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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Water Quality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 



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

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

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

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

Here are some of the major findings:

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

Download Report in English

Read Executive Summary in Spanish

Download Press Release

Donate to Heal the Bay

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

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

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


About the River Report Card

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

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

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

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

Interested in learning more? Contact our team!



Today on #WorldWaterDay we celebrate women environmentalists who saw a problem, spoke up, and changed the world.

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

Despite these challenges, environmentalists of color and women continue to be on the front lines of creating change. Get to know these 5 women environmentalists who have created an inspiring and bold 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.

 

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Dorothy Green (1929 – 2008), Los Angeles

Founder of Heal the Bay, the late Dorothy Green was a celebrated environmental and grassroots activist in California who stopped millions of gallons of sewage from being dumped into the Pacific Ocean and changed water policy in California. She also created the Los Angeles & San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council (now the Council of Watershed Health). Her goal was to restore and preserve the ecological health of the ocean and watersheds and advocate for better water quality in the Los Angeles region. Her legacy lives on today in our organization’s mission.

In honor of National Women’s History Month, we thank these women environmentalists, from around the world, who fought for what was right despite facing strong opposition for simply being who they were. Women and girls are leaders in their communities and agents of change. Supporting and listening to them will benefit the health of our planet for generations to come.

 


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/



SINGLE-USE PLASTIC

It’s estimated that there will be more plastic by mass than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

What we’re doing: Advocating for a ban on polystyrene food and drink containers in the City and County of Los Angeles. Following the model that propelled the statewide plastic bag ban in 2014, we are fighting to rid our beaches and neighborhoods of polystyrene trash. Our volunteers have removed more than 500,000 bits of Styrofoam from beaches in L.A. County over the past decade!

What you can do: Encourage your favorite restaurants to go plastic-free voluntarily

CLIMATE CHANGE

L.A. County could lose more than half of its beaches by 2100 due to coastal erosion related to warming seas.

What we’re doing: Reducing our carbon footprint is a complicated endeavor involving multi-national agreements, but we’re committed to taking action locally. Our staff scientists are advocating for the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands and other natural buffers to climate change.  Our policy staff is advocating for infrastructure projects that capture and reuse treated wastewater, instead of piping water from up North at tremendous cost and energy use.

What you can do: If you own a car, take public transit once a week. If you aren’t a vegetarian, skip meat one day a week.

Credit: (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

POLLUTED WATER

There are roughly 175 impaired water bodies and 1,317 specific impairments* in greater L.A., meaning they exceed federal clean-water standards and require formal remediation plans.

What we’re doing: Heal the Bay holds polluters accountable by ensuring that cities adhere to their stormwater permits. These MS4 permits**, which will be renewed this year, allow dischargers to send runoff into the L.A. County stormdrain system as long as effluents do not exceed acceptable levels of metals, oils, harmful bacteria and trash. It’s a bit wonky, but watchdogging these permits is essential for maintaining safe and healthy water in our region.

What you can do: Pick up your pet waste … always. Patronize car washes that capture runoff. Reduce chemicals from reaching the sea by reducing your use of pesticides and fertilizers.


*A specific pollutant in a waterbody, measured at levels that exceed federal Water Quality Standards. Many waterbodies in the L.A. Region are impaired by multiple pollutants.

**Permits issued by the Water Quality Control Board that monitor and regulate pollution in stormwater runoff. 



Thanks to NowCast, today is a good day for surfers who paddle out in Southern California’s prime wintertime waves and want to stay healthy.

For the first time, Heal the Bay staff scientists are running our NowCast water-quality predictions from December through March for a select few surf breaks.

NowCast predictions are the best water quality information available for beaches in California. They are made using machine-learning models, based on the most recent environmental conditions, and publicly available every single morning. By checking NowCast predictions before they go out, ocean users can reduce their risk of getting sick from polluted water.

NowCast predictions are now available each day by 7 a.m. for these very popular surf breaks:

  • Venice Breakwater
  • Manhattan Beach (near 28th Street)
  • Redondo Breakwater
  • Huntington Beach (near Beach Boulevard)
  • Santa Ana River Jetties

We want people to catch a wave, not the stomach flu. You can find NowCast predictions on our Beach Report Card website and mobile app.

We have been running NowCast successfully for beaches in the summer months since 2015, predicting water quality before swimmers hit the shore. Last summer, we provided daily forecasts of predicted water quality for 20 beaches.

If you aren’t familiar with our NowCast system, here’s an FAQ about how we are continuing to improve water quality monitoring at California beaches.

What is the NowCast system?

The NowCast system provides information similar to a daily weather forecast, but this tool predicts good or poor water quality for the day at select beaches across California. NowCast predictions are made by statistical computer models that are calibrated on years of environmental and bacteria data to accurately estimate fecal bacteria levels in the surf zone.

Fecal bacteria levels can be affected by many environmental factors such as rainfall, tide levels, solar radiation, wind, and wave action. Water quality can even be affected by human-made factors such a stormdrain flow and the presence of piers or jetties. Because the effects of these factors on water quality varies from beach to beach, site-specific NowCast models are developed for individual beaches.

Predictions are made each morning by running the models using up-to-date environmental information, and are released by 7 a.m. When a model estimates that bacteria levels at a beach comply with the health standards, the NowCast result is shown as “Good”; however, if a model estimates that bacteria levels exceed health standards, the NowCast result is shown as “Poor.”

Why is the NowCast system important?

Currently, local health agencies use laboratory analyses of water samples collected at the beach to determine if it is safe for recreational use. Unfortunately, there is a long delay in this approach: It typically takes 24-48 hours to collect the samples, transport them to the lab, and analyze them. Meanwhile, water quality can change with environmental conditions. Additionally, most California beaches are sampled on a weekly basis (although there are some beaches that are monitored more frequently). As a result, health agencies currently rely on data that is days-old to make health protection decisions.

Predictive models like those used in the NowCast system can quickly and accurately provide daily water quality information based on the most recent environmental conditions at the beach. Local health agencies and organizations like Heal the Bay can then make public notifications of poor water quality in the morning before most people arrive at the beach.

