Q&A: What You Need to Know about the July 2021 Sewage Spill & Beach Closures in the Santa Monica Bay
This is a developing story and we will update information as new details come to light.
UPDATE: 6:30 PM Pacific Time On April 19, 2023.
The City of LA/LA Sanitation & Environment has responded to the April 7 deadline from the Regional Water Board and did not accept the fine or waive the hearing. They have instead entered into further negotiations with the Regional Water Board. More to come as we receive information.
UPDATE: 6:30 PM Pacific Time On April 6, 2023.
Late last week, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board announced a tentative fine of $21.7M to the City of LA for the July 2021 sewage spill at the Hyperion Treatment facility. The fine is based on five categories of violations, including 1) the discharge of 12.5 million gallons of raw sewage to the Santa Monica Bay, 2) failure to perform offshore sampling for 14 days, 3) failure to comply with permit requirements for odors for 80 days, 4) failure to comply with monitoring and permit reporting requirements for 108 days, and 5) violations of water quality limits for 217 days (38 serious and 22 non-serious violations). The City of LA has until tomorrow, April 7, to agree to this fine and waive a hearing on the matter or to request a postponement of the hearing to allow for further deliberations. Even if the City agrees, there will be a 30-day window for public comment. If the City does not agree to the settlement or ask for a postponement, there will be a hearing. While the maximum amount for the fine, based on the violations, could have been over $500B (yes, that’s billion!), $21.7M is actually the largest penalty the LA Regional Water Board has ever proposed for permit violations. We don’t yet know how or where the final fine amount will be allocated but we hope that a majority of it will go to Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs), which provide environmental and public health benefits to affected areas and communities. The good news is that LA Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) has taken numerous steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again by implementing recommendations from an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee of water quality experts from across the country, as detailed in their report that was released in February 2022. Namely, LASAN has installed additional alarms (audio and visual), completed a comprehensive update of protocols for emergency response and notifications, implemented an interagency task force for emergency response actions with LA County, El Segundo and City of LA departments, established a hotline call-in number operated 24/7, conducted equipment tests and procedure practices, installed new equipment, and upgraded existing equipment. Additional improvements that are in-progress or planned include equipment upgrades, development of plans to protect major equipment from flood damage, and more. Heal the Bay will continue to advocate to ensure that the City of LA provides sufficient funding to LASAN for critical upgrades and ongoing operations and maintenance. We will continue to track this issue and provide updates as we get them as well as opportunities for the public to weigh in.
UPDATE: 3:00 PM Pacific Time on April 13, 2022.
According to a new Daily Breeze article, “42 million gallons of sewage entered LA waterways in past 15 years. More than half of the total was spilled in 2021 alone. A nearly catastrophic disaster at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant and the sudden collapse of a sewer system in Carson last year combined to make it the worst since the beginning of the data set in April 2007. The two spills, roughly six months and 15 miles apart, led to the total release of 25 million gallons of raw sewage either directly into the ocean or into waterways that empty into it.”
It’s been nearly 8 months since the massive sewage spill from the Hyperion Treatment Plant and two key updates occurred recently.
First, we recently learned that Hyperion Treatment Plant has not been complying with air quality standards since the spill. This is alarming news considering that the plant emits greenhouse gasses hundreds of times more potent than carbon dioxide. While Hyperion is no longer discharging under-treated sewage into the ocean, the environmental impact of the sewage spill continues. We urge regulators to take prompt action and ensure Hyperion’s air emissions are in compliance.
Second, The City of Los Angeles, Board of Public Works assembled an advisory committee composed of government officials, academics, and NGO representatives. Our very own CEO, Shelley Luce, was on the committee. The committee was tasked with conducting an independent assessment of the spill, and their findings were recently released in February in a report along with recommendations for minimizing sewage spill risk in the future.
The 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. Here is the series of events as we understand them:
- The machines (bar screens) that Hyperion uses to remove trash and large items from our waste water became clogged because some of that trash was allowed to cycle back through those machines due to a design failure. It is also important to note that trash should not be flushed down the toilet.
- When the trash removal machines became clogged, alarms were triggered, but they were not responded to in time and Hyperion’s headworks facility (building where trash is removed from our wastewater) began to flood.
- Once the flooding began, it was too dangerous for workers to open an underground bypass channel that could have relieved the flooding. Opening this channel required workers to lift a large metal barrier out of the ground using a ceiling-mounted crane.
