River Report Card Grades Freshwater in L.A.
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.
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!