Who created the NowCast system?

The NowCast system was created through a collaboration among Heal the Bay, Stanford University, and UCLA. The project is funded by the State Water Resources Control Board, and is supported by local health agencies throughout California. For more in-depth information on the research that went into creating the NowCast system, click here.

Will there be more NowCast beaches in the future?

Most certainly. This is our first season releasing predictions during the winter season, and our plan is to keep growing our winter system each season to more and more locations. We already release predictions during the summer for 20 California beaches, from Humboldt County to San Diego County.

Are NowCast predictions available during rain events?

No. When it rains in California, water quality typically plummets. As a result, beach managers (which include local health agencies and lifeguards) issue rain advisories. These warnings last at least 72 hours, and may not be removed from the beach until after water quality samples show that conditions have returned to safe levels.

Because rain advisories are the most conservative form of public notification, we do not release NowCast predictions when they are active. For information about water quality and rain advisories (and for another spot to check NowCast predictions), check the Los Angeles and Orange County health agency websites.  

 



November wildfires in California exacted a terrible toll, from the horrific devastation of the Camp Fire up north to the destruction wreaked by blazes in the greater Malibu area. Here we provide a detailed FAQ about how the Woolsey Fire affected the Santa Monica Mountains area, what the future holds for our region’s largest natural space, and what it all means for the Bay.

How bad is the damage in the Woolsey Fire burn areas from an ecological point of view?

The Woolsey fire burned nearly 97,000 acres and the nearby Hill Fire in Ventura County scorched approximately 4,500 acres. Three lives and many structures were sadly lost. Habitat and open space also suffered big losses; 88% of the land in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) owned by the National Park Service burned. This total does not include land owned by partner agencies — such as State Parks, which is also considered part of the SMMNRA; however, many of those areas also burned.

Chaparral in Southern California’s coastal zones is adapted to fire, but the frequency at which wildfires are occurring is not natural. Humans cause an estimated 95% of California’s blazes. Fires can be harmful to plants, animals, and the ecosystem.

Thick black smoke and heavy flames from the Woolsey fire burn out of control in the mountains in Malibu on Sunday, November 11. (Photo by Gene Blevins)

Plant species and communities adapt to typical fire patterns over time; if that cycle changes in frequency or intensity, we may expect to see longer recovery times. Habitats often cannot recover on their own. For instance, if its seed bank is destroyed by a very intense inferno, the native plant community may not be able to regenerate. After fires, invasive species may proliferate. One plant community may convert to another less biodiverse or complex zone.

Blazes also have big impacts on streams; they change the physical state of the waterway through increased inputs of sediment. For instance, after a fire, and particularly after a rain, deep pools in streams will be filled in with sediment. These changes can last for many years until the sediment is pushed out, which only occurs after many large storms.

Map of burned area from http://www.fire.ca.gov/

What about recreation? What are near-term impacts for visitors to area State Parks and State Beaches?

Many recreational areas are closed. Be sure to check for the latest updates before you head to them.

SMMNRA: Many structures burned:  most of Western Town in Paramount Ranch; Peter Strauss Ranch; part of the NPS/UCLA LA Kretz Field Station; luckily, the Anthony C. Beilenson Interagency Visitor Center at King Gillette Ranch was spared but remains closed. The NPS recommends hiking at Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa and at Cheeseboro and Palo Comado Canyons until other areas are opened.

State Parks & Beaches: Malibu Creek and Leo Carrillo State Parks sit in the burn area. They lost structures and remain closed. Structures lost at Malibu Creek State Park include: employee residences, the historic Sepulveda Adobe, the Red House, the M.A.S.H. set, Hope Ranch (also known as the White Oak Barn) and the Reagan Ranch. Structures lost at Leo Carrillo State Park include: the visitor center, sector office, employee residences, three lifeguard towers, Leo Shop structures, the Junior Lifeguard Complex, and several restrooms. Point Mugu and Topanga State Parks were not in the immediate fire zone but remain closed. The Woolsey fire burned El Matador Beach, and part of the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach, which remains closed. La Piedra and El Pescador are closed but did not burn. Malibu Lagoon and Point Dume State Beaches also remained out of the fire’s path but are closed.

Check on the status of State Parks and Beaches here: https://www.parks.ca.gov

Check on road closures here: https://dpw.lacounty.gov/roadclosures/

What happened to all the animals that lived there?

Many larger more mobile animals likely escaped immediate danger, such as deer, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions. In fact, the beloved mountain lions of the Santa Monica Mountains fared pretty well; of the 13 tracked via radio-collars by SMMNRA wildlife biologists, 12 have been confirmed as alive and moving. Unfortunately, #P74 is now presumed dead. Much of the cats’ needed habitat is gone, their food sources are reduced, and the remaining habitat will likely be unable to accommodate the large home ranges that they all require. Smaller less mobile animals likely suffered more direct losses than larger animals. However, all animals face the ongoing long-term impacts of habitat and food loss and increased competition.

Animals that live in streams face additional challenges, particularly as sediment and toxins enter the water after rains. The endangered red-legged frog requires deep pools with year-round water; the NPS has been successfully reintroducing red-legged frogs to a few locations throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. However, a rainfall in a burned area can bring significant amounts of sediment into these pools, filling them in completely and obliterating the frog’s habitat. Luckily, the source population for the red-legged frogs survived the Woolsey fire but ongoing vigilance will be required to ensure their survival.

How long will it take for the area to recover?

A biologist from the SMMNRA told the LA Times that it will take 10-20 years for the area to recover ecologically. Restoration activities, such as planting native plants and trees and removal of invasive species, will likely be needed in many areas. It will likely take significant time for the animal populations to reestablish themselves. Ongoing and new research will be key to monitoring the health of the ecosystems and success in recovery.

How will water quality be affected? What are the biggest dangers?

Fires can have significant detrimental effects on water quality. A forest or brush fire can exacerbate natural processes, such as the leaching of organic material and nutrients from soil, by removing stabilizing vegetation and increasing the potential for sediment runoff into waterways. Additionally, the concentrated brominated flame retardants used to contain and extinguish these fires are toxic and persistent, with long-term effects on water quality, aquatic life, and plant life.