- The sewage flowed to other parts of Hyperion, damaging critical equipment and systems, which further hampered their ability to respond to the situation.
- Hyperion’s storm drain system, which feeds into the 1-mile ocean outfall, was eventually filled with sewage, resulting in 13 million gallons of sewage spilling into Santa Monica Bay.
The report recommended the following improvements and next steps:
- Upgrade the trash removal equipment to reduce or eliminate the chance that trash is sent back through the machinery once it has already been removed from the wastewater.
- Improve the alarm functionality by designing an alarm that will be immediately noticed.
- Conduct additional staff training and revise protocols for alarm and flooding response.
- Conduct additional recruitment to fill jobs in the headworks facility, which is where the flooding began.
We appreciate the creation of this report and we support its recommendations for improvements to Hyperion’s systems and processes. Heal the Bay’s additional recommendations for next steps in light of the report are:
- Integrate the advisory committee report recommendations with the 30-day report (initial report released 30 days after the spill) recommendations. We need the findings from both reports combined so that all the information and data for the spill is in one place. Information on impacts to the public (e.g. beach closures, odors, public health impacts, economic impacts) as well as water and air quality violations should be included. And, this will help create one cohesive plan for improving Hyperion.
- Prioritize the recommendations from both reports based on their significance and/or ease of correction. And each recommended action should be accompanied by a realistic timeline in which it can be addressed.
- Provide stakeholders and the public with regular progress updates as improvements are made to the plant. At the very least, the Hyperion Recovery website should remain active and should be updated with such progress reports.
Heal the Bay is committed to working with LA City Public Works and Sanitation (as well as other agencies and groups) to make sure that the report recommendations are addressed promptly to protect the health and safety of Hyperion’s workers as well as the general public and the environment. Implementation of the recommendations along with the rebuilding of public trust will be paramount 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.
UPDATE: 10:30 am Pacific Time on November 2, 2021.
We have some promising news regarding the Hyperion Treatment Plant. For the past few months, the plant has been operating in a diminished capacity due to the damage it sustained on July 11 that resulted in the discharge of 17 million gallons of raw sewage nearshore (1 mile out). Consequently, LA Sanitation (LASAN) was discharging wastewater from Hyperion Treatment Plant into the ocean (5 miles out) that did not meet regulatory requirements. We now have confirmation that the plant is fully operational according to the ).
After the July 11 disaster, LASAN was issued a notice of violation by the LARWQCB for the discharge of raw sewage in violation of their permit, which will likely result in fines. Further, LASAN was required to conduct additional water quality monitoring by the LARWQCB, initially consisting of daily samples taken at multiple locations and depths, 5 miles offshore. In mid-September the LARWQCB approved a request by LASAN to reduce monitoring to three times per week and, just this week, approved LASAN’s request to cease all additional offshore monitoring. The LARWQB made this decision based on the water quality data and the reports that LASAN has been required to submit. We have also reviewed the data provided on Hyperion’s recovery and found that contaminant levels in the wastewater discharged into the ocean do indeed meet regulatory requirements. However, we do have a few lingering concerns about individual events of water quality exceedances over the last month, as well as remaining maintenance work to be done.
We are relieved that Hyperion now appears able to properly treat wastewater before it is discharged into the ocean. However, we still do not know the cause of the flooding and subsequent sewage spill. Heal the Bay is part of an ad hoc group meeting to discuss the causes of the incident and the response by government agencies, and to make recommendations for improvement. The group meets nearly every week with the aim of producing a comprehensive report by the end of the year. Heal the Bay will continue to push for answers from LASAN because we must make sure events like this do not happen in the future. We also look forward to carefully reviewing the report that LASAN must submit to the LARWQB by November 8 as well as tracking and ensuring that there is enforcement of the violations.
UPDATE: 7:00 pm Pacific Time on October 4, 2021.
LA Sanitation recently released a report with an in-depth description of the events that led to the sewage discharge into the Santa Monica Bay on July 11 & 12. Here is a summary of what we learned.
The discharge occurred because the Hyperion Plant’s barscreens (trash filtration devices) clogged leading to a catastrophic flood event at the facility. Raw sewage flooded large swathes of the facility and damaged machinery and infrastructure necessary for the plant to function. Millions of gallons of this sewage were released through the 1-mile outfall and into Santa Monica Bay as an emergency measure to prevent further flooding and the plant going offline completely.
