in the right direction but much more needs to be done. Options for removal or mitigation must be explored. The health of people who eat local seafood, especially subsistence fishers, must be protected. Companies that caused the pollution must be held accountable, and government agencies that oversee research and cleanup must be proactive in their work. Above all, the public must be engaged and informed on progress clearly and frequently. 

Led by Senators Feinstein and Padilla, the federal government has a proposed earmark of $5.6 million for NOAA, UC Santa Barbara, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography to study the San Pedro Basin deep-water DDT dump site. This is a great start but is not finalized yet and is only about half the amount needed to conduct a comprehensive assessment.

Further, research, mitigation, and cleanup efforts must be approached collaboratively at all levels of government to begin to understand and address this natural disaster as the implications for environmental and public health are far-reaching.

Sign this petition urging Governor Newsom and the California Senate and Assembly to commit, at a minimum, $5.6 M in the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year State budget to match the proposed federal funding allocated to DDT. The State of California permitted this dumping and needs to dedicate resources to tackling this disaster in collaboration with federal agencies.  

Sign Petition

The following organizations have signed on to this petition:

Heal the Bay
Clean Water Action
Surfrider Los Angeles Chapter
LA Waterkeeper
Surfrider Foundation

 



The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board chose to delay clean water progress 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.


UPDATE 9/30/2021

On September 21, 2021, the State Water Resources Control Board approved the LA Regional Water Board’s extensions for nine water quality deadlines ranging from 1.5-6.5 years, allowing for the continued discharge of pollutants from across LA to drain through our communities and into the Pacific Ocean.

This decision was made without evidence of good faith efforts towards achieving the requirements, without justifying the need for those extensions, and without putting in place sufficient oversight requirements to ensure progress is made. This is a terrible precedent to set considering how important these deadlines are.

However, comments from Heal the Bay along with our partners at LA Waterkeeper in opposition to these deadline extensions, did at least give pause to Board Members before their final decision. During Board deliberations, the lack of progress (only 6% complete) was highlighted, the need for accountability was raised, and a clear statement was made that the COVID-19 pandemic is not a reason to weaken water quality standards (which would further threaten public health). Board members also stated that this approval does not mean that deadlines can be delayed indefinitely.

If permittees return to once again request extensions, we will remind the State Board members of these declarations. Together we can Take LA By Storm to keep permittees accountable to these new deadlines and to their Clean Water Act requirements. Sign up for emails to stay informed, receive implementation updated, and find out how you can engage in the process!

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UPDATE 9/15/2021

During the February hearing on TMDL deadline extensions, the LA Regional Water Board voted to approve extensions for nine TMDLs ranging from 1.5-6.5 years, allowing for the continued discharge of pollutants from across LA to drain through our communities and into the Pacific Ocean. But this decision must be approved by the State Water Resources Control Board before it is made official.


On March 11, 2021 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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