While many of the immediate environmental impacts of a fire are local, atmospheric contamination from the fire plume can travel very long distances and redeposit toxic particulate matter on land or in waterways in other parts of the state and even in other parts of the U.S. Recent fires in California have caused unprecedented loss of private property, which means that the particulate matter in the fire plumes include the chemicals that are used or stored in our homes, offices and automobiles. This includes the metals and chemicals used to construct a building, the fuel from cars, cleaning supplies, other chemicals stored in garages, and much more.

What are the potential effects on water quality when rains – and possibly flooding and mudslides – come?

Stormwater is well known to be a major source of pollution in our waterways, particularly during a “first flush” event. After a storm, pollutants that have settled on the ground are washed into our rivers, lakes and ocean. After a fire, pollution on the ground is increased by the deposition of toxic particulate matter from the fire plume. Rain washes brominated flame retardants and the rest of this contamination into our waterways.

Fires can also cause more runoff, which means less natural filtration to remove contaminants from the environment. Blazes can destabilize the ground beneath us in some areas by removing vegetation, but it can also harden natural surfaces in other areas. This can occur simply through drying out healthy soil into a hardpan. Some plants, when burned, can leave behind a waxy residue creating a water repellent barrier (from KPCC).  This combination of enhanced natural processes, the presence of new toxic chemicals and increased erosion and runoff can cause toxic water conditions, detrimental to environmental, aquatic and public health.

Why are the Santa Monica Mountains important to our local environment?

The Santa Monica Mountains provide critical habitat and open space in close proximity to urban Los Angeles. Los Angeles is located in a biodiversity hotspot; this means that we have more species of plants and animals here compared to many other areas of the country and world. Many plants and animals thrive here and nowhere else, and unfortunately, development and other human impacts threatens this bio-diversity. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the world’s largest urban national park and the area provides an incredible opportunity for Angelenos to experience and connect with the natural world.

How is the health of the coastal mountains related to the health of the Bay?

Healthy watersheds and healthy coastal waters are inextricably linked. Heal the Bay has long worked in the Santa Monica Mountains. (You can see some of our scientists at work in the photo below.)  In 1998, we started our Stream Team community science program to assess the health of the Malibu Creek Watershed (the largest watershed in the Santa Monica Mountains and second largest draining to Santa Monica Bay). For 15 years, we conducted monthly water quality monitoring at  12 sites throughout the mountains. We also removed stream barriers and invasive species. In 2013, we published a comprehensive report on the State of the Malibu Creek Watershed. Every summer, we continue to monitor the water quality at popular freshwater swimming holes in Malibu Creek State Park. The land use, management, and way we treat the Santa Monica Mountains and all watersheds directly impacts the health of our local waters for humans and wildlife.

How can we all help people that live in fire-ravaged areas?

STAY INFORMED by following the official sources for disaster relief and recovery resources, including how to donate, upcoming volunteering opportunities, urgent safety information and more:

HOST PEOPLE IN NEED of emergency housing through Airbnb. Many people have been displaced and a roof over their heads along with a warm meal can help with health and wellness, as well as provide the temporary security and comfort people need to get back on their feet.

CONTINUE HELPING days, weeks and months after the disaster occurs. Give blood. Sign up to be a disaster relief volunteer or an environmental educator. Host a fundraiser. Whatever it is you can do, keep it up!

How can people help with the restoration of these natural places?

It is too early to start restoration work right now. Once needs have been better assessed, check out these great organizations and resources for ways to get involved:

SAMO Fund This nonprofit supports the preservation and enjoyment of the SMMNRA; their Outdoors calendar lists great opportunities by many organizations.

SMMNRA  Our local National Recreation Area also offers direct volunteer opportunities.

Mountains Restoration Trust   MRT has long been a partner with Heal the Bay. MRT suffered the loss of its plant nursery in the fire but we know the group will continue to do great work of habitat restoration and removal of invasive crayfish from local streams.

TreePeople  The organization works to restore areas of the Santa Monica Mountains by planting native plants and trees, caring for them, and removing invasive species.

Will this happen again?

Unfortunately, catastrophic fire events are likely to happen again in California. Gov. Jerry Brown aptly noted “This is the new abnormal, and this new abnormal will continue.”  Experts from all fields, including CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott, agree that climate change is creating conditions in many parts of the world that make fires in California more likely and more severe. The Fourth National Climate Assessment estimates that the amount of acres burned by fires each year will almost double by 2060.

What is the direct connection to climate change, if any?

It would be inaccurate to say that climate change is the cause of these wildfires in California. However, the impacts of climate change have produced the ideal conditions for record breaking fires. Globally, we have seen 16 of the last 17 years documented as the hottest years on record. With climate change, we anticipate longer periods of drought, followed by heavy precipitation events in California — a weather whiplash, so to speak. We recently experienced the worst drought in California’s history, followed by a very wet winter in 2016-17. While it gave us an incredible super bloom that we could see from outer space, it also ended up leaving behind a lot of dead fuel as the record-breaking temperatures and drought conditions resumed. As a result, we have witnessed 4 of the top 20 largest fires in California  in the last two years. And 15 of the 20 these blazes have occurred since 2002. The Camp Fire, however, is the most destructive by a long shot. And unfortunately, when floods follow fire, dangerous mudslides can result.

How can we better prepare to reduce the risk of this happening again?

In the long term, the best way to reduce the risk of fires is to address the effects of climate change by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and returning our environment to a more natural system (with healthy soils, healthy vegetation and a healthy aquatic ecosystem) that can sequester carbon. This will ensure that the conditions we are experiencing today do not get worse. And there any many small changes that everyone can make at home to help reach this goal, like using public or active transportation, making sure that your home is energy-efficient, and planting new vegetation.