So far, no one has been able to determine the origin of the large amount of debris that clogged the barscreens that day. The flooding also made it impossible for Hyperion to determine the amount of debris that caused the blockages. These are two critical pieces of information for the incident investigation, and we are keeping up the pressure for some answers soon. Fortunately, the minute-by-minute account of July 11 & 12 in Hyperion’s report gives us some clues as to what went wrong that day and how events like this can be prevented in the future:
- Hyperion’s barscreens have an automated system that clears blockages when they are detected. According to the report, this feature has never been used by the plant due to “unreliable level sensors.” The barscreens are instead operated manually, and workers clear any blockages that occur. Hyperion stated in the report that this process needs to be assessed and improved.
- There is a barscreen bypass system in place at the plant which could have prevented the flooding. Unfortunately, workers at Hyperion were not able to use the bypass system in time – the flooding became too dangerous and they had to evacuate. In the report, Hyperion promised to review standard operating procedures and conduct emergency training for the bypass system.
- Hyperion will develop flood risk mitigation strategies for certain facilities and equipment at the plant. This will ensure the plant can operate if a flood event happens in the future. Given the plant’s proximity to the ocean, Hyperion’s operators need to consider tsunami mitigation in their assessment.
- While the origin of the barscreen-clogging debris is still a mystery, it is an opportune moment for Hyperion and water advocates to remind the public what can and cannot be flushed down the toilet (only flush bodily waste and toilet paper, nothing else). Hyperion stated that they will increase public education efforts, which Heal the Bay would be willing to assist with as we’ve done in the past.
We appreciate the transparency and data that Hyperion has provided in their report and on their website. Nevertheless, there are still some big questions that need to be answered in addition to the origin of the barscreen debris. Hyperion has not made an official announcement that they are fully operational, and we would appreciate a timeline of when they expect that to happen. The Hyperion Recovery website is still listing some critical process equipment as currently being serviced, and there are reports that the treatment plant is almost fully operational. We are also seeking more information on the quality of the wastewater currently being discharged out the 5-mile outfall.
What was causing the foul odors near Hyperion? We are getting this question a lot, so we wanted to provide some more detail. Flooding at the plant damaged the pumps that move sewage from open-air holding tanks to the secondary processing infrastructure. For three weeks, excessive amounts of sewage built up in the holding tanks while workers repaired the pumps. The odors that have plagued South Bay communities came from these holding tanks. Hyperion stated that they have been processing this backlog of sewage, and air quality will continue to improve. We’ve also learned that Hyperion has ended the air filtration & AC unit reimbursement program for households impacted by the odors.
UPDATE: 10:20 am Pacific Time on September 23, 2021.
Here is what has been going on behind-the-scenes at Heal the Bay as a follow up to the massive sewage spill from the Hyperion plant back in July 2021.
We took a tour of the Hyperion plant to see the extent of damages from the incident, which is still under investigation. We learned about what’s happening to recover Hyperion as efficiently and safely as possible, and we met some of the hardworking people who have the enormous responsibility to treat LA’s wastewater day in and day out. We are working closely with LA Public Works to evaluate existing systems for repairs and upgrades at the plant where needed.
Recent data from the Hyperion 2021 Recovery website shows the effluent coming out of the 5-mile pipe from Hyperion is getting back to within regulatory limits for most water quality measurements. However, bacteria levels at the 5-mile outfall are consistently exceeding health limits, which is alarming. The public has not been provided with a timeline for when water quality improvements are expected. Fortunately, bacteria does not appear to be impacting our beaches – as indicated by beach water quality monitoring. According to the Clean Water Act, Hyperion should be fined for every day it is out of compliance with public health and safety standards. So far it has been 74 days since the spill first occurred.
An engineer points to how high the flooding water was during the catastrophic incident at the Hyperion plant on July 11-12.
When the spill occurred on July 11-12, there was catastrophic flooding within the Hyperion plant. Raw sewage permanently disabled plant electronics that control pumps and other functions at the plant, and equipment had to be replaced. For many weeks the plant could not complete the secondary phase of the treatment process, and the only option was to pump under-treated wastewater into the ocean. The replacement and repairs are mainly done and water quality is mostly back to normal. The elevated bacteria levels at the 5-mile outfall are still an issue and we are pushing the City to determine the cause and fix it as soon as possible.