However, we know all too well this these fires are not a future issue, but a risk that we face today. So what can we do today to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our property? The California Wildland Fire Coordinating Group has some tips, at PreventWildfireCA.org, including campfire safety, debris burning, and equipment use. And Cal FIRE has released a guide called Prepare for Wildfire, with instructions on how to put in fire-safe landscaping and create an evacuation plan.

 

 



A word to the wise: Avoid water contact at Los Angeles County beaches for at least 72 hours, following last night’s surprise storm.

All that lightning provided a beautiful show, but the accompanying rain did a number on our beaches.

The county’s 2,800-mile storm-drain system is designed to channel rainwater to the ocean to prevent local flooding. But it also carries tons of trash and bacteria-laden runoff directly into the Santa Monica and San Pedro bays following stormy weather.

A single major storm can send 10 billion gallons of water into our bays!

There’s another equally disturbing aspect to the runoff – it’s a huge waste of a precious resource.

Los Angeles imports costly and increasingly scarce water from Northern California and the Colorado River. We now import more than 80% of our water, using enormous amounts of energy and capital to do so.

Stormwater — if held, filtered and cleansed naturally in groundwater basins — could provide a safe, more secure and less costly source of drinking water. If L.A. County voters approve Measure W in next month’s election, the county’s Public Works Department would receive $300 million to build multi-benefit stormwater capture projects throughout the region.

The modest parcel tax would create a lattice of parks, green streets and wetlands throughout the region. Instead of sending runoff uselessly to the sea, the projects would capture and clean more than 100 billion gallons of water for reuse throughout the region. That’s enough to meet the water needs of 2.5 million Angelenos each year.

“It’s depressing to see all the waste on our shorelines after a big storm,” said Shelley Luce, president of Heal the Bay. “But it’s just as depressing to think about all that rainwater we are wasting. By approving Measure W, voters can turn a nuisance into a resource. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and we need to seize it.”

More than 70 major outfalls spew manmade debris, animal waste, pesticides, automotive fluids and human-gastrointestinal viruses into the marine ecosystem after storms. This pollution poses human health risks, harms marine life and dampens the tourist economy by littering shorelines.

During the rainy season, Heal the Bay reminds residents that they can take steps in their own home to take pressure off an already taxed stormdrain system. Among them: keep trash out of gutters and stormdrains, dispose of animal waste and automotive fluids properly, and limiting runoff by curtailing such wasteful practices as hosing driveways and overwatering landscapes.



Measure W is a water-quality funding measure on the November 6, 2018 ballot in Los Angeles County. Heal the Bay encourages you to VOTE YES ON W. Help us spread the word: Take part in an upcoming Measure W event -and- get the facts about this modest parcel tax that would increase our region’s local water supply upon voter approval.

L.A. has a once-in-a-generation chance on November 6, 2018 to capture, clean and save up to 100 billion gallons of rain each year — enough water to meet the needs of more than 3 million Angelenos annually.

Let’s not waste water. Let’s not waste this opportunity to secure our water future. Join a phone bank and see our Action Alert to encourage your social circles to VOTE YES ON W.

 

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Get informed:

Frequently asked questions about Measure W:

Q: Why does L.A. County need the Safe, Clean Water Program?
We live in a water-scarce area. Forces outside of our control can threaten our local water resources, including lakes, rivers and beaches. L.A. County residents rely heavily on imported water – as much as two-thirds of our water is imported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Owens River, Arizona, and the Colorado River – hundreds of miles away.

Climate change is causing more and more extreme weather conditions, making these remote sources more unreliable. The impacts of the recent five year drought were widely felt here.

Rainfall is an essential, local source of L.A.’s water. Rain runs through local rivers, creeks
and streams and can be absorbed into the ground, replenishing our local groundwater supply. However, because so much of our region is paved over, when we do experience heavy rain, too much of that precious water is lost to the ocean before we can capture and clean it for use.

Our local water resources are also threatened by contaminants and pollution as
stormwater runs over streets and over paved areas into our rivers, creeks and streams. Pollution flows onto our beaches and into the ocean, posing a risk to public health risk and marine life.

Q: Is clean water normally scarce in the L.A. region or did the recent drought
cause a water shortage?
Even in years with normal rainfall, L.A. County is a water-scarce region. The recent five year drought put even more stress on our local water resources and made our regular situation dramatically worse. As climate change causes more weather extremes like the drought, we need to take significant steps now to protect and improve our local water resources.

Q: I know the drought was seriously harmful for our local water supply, but
didn’t the heavy rains last winter make up for it?
Unfortunately, no. When we do experience heavy rains, like this past winter, our existing stormwater system can only capture a fraction of that rainfall. Each year, L.A. County loses over 100 billion gallons of water – enough to meet the needs of more than 3 million people annually.

 

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In addition to missing the opportunity to capture, clean and save more water, stormwater runoff picks up toxins from parking lots, streets and other developed areas and carries them into our rivers, lakes, streams and eventually our ocean. As extreme weather conditions become the new normal, we need a system that can capture more local rainfall, and clean and save it for future use.

Q: Do we capture and store rain already when we experience storms? How
much rainwater can we capture and store now?
Right now, L.A. County captures and stores enough rain each year to meet the needs of
approximately 1 million locals – about 10 percent of our county’s population.

Existing dams in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains capture rainfall and stormwater that is conveyed to a network of “spreading grounds” – shallow and deep basins that have a sandy, gravelly, and/or cobbled bottom that allows water to pass into the ground, naturally filtering it along the way. The spreading grounds work in conjunction with the dams to capture as much water as possible to minimize the amount that flows to the ocean. Eventually, this water gets pumped into a water treatment and distribution system for us to use.

Unfortunately, our current system can’t capture all the rainfall we get. A major opportunity for a more reliable local water supply is capturing more rainfall, which we can store underground, clean, and re-use.

Q: How much more water could we be saving for our region?
With the Measure W investment, we could as much as triple the amount of rain we capture, preserving enough water to meet the needs of nearly 1/3 of Los Angeles County community, ensuring our region can see benefits from erratic and intense rain events.

Q: What funding exists for these important projects?
While some types of water supply projects are supported by reliable revenue, like regular rates, there is no dedicated funding source for stormwater projects.

Q: Can we count on the federal government to protect our beaches and water resources?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Clean Water Act have
historically been key in establishing stringent water quality standards; however, they provide minimal funding. Today, it’s more important than ever for our County leadership to take action to improve local water resources for L.A. County residents.

Q: How is L.A. County helping to solve these challenges?
There are smart solutions to help address the challenges we face when it comes to protecting and improving our local water resources, our beaches, rivers, creeks andstreams. L.A. County and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District have developed a program – the Safe, Clean Water Program – based on modern science, technology and nature-based solutions to:

  • Keep toxins and trash from washing into local lakes, rivers, streams, beaches and the ocean
  • Take advantage of less regular, more intense rainstorms in order to save more rainfall and clean it for use, which would mitigate the impact of drought and also protect public health
  • Increase community protections against extreme weather patterns and climate change while adding natural areas, shade and green space to enjoy

Q: What would the L.A. County Safe, Clean Water Program do?
If we are able to get out the vote and pass Measure W in L.S. County this November, the Safe, Clean Water Program would fund stormwater capture projects and programs that improve water quality; increase water supply; and invest in communities by developing a skilled local work force, greening schools, parks and wetlands, and increasing public access to natural areas like rivers, lakes, and streams.The Program would fund the construction and maintenance of projects that:

  • Protect public health by cleaning stormwater pollution and contamination
  • Safeguard marine and other wildlife from trash and toxins in stormwater runoff
  • Mitigate severe drought impacts by increasing local water supply
  • Update our local water infrastructure to capture and treat stormwater
  • Help cities meet their Clean Water Act obligation to clean stormwater

The program would prioritize projects that use nature-based solutions to capture, clean, and conserve stormwater, which can beautify communities while improving our resilience against extreme weather patterns of drought and heavy storms.

Q: What types of projects would the Safe, Clean Water Program Fund?
The Safe, Clean Water Program would fund a suite of project types that capture, clean, and conserve stormwater, from regional projects that benefit entire watersheds, to small local projects in communities. Some example project types include large wetland projects, enhancement of spreading grounds to capture water, water infiltration galleries under parks or other open space, or other “low impact development” that uses greening to capture and treat stormwater.

The best way to capture more water is to rely on natural areas, like streambeds, grassy parks, grassy fields at schools and other non-paved areas. These areas absorb rain naturally and refill our underground reserves.

One of the most exciting parts of the Safe, Clean Water Program is that the projects would use this strategy to not only capture more rain, but to also increase shade, parkland and natural areas for people and wildlife in our area in the process. See conceptual examples of projects that the Safe, Clean Water Program may fund.

Q: Would the Safe, Clean Water Program fund any programs?
Yes! In addition to projects on the ground, the Safe, Clean Water Program would also
fund a variety of educational and capacity-building programs for the region, which may include: local workforce job training; curriculum for schools; and public education on stormwater.

Q: How would the Safe, Clean Water Program be funded, and what would it cost me?
The L.A. County Department of Public Works has analyzed costs and funding
mechanisms to support critical rainwater capture and water quality projects in our region, and is proposing that the L.A. County Flood Control District levy a special parcel tax based on impermeable surface area (paved or built areas where water cannot infiltrate, and instead runs off as stormwater).

The modest tax would be levied on private properties in cities and unincorporated areas located within the L.A. County Flood Control District. The ultimate cost of the tax per parcel would be based on total area of impermeable surface on each property. An appeals process would be available for any properties that believe their tax amount has been incorrectly calculated. Currently under discussion are options for crediting those who are already capturing stormwater, and incentivizing others who want to do more. Calculate your estimated parcel tax.

Q: How much money would the Safe, Clean Water Program raise, and how
would the money be spent?
The Safe, Clean Water Program would aim to raise about $300 million per year to
implement needed stormwater capture projects. 90% of the total revenues collected for
the Safe Clean Water Program – currently aimed to be roughly $270 million – would be
available as a funding source to municipalities and communities.

All tax revenues generated for the Safe, Clean Water Program would be allocated as
follows:

  • 40% to a Municipal Program that would return funds directly to cities and
    municipalities for projects that improve water quality and provide additional
    benefits
  • 50% to a Regional Program that would fund watershed-based projects with
    regional benefits including increased water supply and stormwater pollution
    reduction
  • 10% to a District Program for local workforce training, development and
    implementation of educational programs, and for overall Program administration

Q: What is the Municipal Program, and what would it fund?
40% of revenues from the Safe, Clean Water Program would be returned directly to cities and unincorporated areas in the L.A. County Flood Control District proportionate to what each municipality is contributing toward the Program. Projects would be required to at least have a water quality benefit, and are encouraged to have additional benefits, including greening of schools, creation of parks and wetlands, or increased water supply.

The intent of the Municipal Program is to provide flexibility and local control so that funds can go toward those projects and programs each local government thinks best address local stormwater challenges and opportunities. Notably, cities and municipalities can use up to 30% of their local return revenues to pay for operations and maintenance of projects that existed prior to the commencement of the Safe, Clean Water Program, and related activities.

Q: What is the Regional Program, and what would it fund?
50% of revenues from the Safe, Clean Water Program would fund watershed-based
projects that provide regional benefits, including stormwater pollution reduction,
increased water supply, and investments in communities on the ground.

The majority of funding for the Regional Program would go toward regional and small scale capital improvement projects – new infrastructure. A portion of these funds would be made available for scientific studies and technical assistance.

The Regional Program funds would be distributed to 9 identified “Watershed Areas” in
the L.A. County Flood Control District in proportion to the revenue collected in that area. The Program would include provisions ensuring that investments are made in underserved and low-income areas for the implementation of projects that would provide clean water benefits for all.

 

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Q: What is the District Program, and what would it fund?
10% of revenues from the Safe, Clean Water Program would fund: coordination of
stormwater education and capacity-building programs; provision of regional leadership and coordination for water quality planning and modeling; implementation of multi-benefit projects; and overall administration of the Safe, Clean Water Program.