The City of Los Angeles Sanitation and Environment Department (LASAN) submitted their 30-day action report to the Regional Board and US EPA, and we are reviewing it. We’ll provide an in-depth update about it soon. Recently at the request of LASAN, the Regional Water Board reduced the required sampling from daily to three times per week.
Our team continues to closely monitor water quality with the Beach Report Card and LA County’s Beach Water Quality Advisories website. The good news is, aside from the usual bummers, we’re seeing good grades at most of LA’s beaches for the past month. A couple sites with chronic water quality issues are the Santa Monica Pier and Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey — coming into contact with the water at these beach areas should generally be avoided, especially by young children, senior citizens, and people who are immunocompromised. Install our free Beach Report Card iOS or Android app so you can have the latest water quality grades in your pocket.
UPDATE: 7:30 pm Pacific Time on August 20, 2021.
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The latest beach grades for LA are in… most beaches have great water quality scores!
But, Santa Monica Beach at the Santa Monica Pier came in with an “F” grade. Avoid swimming here until water quality tests show it’s safe.
Get all the grades at our Beach Report Card.
UPDATE: 12:10 pm Pacific Time on August 17, 2021.
— Heal the Bay (@HealTheBay) August 17, 2021
Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay CEO, is joining a virtual townhall hosted by The Board of Public Works to discuss water quality and health impacts from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant sewage spill in the Santa Monica Bay.
The virtual townhall is on Wednesday, August 18 at 5:30 p.m. Join online or by phone.
UPDATE: 8:45 pm Pacific Time on August 10, 2021.
Our communities continue to have concerns and questions regarding the impacts of sewage in the ocean. Here we answer the top 5 questions we’ve been hearing on social media.
Where does the sewage magically go, which makes it safe for swimming?
Once the sewage is discharged, it travels where the ocean currents take it – that could be further out to sea, closer to shore, or it may remain in place.
Over time, fecal matter and urine will be consumed by microorganisms. This is not desirable because sewage discharges are not natural and may alter the food chain. The microorganisms consuming sewage may also consume chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and toxins contained within the fecal matter and urine. These chemical compounds might then get transferred up the food chain as other organisms consume the sewage-eating ones. Particulates like plastic and toilet paper may get ingested by larger organisms in the water or the material might settle into the sediment.
When it is deemed “safe to swim” does that mean the amount of toxins could still be above what’s normally acceptable?
Human fecal matter contains many microorganisms that can get humans sick from a single exposure. That is why our beaches are tested regularly for the presence of fecal matter, and it’s why California has strict fecal-indicator bacteria standards. Recreational water quality standards do not take into account other forms of pollution like toxins and chemicals because, in general, it takes many exposures over a long period of time to become sick from toxins and chemicals. Heal the Bay continues to advocate for increased water quality monitoring, especially for “forever chemicals” like PCBs and DDT.
How could this impact dolphins and other animals in the Bay?
We are concerned about all organisms in the Bay, including dolphins, fish, algae, and invertebrates living in the sediment. All organisms have a niche and play a role in maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem. The sewage discharges will likely change the abundance and distribution of smaller organisms first as they consume the sewage. Those changes to the bottom of the food chain may then impact species that are higher up on the chain like fish and dolphins. The other concern is that chemicals and pharmaceuticals contained in the sewage will also get transferred up the food chain as the sewage-eating microorganisms are consumed by larger organisms.
How often is water quality being tested? Who is conducting these water safety tests?
Right now, the beaches between Ballona Creek and Manhattan Beach are being tested every day. Under normal circumstances, all beaches in the Santa Monica Bay typically get monitored 2-3 times a week in the summer on average. Santa Monica Bay beaches are monitored for recreational water quality by four government agencies: LASAN, LA County Department of Public Health, Sanitation Districts of LA County, and the City of Redondo Beach.
How can we prevent this in the future?
There is an ongoing investigation into the cause of the damage to the Hyperion Treatment Plant in El Segundo, which triggered millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage to be released into the Bay. Once we know the cause(s) we can advocate for preventative measures. However, we don’t need an investigation to tell us what is obvious: the public was not sufficiently notified about the sewage discharge into the Santa Monica Bay. Heal the Bay is working to put pressure on LASAN and LA County Department of Public Health to investigate why public notifications were not forthcoming and how they can ensure more expedient public warnings.