Q: Who would decide how to spend Safe, Clean Water funds?
Municipal, Regional, and District funds will be administered differently, as follows:

  • Municipal Program: Each city and unincorporated area in the L.A. County Flood Control District would have control to allocate funds returned to them in the manner that they believe best meets Program goals
  • Regional Program: Stakeholder committees for the 9 identified “Watershed Areas” in the L.A. County Flood Control District would identify projects, and relay them to a regional oversight committee to make a final recommendation for affirmation by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors
  • District Program: The L.A. County Flood Control District would determine how to use these funds to administer programs, studies, and the Program as a whole

Oversight measures, reporting, and auditing procedures would be in place for each of
these programs to ensure that Program funds are being used in the most beneficial ways possible.

Q: Who would be eligible to apply for funding?
The Safe, Clean Water Program has very broad applicant eligibility to increase access to funding. Any individual, group, special district, school, municipality, non-governmental organization (NGO), non-profit organization, community based organization (CBO), public utility, federally recognized Indian tribes, state Indian tribes listed on Native American Heritage Steering Committee’s California Tribal Consultation List, mutual water company, or other entities that submits a project for consideration would be eligible to receive funding through the Safe, Clean Water Program.

Q: Would schools benefit from the Safe, Clean Water Program?
Yes, schools would be eligible to apply for funding to implement projects. They also
would be valuable partners for developing projects with other entities.
Public school districts would not be taxed under the potential funding measure.

Q: How is the County going to take advantage of other existing funding
sources for this program?
L.A. County and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District are working to identify
funding and opportunities to share costs with other agencies. Several cities in the County are investing limited funds in stormwater capture and re-use plans, and the L.A. County Safe, Clean Water Program would help unify these efforts and maximize resources to support safe, clean local water resources for all L.A. County residents.

Q: Who would oversee the Program and spending?
Oversight mechanisms are critical to ensure that Program funds are being spent
responsibly and that benefits are realized throughout the region over time. Each of the funding recipients within the Municipal, Regional, and District will be required to undergo an independent audit every 5 years.

Q: Is anyone exempt from paying for the Safe, Clean Water Program?
The Program proposes to exempt low-income senior citizens. Public properties, like
public schools, would be constitutionally exempt from the proposed parcel tax.

Q: When will money from the Safe, Clean Water Program be available for projects?
Immediately after the potential voter approval of Measure W, the process for evaluating and soliciting regional projects begins. As part of the Municipal Programs, cities could start receiving funds for local stormwater capture projects and programs as early as Winter 2020.

Q: What are the primary outcomes the Safe, Clean Water Program would likely achieve?
The Safe, Clean Water Program would result in a series of outcomes, including:

  • Meaningful improvements in water quality
  • Meaningful increases in local water supply
  • Community investments, including greening of streets and schools, and improved access to rivers, lakes, and streams
  • Improved collaboration with stakeholders to consider and implement projects and programs that offer the greatest potential for significant impact
  • Tangible benefits in communities throughout the region

Q: Would the Safe, Clean Water Program help our cities comply with current State and federal water quality standards?
Investing in local water quality is a priority for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors wants to ensure that any funds spent through the Safe, Clean Water Program help our area meet standards for clean water, while also addressing other regional priorities, such as adequately protecting the region against impacts of future droughts, improving the resilience of our water system, and delivering tangible benefits to our communities.

Q: Would the Safe, Clean Water Program be better for public health?
Yes. It’s no secret that dirty water from heavy storms results in beach closures following heavy rain in Los Angeles, because of threats to public health. By using smart, nature-based solutions, we could capture more runoff and filter out harmful toxins and pollutants. In the process of capturing and cleaning stormwater, projects in the Safe, Clean Water Program would add more green space, further supporting healthier communities.

Q: How would the Safe, Clean Water Program help low-income and
underserved communities?
Providing benefits to low-income and underserved communities is a priority for the Safe, Clean Water Program. There are many ways the Program will prioritize funding to disadvantaged communities, including: funding available for small-scale or community projects; priority consideration for projects benefitting disadvantaged communities or with strong community support; involvement of stakeholders and community groups in decision-making on funding priorities; funding available for technical assistance and feasibility studies, and funding stormwater education programs.

Through these avenues, the Safe, Clean Water Program hopes to provide equitable access to Program funds, as well as receipt of Program benefits.

Q: Would the Safe, Clean Water Program benefit marine life?
Absolutely. Each year, marine mammals, seabirds, and fish die, either from mistakenly
eating plastic garbage and other harmful contaminants, or ensnaring themselves.

Annually, over 4,000 tons of trash is found on L.A. County beaches. By preventing stormwater runoff from carrying tons of trash and contaminants out to sea, we can better protect marine life.


See our Action Alert: healthebay.org/yesonw

Learn more about Measure W on the November 6, 2018 ballot in Los Angeles County: 



New rules permit 1 out of 31 people to get sick from swimming at CA beaches

A day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick.  So it’s a bit perplexing to Heal the Bay that the state of California has just decided to weaken water-quality protections for the millions of people who visit our shoreline each year.

Last week the State Water Resources Control Board approved new standards for bacteria levels in our coastal and inland waters.  Unfortunately, the board has now decided that it’s acceptable that one person out of every 31 beachgoers become ill with diarrhea, intestinal ailments or skin rashes after a visit to the shore.

Think about that for a minute … if a typically-sized elementary school class goes on a field trip to the beach, it’s now OK for one of those children to later become sick from water contact.

But this isn’t just a theoretical debate. Tens of thousands of people get sick each year swimming at Southern California beaches.  Ocean-borne illnesses cause at least $20 million in health-related costs each year, according to L.A. County health officials.

We’re concerned because these new levels of “allowable” illness undermine public health protection and benefit polluters and dischargers.  The new rules basically endorse bacteria pollution levels set by the U.S. EPA, which had watered-down its own regulations in 2012 to Heal the Bay’s dismay.

California is known for setting stricter environmental standards than federal regulators. Instead of using the EPA as the gold standard for the Golden State, Heal the Bay believes that all standards and acceptable risk levels should be based on research performed along California’s unique coastline and watersheds.

Staff scientists Ryan Searcy and Karen Vu traveled to Sacramento to press this issue with the State Board, which is a branch of the California EPA.  The regulatory body oversees the state’s water quality, drinking water, and water rights programs.

The State Board also oversees Regional Boards, which develop water quality standards and enforces those standards when they are violated, all serving to protect the beneficial uses of the state’s waterways.

During our meetings we also expressed our concern about a provision to create a new inland regulatory designation that could have a major impact on efforts to increase recreation along the L.A. River.

The board has decided to create a new statewide beneficial-use designation for inland waterbodies, to be called Limited REC-1 (LREC-1).  The move may actually lead to efforts to restrict public access to spots along the L.A. River and other urban waterways.

L.A. River signage for water quality

Waterbodies in California that have recreational uses in or near the water are currently labeled either REC-1 or REC-2, depending on whether direct contact with and ingestion of the water will occur.  Depending on the designation, there are different water quality requirements for polluters that are discharging into the waterbodies.  The idea is to compel them to ensure that the beneficial use of the waterbody is maintained.

Under this new provision, a LREC-1 designation refers to waterbodies that are “limited by physical conditions such as very shallow water depth and restricted access and, as a result, ingestion of water is incidental and infrequent.”

Because an LREC-1 designation has less stringent water quality standards than a REC-1, an incentive is created for polluters to restrict public access to a waterbody to achieve a less protective designation.

This type of waterbody designation will have large implications for urban stream restoration efforts, such as those in the L.A. River, where a massive effort is under way to improve and increase public access.

However, we did manage to score a few wins in our trip to Sacramento.

Heal the Bay staff scientists worked with several other NGOs during the past few months and successfully stopped the State from dropping fecal coliform standards in determining ocean water-quality regulations.

The state had initially neglected California-based science that proves that fecal coliform remains a critical indicator of health risk at our beaches.

Fecal coliform is one of three fecal indicator bacteria that are monitored by beach agencies and regulated by the State.  These indicator bacteria aren’t necessarily harmful to humans  themselves, but each of the three are potentially indicative of the presence of pathogens in the water.  They are easier and cheaper to measure than directly measuring for the bugs that harm us.

In California, fecal coliform has been an important indicator of the risk of illness, along with enterococci and total coliform.  Thankfully, regulators agreed to go back and consider this science, and the original fecal coliform standards will remain.

Additionally, the state has also agreed to continue to consider the latest California-specific epidemiological studies to develop and improve appropriate bacteria objectives during future reviews of ocean-bacteria standards.

Some might wonder why the state is acting now to modify long-standing beach water-quality rules.

The board has cited a need to modernize its water quality standards. The last modification occurred in the late 1990s, with the passing of AB411 (which Heal the Bay helped enact).

AB411 mandated weekly monitoring of hundreds of California beaches, and requires beach agencies to post notices if the allowable thresholds are exceeded.  Since then, the EPA adopted new standards in 2012, and a number of relevant epidemiological studies were published in California.  The state made these changes in its standards mostly to align with the EPA, but neglected to consider the relevant epidemiological studies.

You can help us by paying attention to water quality at your favorite beaches and streams.  Fortunately, Heal the Bay has developed some tools for the public to use to do this easily.  Using the Beach Report Card, the NowCast system, and the River Report Card as advocacy tools.

All water-lovers can monitor their favorite swimming spots and raise their voices if they see consistently poor water quality.

You win some and you lose some whenever you travel to Sacramento’s halls of power, as any seasoned policy advocate will tell you.

While we are discouraged by the state’s decision to go lock-step with federal bacteria standards, we promise to keep fighting.  We will continue to support policies that provide the maximum public health protection.



Looking for a good read this summer? Talia Walsh, Heal the Bay’s Associate Director of Communications, has a new book recommendation just for you!

Children’s doctor, immigrant and mom, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha captured national attention as the whistleblower for the Flint Water Crisis. In her new book titled, “What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City”, she opens up about today’s public and environmental health issues reverberating in cities across America.

From the front lines of Flint, Michigan, Dr. Mona’s story inspires and challenges us to better understand adversity in our communities. She urges each one of us, who has had the privilege of realizing the American Dream, to pass it forward to the next generation.

Ahead of Dr. Mona’s visit to Los Angeles on July 11 at the ALOUD event, we caught up with her about the new book — a must-have on your summer reading list.

HTB: You’ve remained FOCUSED and you’ve kept our attention on the Flint Water Crisis. This is no easy feat in today’s 24/7 news cycle. How do you stay focused?

DR. MONA: The kids that I care for absolutely ground me every day. They remind me what this work is about. It’s easy to get angry, its easy to get jaded, it’s easy to point fingers. But, when your mission is protecting the future of children, that is what enables me to keep my focus, and to fight in a science-driven way for what is right for them.

Heal the Bay: What’s the biggest takeaway lesson from your Flint Water Crisis experience?

DR. MONA: Flint is not an isolated story. There are the same crises happening in cities all across our nation. From issues with democracy and environmental injustice, to austerity, the breakdown of infrastructure and the neglect for children. The biggest takeaway lesson from Flint was that we opened our eyes and we said, this is not how it should be and we can make a change. You have the power and you have a role to stand up for your environment and our children.

HTB: Immigration is a big theme in your new book. As a child, you immigrated to this country from Iraq with your parents. What words of encouragement do you have for immigrant families facing adversity today?

DR. MONA: What’s happening in our nation today touches me on so many levels. As a pediatrician, it is disturbing. I know the consequences of trauma. From facing difficult situations to being separated from family to being discriminated against once in this country. Those traumas, from a medical and behavioral health perspective, impact children for their life-course trajectories.

I wrote this book, not only to share the lessons of Flint, not only to inspire folks to be active, to resist, and to work to better their communities. But, it was also the intent to share positive immigrant stories, especially of Arab-Americans, who we were going to ban from this country and who we only associate with war and terrorism. 