UPDATE: 8:45 pm Pacific Time on August 9, 2021.
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Make your voice heard about the recent 17 million gallon raw sewage spill and the ongoing discharges of partially treated sewage into the Bay from Hyperion.
Tell the City of LA your concerns and that you demand they take immediate action to improve the emergency public notification protocols and implement preventative measures so this never happens again.
Act now: The City Council meeting starts at 10am on Tuesday, August 10.
Send in a comment to the Los Angeles City Council hearing tomorrow – use Council File # 21-0839:
Call 1 669 254 5252 and use Meeting ID No. 160 535 8466 and then press #. Press # again when prompted for participant ID. Once admitted into the meeting, press *9 to request to speak.
Watch and listen to the council meeting here:
Cable TV Channel 35
(213) 621-CITY (METRO)
(818) 904-9450 (VALLEY)
(310) 471-CITY (WESTSIDE)
(310) 547-CITY (SAN PEDRO AREA)
UPDATE: 10:25 am Pacific Time on August 4, 2021.
The City of Los Angeles Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) launched a new webpage that addresses sewage discharge at the Hyperion Plant in El Segundo. It briefly covers the cause of the catastrophic incident and the recovery effort underway.
We want you to be aware of the data table (with multiple tabs) at the bottom of the page. It shows the pollutant levels in the effluent (via sampling results of what Hyperion is discharging from the 5-mile outfall), equipment status, odor monitoring results, offshore monitoring results for bacteria, and links to other data, which don’t appear to be working or filled in yet. “Effluent” is the treated wastewater that Hyperion releases to the ocean. In other words, influent is what comes into the plant (raw sewage and other debris), and effluent is what goes out of the plant (typically treated wastewater that has to meet certain standards).
We will be reviewing the data closely and providing a deeper analysis for you. But, our first impressions are that exceedances (aka violations) are occurring for multiple parameters in the effluent since July 11-12, indicating that LASAN is violating their permit by continuing to discharge inadequately treated sewage into the Bay, and is still not able to fully treat sewage. What is even more concerning is that the levels of certain pollutants appear to be increasing over the last couple of weeks (the weekly average numbers are getting larger). These high levels of total suspended solids (TSS), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), settleable solids, turbidity, and oil & grease may have long-term negative impacts on marine life and ecosystems.
Our team will provide more information about the pollutants and what the potential impacts could be for the Santa Monica Bay later this week.
Despite this alarming data, recent beach water quality tests have indicated the water in the Santa Monica Bay is safe for human recreation. All beach advisories, except for Avalon Beach on Catalina Island, have been lifted because water samples have not exceeded State water quality standards. This is good news for beachgoers, but we recommend that you always check the latest beach conditions at the LA County Department of Public Health’s website and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card.
UPDATE: 8:00 am Pacific Time on August 3, 2021.
LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) released an update last night that ocean water samples collected at the following locations have met State water quality standards and beach advisories have been lifted:
- Dockweiler State Beach
- Ballona Creek (Near Dockweiler Tower 40)
- Culver Blvd storm drain
- Imperial Highway storm drain
- Westchester storm drain
- Pico-Kenter storm drain (Santa Monica Beach)
- Topanga Canyon Lagoon (Topanga Canyon Beach in Malibu)
A warning is still in place for Avalon Beach at Catalina Island (50 feet east of the pier). The Department of Public Health continues cautioning all to be careful of swimming, surfing, and playing in this area.
Thanks for staying updated.
UPDATE: 11:46 am Pacific Time on July 30, 2021.
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We are shocked that LA Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) has continued to release inadequately treated sewage into the Bay. It’s been over two weeks since the 17 million gallon sewage spill, and we are now learning that the Hyperion plant is not able to fully treat sewage.
The discharge contains bacteria and viruses as well as organic matter that causes low oxygen levels in ocean waters – the impacts on human health and marine life can be significant and very damaging. LASAN should have notified the public and stakeholders who have been tracking the spill results closely for the last two weeks. We don’t know if LASAN has increased monitoring to assess the impacts of the partially treated discharge – that needed to start immediately – and going forward we need transparency in order to ensure appropriate actions are taking place to assess impacts, protect people and wildlife, and pursue fines and mitigation measures to the maximum extent.
Heal the Bay was founded in the 1980s by local activists who refused to accept partially treated sewage being dumped into the Bay by Hyperion. It’s now 30 plus years later – great progress has been made, but without watchdogs we’re at risk of repeating past mistakes.
The LA Regional Water Quality Control Board has taken immediate action to boost monitoring in the Santa Monica Bay.
Last night we received a notice from the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) issuing an order to the City of Los Angeles LA Sanitation and Environment (LASAN) Hyperion Treatment Plant to provide monitoring and reporting related to the discharge of sewage on July 11 and 12.
The order details how the flooding at the plant led to non-operational equipment resulting in reduced efficiency of treatment and a reduction in the quality of the discharge from the 5 mile outfall. The order documents that since the initial incident, Hyperion has violated its discharge permit by releasing effluent that is in exceedance of limits for parameters including total suspended solids (TSS), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), turbidity, and settleable solids.
These exceedances will result in fines – however, they could have negative impacts on human health and the marine environment. We are glad to see that the Regional Board is requiring daily offshore monitoring and submission of daily monitoring and status reports. The offshore monitoring appears to include four stations, each to be tested at three depths (<1m, 15 meters, and at the outfall depth). Testing at these locations must be done for 12 parameters, including bacteria levels, which are indicative of impacts to human health.
The latest advisory from the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) states that they are continuing to test shoreline bacteria levels daily. Heal the Bay scientists and experts will be reviewing the locations and frequency of testing today by DPH and LASAN to ensure that the frequency and spatial coverage is protective of public health. And we will continue to ask for rapid methods to be used for detection of bacterial pollution – the methods being used now take 18-24 hours to obtain results and then additional time for that information to get to the public. Rapid methods would allow for more real-time results to be available to the public.
The LA County Board of Supervisors and LA City Council members have initiated a full investigation into the 17 million gallon spill and continued discharges from Hyperion.
In addition to the Water Board’s actions outlined above, the LA County Board of Supervisors has requested a full investigation within 30 days (scroll down to our last update on 7/29 for more info). And the LA City Council is demanding a detailed report and action plan too, which includes instructing LASAN to “look for engineering opportunities during repairs to begin transforming the facility to recycle 100% of wastewater as part of the city’s Operation NEXT,” according to the Daily Breeze.
Is it safe to swim in the Bay today?
If you are deciding whether or not you should go into the water at LA’s beaches this weekend, we want to be clear: there are potential health risks at some locations.
Water quality tests from sites across the Bay have indicated high bacteria levels around El Segundo, Dockweiler, and Venice beach areas. These beach areas are under an advisory and should be avoided until tests indicate the water quality is good.
If you are heading to other areas in the Bay, we recommend that you check the latest beach conditions at the LA County Department of Public Health’s website and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card (so you can avoid beach areas impacted by bacterial-pollution issues). Conditions can change rapidly, so pay attention to beach postings and remember there is a 24-hour lag between water testing and posted warnings.
Message us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or contact us online if you need any help getting started with our Beach Report Card website or app — or if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.
UPDATE: 11:00 am Pacific Time on July 29, 2021.
One week after the massive raw sewage spill in the Santa Monica Bay from the Hyperion Plant in El Segundo, the LA County Board of Supervisors met and heard an update on what went wrong, particularly related to notification protocols, and what next steps are needed. Heal the Bay staff called in to the hearing to speak on the item, but we were not able to because they cut off public comment after 1 hour for all items on the agenda. We were glad to hear at least three people speak passionately on the issue. We did send in a letter, supporting the motion as well as offering additional recommendations. You can read our letter and other public correspondence on the item here: http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/160317.pdf
The agenda item was heard around 3:15pm and included a brief presentation on the expedited report from CityGate that Supervisor Hahn requested right after the massive release of raw sewage. The findings of the report are quite disturbing and highlight multiple failures in communication and notification, primarily by the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH).
Next, Supervisor Hahn asked a series of questions of Dr. Barbara Ferrer (Director, LA County Dept Public Health), Gary Jones (Director, LA County Dept of Beaches & Harbors), and Fernando Boiteux, (Chief, LA County Lifeguard Division). Dr. Ferrer started by apologizing to the Board and the public; she took full responsibility for the failures and stated that DPH has already made fixes and will continue to improve training, processes, and protocols. Dr. Ferrer said that what happened was unacceptable and that it will never happen again. We appreciated hearing this apology and DPH taking responsibility for their actions (or lack of actions) and the commitment to do better.