As an immigrant, as a kid who came to this country when I was four… by and large, I was welcomed with open arms. I grew up very confident and competent. That is not happening right now. Ultimately, besides the native people, we are a nation of immigrants. If those doors were closed to me when I was four, you wonder what we are missing out on in this nation because of folks who no longer come here for that opportunity, for that freedom. So as an immigrant it’s also disturbing. And then, as a mom, as a parent, it’s heartbreaking, especially with the separations.

This book is a fast-paced story about what happened in Flint. It’s also a memoir.

To understand my role in this crisis, you have to understand where I came from and who I am… the lens through which I see the world. And [the topic of immigration] probably would not have been as big in this book, if it were not for the last election.

HTB: With all of this going on today in the U.S. and from your experience on a hyper-local level in Flint, is the AMERICAN DREAM still alive for you?

DR. MONA: The American Dream was what we came for, me and my family, in 1980. It was absolutely realized for me and my family. We reaped the American Dream. My parents came here with nothing besides their education. They worked hard. They sent their kids to public schools and received a great education. We are a consequence of the American Dream. But, that is being closed on folks. Not only for incoming immigrants, but also for my kids in Flint.

My kids in Flint — it’s like two Americas — they wake up to a nightmare.

Even before the water crisis, it has been a nightmare for kids in Flint and kids throughout our country who live with so many toxicities. Not only the toxicity of contaminated water, but the toxicity of poverty, violence, crumbling schools, discrimination, racism and all of the other adversities that impact them. In places like Flint, just like many others in this country, the zip code you are born in predicts your life-course trajectory. It is hard to change your situation in life when you have so much adversity piled up against you. [These kids] don’t have access to the American Dream like I did.

HTB: Do you think democracy can ever be restored in Flint, especially for the African-American community who were disproportionally impacted by the Flint Water Crisis?

DR. MONA: Flint is an extreme example where democracy was usurped. The city was under state-appointed emergency management. At one point in 2013, half of African-Americans in Michigan were under emergency management, as compared to 2% of Whites. Grossly undemocratic, no accountability, no role for elected officials. But, this is similar to other issues in this country in regards to lack of democracy. Look what’s happening with gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement, mass incarceration. We are shifting populations and we are minimizing the voice of certain people.

Going back to Flint, the power of the local officials has been restored. The Mayor does have power back. But the city was starved for so long, it’s hard to be fully functioning when your capacity was so limited. You know, it will take a long time to be a functioning democracy.

HTB: When you started this journey in Flint, who were your LOCAL ALLIES to get things done?

DR. MONA: One of the reasons I did not want to write this book was that this story is NOT about me! This story is about a team. It took a team of folks — a random, diverse group of professionals that all came together for the same cause. It was moms, activists, pastors, local faith-based organizations, nonprofits, the ACLU, the EPA, a water scientist from Virginia, my girlfriend who works at a nonprofit water group. It was a mix of folks that opened up their eyes together to uncover this story. That is such an important lesson.

So often in our work, whatever our work may be, we are very siloed. We only work with people who do the exact same thing that we do. And we don’t realize the other solutions out there in different disciplines, from people who look different than us, who live somewhere else and who vote different than us, yet who also care about the same things. The beauty is being able to find that village and come together.

HTB: What about the ratepayers, the consumers of the water themselves. How do they stay informed about local water issues?

DR. MONA: It’s hard. The people of Flint have been heroic. They were the first to raise the alarm bells. Amazing moms and activists who pushed every button and started the domino effect of uncovering this crisis. There are folks in Flint that suffer from incredible obstacles to information and access. We have a 60% poverty rate for our children… huge transportation issues, literacy issues… there are so many obstacles associated with poverty that have made communication and information-sharing quite difficult.

That’s why things in Flint are always done at the grassroots level.

The folks who go door-to-door are your neighbors; they are the ones helping with the water filter installation and the maintenance.

HTB: In Los Angeles County, there are many GRASSROOTS efforts. What words of wisdom do you have for grassroots leaders and clean water advocates here in L.A.?

DR. MONA: One of the reasons I wrote this book is to be an inspiring call to action. [This book] is about the people, places and problems that we choose not to see. We all have to open our eyes. When we work together we can tap into this incredible power that is within all of us to create change. There couldn’t be a more timely moment to share that message with what is happening in our nation—where there is an incredible need for ongoing activism and informed communities.

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Meet the author on July 11


A Quick Refresher on the Flint Water Crisis

Before Flint, Michigan realized its water crisis in 2014, the city was nearing bankruptcy and took a series of deliberate actions to cut costs. When Governor Rick Snyder declared an emergency in the state, he removed a swath of elected government positions and appointed “emergency managers” into these roles. His swift move created the conditions for a murky view into local public policy.

As if losing the right to vote and access to public information was not enough a blow to overcome, community members in Flint had no say when state-appointed emergency managers hastily switched the drinking water source and treatment policy.

In a temporary plan to save the city of Flint money, emergency managers claimed they could cut costs by sourcing water from the Flint River instead of the Great Lakes. The new plan did not include sufficient water treatment procedures like corrosion control, a method to avoid lead leaching into the water, which is outlined in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. As a direct result, nearly 100,000 Flint residents were exposed to lead and harmful bacteria.

When the community began complaining about the condition of the water coming out of their taps, they were not getting any straight answers from city officials. Flint residents were left defenseless — their ability to vote and hold local officials accountable had been taken away by the Governor. They were cut off from critical information. Yet they persevered.

Community heroes like Dr. Mona began to listen, connect the dots and speak up.

Today the water in Flint, Michigan still needs to be filtered or residents must use bottled water. But, conditions are improving and there is a big plan underway to replace all of the corroded lead pipes in the region. Some justice is also being served. Over a dozen individuals and water infrastructure firms involved in the Flint Water Crisis are currently being investigated for felony and misdemeanor criminal charges, including negligent homicide, conspiracy and misconduct in office.

If Dr. Mona and other water warriors did not turn their knowledge into action, if they did not use their chorus of voices to create a platform for change, it’s unclear how long the Flint community would have suffered from lead poisoning and exposure to other harmful toxins.