Supervisor Hahn asked Dr. Ferrer about ensuring that public health – both in the water and in the community – continue to be protected as the Hyperion plant recovers from the major failure and undergoes construction to get back fully online. El Segundo neighborhoods are bearing the brunt of unbearable odors and LASAN is offering vouchers for air conditioners and hotel rooms for those affected. Dr. Ferrer assured Supervisor Hahn that water quality would continue to be tested and that the DPH team would be conducting door-to-door outreach in the community to ensure that affected residents know how to contact them, report odors, and get access to resources.
Gary Jones from Beaches & Harbors and Fernando Boiteux from County Lifeguards also answered questions about when they received notice of the sewage discharge, what could be improved in communications, and how beach closures should ideally proceed.
The motion was passed, which will result in a more in-depth After Action Report to be produced in 30 days. This follow-up report will detail what happened, where the failures occurred, and recommendations for fixing failures and ensuring this never happens again.
Heal the Bay greatly appreciated the updates and the transparency and accountability that the report and hearing provided. We will be actively following this issue and are engaging with Supervisor Hahn’s office and agencies to offer our recommendations and participate in the process. We will continue to hold agencies accountable and ensure that there are appropriate repercussions for the multiple failures that occurred.
UPDATE: 6:00 pm Pacific Time on July 23, 2021.
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A report was released this week, and made public today, about the recent 17-million gallon sewage spill from the Hyperion plant in El Segundo. “The handling of this release and the necessary public notification were failures, the initial report concluded.
The LA County Board of Supervisors will be hearing this expedited report on Tuesday, July 27 starting at 9:30 am. The Board will be voting on a motion to get this update as well as to request a more detailed “After Action” report within 30 days. Heal the Bay will be supporting this motion by sending in a letter and calling in to give oral testimony at the hearing. We will be suggesting additional recommendations, such as implementing rapid testing methods for water quality and tracking the plume through satellite imagery and other methods.
Watch the hearing, send in an email or a letter, and try to call in to the hearing to speak (this can be challenging to do as speaking time is limited).
TUNE IN ON JULY 27:
Agenda and info on how to watch and give comment (on the first page): https://bos.lacounty.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=AezaZ2KttC4%3d&portalid=1 (agenda item #36)
MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD IN ADVANCE:
To send an email or a letter in advance of the hearing (select item 36): https://publiccomment.bos.lacounty.gov/
We appreciate Supervisor Hahn’s leadership on this and hope to work collaboratively with County and City agencies to ensure this never happens again. And, if it does, that the public is notified immediately and effectively.
UPDATE: 9:10 pm Pacific Time on July 14, 2021.
This evening the LA County Department of Public Health lifted beach closures at Dockweiler State Beach and El Segundo Beach because water samples taken over the past two days have not shown dangerous levels of fecal-indicator bacteria. Based on these results, it appears safe at most locations in the Santa Monica Bay, but we urge you to exercise caution by regularly checking the LA County Department of Public Health website for water conditions and beach closures at PublicHealth.LACounty.gov/Beach and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card.
There are four sites in the Santa Monica Bay that currently do exceed State standards and coming into contact with water at these locations could cause illness – it is unclear if these exceedances are due to the sewage spill, recent rainfall, or something else:
- Topanga County Beach at the Topanga Canyon Lagoon
- Will Rogers State Beach at the Santa Monica Canyon storm drain
- Santa Monica State Beach at the Santa Monica Pier
- Manhattan County Beach at the 28th Street storm drain
Heal the Bay won’t let up on pushing for improvements that prevent sewage spills, advance water quality testing methods, and ensure public notifications happen swiftly and equitably. Thanks to everyone in the community for reaching out, voicing concerns, asking questions, staying informed, and most importantly protecting each other by sharing critical updates. This community is strong. It is amazing to see us spring into action. Thank you.
More to come on next steps, so you can take action to hold polluters accountable and to prevent this from happening again.
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UPDATE: 7:15 pm Pacific Time on July 13, 2021.
We have some preliminary good news to share — but don’t rush back to the water quite yet.
Water samples taken on Monday, July 12 by LA City Bureau of Sanitation & the Environment (LASAN) and LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) do not show high levels of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). FIB, in significant quantities, indicate the presence of harmful pathogens in the water. Samples were taken at numerous locations at the shoreline and offshore, at various depths.
While this is good news, the beaches are still closed and will remain closed until two consecutive days of sampling show safe water quality. So, samples were taken again today and if they show low levels of bacteria, closures will be lifted tomorrow.
These results are very preliminary since the samples were taken Monday morning and early afternoon. Tides, currents and wind continue to move water around and we don’t know where the contamination may have ended up.
We also don’t know what the water quality was before the samples were collected – i.e. on Sunday evening and early Monday morning. It is possible that bacteria levels were higher then, and that people who got in the water were unknowingly exposed to poor water quality.
We appreciate that LASAN and DPH have been forthcoming with us on the results, but we feel strongly that this information should be spread widely to the general public, as early as possible. LA County DPH is responsible for notifying the public of dangerous levels of contamination. Given the significant amount of raw sewage released, nearby beaches should have been closed immediately. Delaying public notification by 12-24 hours is not acceptable.
We have heard from many concerned folx that they were at the beaches on Sunday evening and Monday all day without any knowledge of the spill, or any ability to take precautions. We will be working with City and County agencies to establish protocols that better protect public health. We also urge LASAN and DPH to use rapid methods to detect contamination more quickly. DNA-based lab methods like PCR are readily available and provide reliable results in minutes or hours, rather than the 24-hour process required for traditional bacterial monitoring. Using methods like these, in addition to traditional methods, as long as they are accompanied with good public notification, would help get critical information to our many ocean users much more quickly and could prevent significant harm to LA residents and visitors.
You can check the status of beach closures and conditions on LA County’s recorded information hotline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-525-5662. Information about beach closures and conditions is also available online at: PublicHealth.LACounty.gov/Beach.
We will continue to track this issue and keep you informed.
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UPDATE: 3:20 pm Pacific Time on July 12, 2021.
When did the spill occur?
The sewage spill started at 7 pm on 7/11/2021 and stopped at about 5 am on 7/12/2021. We are told by City of LA’s Bureau of Sanitation that the spill was stopped early this morning at around 5 am and all sewage is now being treated normally.
How much was spilled?
We understand 17 million gallons of raw sewage were spilled through the 1-mile outfall, which is directly offshore from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in El Segundo.
Which beaches are impacted?
Currently Dockweiler State Beach and El Segundo Beach are closed to the public. The City of Los Angeles and LA County Department of Public Health are testing beaches and water in the Santa Monica Bay. More information can be found at the LA County Department of Public Health’s website.
What should the public do to protect themselves?
We recommend the public stay out of the water in the Santa Monica Bay until further notice. Also, check the Beach Report Card for the latest ocean water quality alerts in California, and review the River Report Card for water quality information about freshwater swimming holes in Los Angeles County.
What issues does this cause to people and to ocean wildlife?
Bacteria and viruses in raw sewage are extremely dangerous to people and can carry a variety of diseases. Debris such as tampons and plastic trash, when released into the Bay, can harbor bacteria and can cause entanglement of wildlife, but it seems in this case those debris were successfully filtered out of the spill before it made it to the Bay.
Why did this happen?
We understand the inflow to the Hyperion plant in El Segundo was severely clogged and flooded the facility. The sewage left the facility untreated through the 1-mile pipe and outfall.
What is the source and how can we hold them accountable for pollution?
This is fully the responsibility of the City of LA and their Bureau of Sanitation. The City normally does a very good job of containing and fully treating hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage every day – but when spills happen the City must move quickly to warn the public, and must discover and fix the cause to prevent future spills.
How can sewage spills be prevented?
Proper maintenance as well as people not flushing trash items such as plastic trash into the system are the best preventative measures.
How often do sewage spills occur?
The last major sewage spill in Los Angeles County was in 2015. However, smaller sewage spills are not an uncommon occurrence. In 2020 to 2021, seventy-five sewage spills sent a total of 346,888 gallons into rivers, lakes, and streams within Los Angeles County. One 222,542 gallon spill in February 2021 closed all the beaches in Long Beach; this area is monitored by Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card. A total of 39,621 gallons of sewage were spilled into the Los Angeles River, and 140 gallons were spilled into Las Virgenes Creek; both waterways are monitored by Heal the Bay’s River Report Card.
For more information about sewage spills, visit LA County Department of Public Health’s website.
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