Contamination is Forever

In the field of water quality regulation, sewage treatment plant and industrial dischargers often have strict numeric limits on the amount of pollutants they can discharge.  In some cases, for highly toxic pollutants like organochlorines and mercury, the limits can be at the parts per billion or even per trillion level.

As a result of the Federal Clean Water Act and the California Porter Cologne Act requirements, most individual sources of pollutants have decreased their toxics discharge by an order of magnitude or more over the last 30 years.

On the opposite side of the regulatory continuum are contaminated sediments.

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Suing Over Septics


Despite years of public outcry at Rincon and other locales, the State Water Board has been slow to adopt mandated regulations on septic systems

Enough is enough.  Although Heal the Bay generally only uses litigation as a last resort, we do have our limits.  On Tuesday, Santa Barbara environmental group Heal the Oceans and Heal the Bay filed a lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board for its failure to implement Assembly Bill 885, which required the Board to develop regulations for on-site wastewater treatment systems. AB 885 was authored by former assembly member Hannah-Beth Jackson in 1999 and Gov. Davis signed it into law in 2000. The bill required the Board to develop regulations for the siting, permitting and operation of on-site wastewater treatment systems, or OWTS, by 2004.

The regulations took aim at septic systems, which pose a serious threat to water quality at several famous beaches up and down the coast.  After seven years of patience and a decade of regulatory negotiations with the state, county health agencies, OWTS experts and local government representatives, the environmental groups involved felt that they had no choice but to sue the state to ensure that the law would be implemented. Coast Law Group filed the suit on behalf of the organizations.

Both groups were instrumental in the passage of the law as bill sponsors.  In the 1990s, while Hillary Hauser and Heal the Oceans led efforts to clean up chronically polluted Rincon, Heal the Bay pushed for cleanup at the even more polluted Surfrider Beach.  Both groups noted scientific studies that found human pathogens in the adjacent coastal lagoons — strong evidence that nearby septic systems were causing or contributing to chronic water quality problems that posed health risks to the surfing community.

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Don’t Forget Water, Jerry

Life imitates art at the L.A. Regional Water Board

Dear Governor Brown:

I understand you are facing California’s budget crisis head on and I agree with your priority setting for the state: digging us out of the budget crisis is priority one through 100. However, on behalf of all of those that care about clean water in the Los Angeles region, we need your help. Making appointments to boards that don’t necessarily share your views on environmental protection is a high priority. Each month that goes by without your appointments could lead to a series of bad decisions.

For example, the Los Angeles Regional Water Board met on Thursday and one of its first orders of business was the approval of a new board chair. Typically, this is a pro-forma decision. The vice chair gets appointed to the chair leadership. Unfortunately, a Coastal Commission hearing broke out at the Simi Valley meeting with politics getting in the way of traditional policy. Every year for the last 10 years, the vice chair has become the chair. Until Thursday.

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No Poo at the ‘Bu

The septics prohibition - a major step towards cleaner water at Surfrider Beach

The septics prohibition - a major step towards cleaner water at Surfrider Beach & Lagoon. Photo: Jon Shafer

On Tuesday afternoon, the California State Water Board voted unanimously to support the Regional Water Board’s prohibition of on-site wastewater plants in the Malibu Civic Center area. Commercial facilities must be off septics by 2015 and residential sites must be off by 2019.

Opposition to the action was strong with Malibu’s City Attorney threatening litigation if the State Board upheld the prohibition. Malibu City Council members, local residents and the business community all opposed the prohibition citing cost concerns and Malibu’s new found commitment to Clean Water. Continue reading

Shattering the Myth

Dockweiler Beach at Imperial Highway made Heal the Bay's Honor Roll this year, dismissing the notion that urban beaches can't be kept clean year-round.

Heal the Bay released its 20th annual Beach Report Card for California yesterday. Many of the usual suspects populated the Beach Bummer list, with such perennial polluted beaches as Avalon and Cabrillo in the top three.

But the big news of the report card focused on clean beaches during dry weather. Some 76 out of 323 beaches in California received perfect scores during dry weather. That’s right, a full 23% of the state’s beaches monitored year-round never exceeded fecal bacteria water quality and public health standards.

These beaches made up the Honor Roll, and their presence shatters the myth that beaches cannot be clean and safe all of the time. The urban legend is perpetuated by the Coalition for Practical Regulation cities and Los Angeles County. Both entities have long opposed making beach water quality requirements enforceable.

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Baby Blues

Poor circulation at Baby Beach in Dana Point has historically led to poor water quality grades.

With April right around the corner, the official beach monitoring season is upon us. Under AB 411, all heavily visited beaches near a potential pollution source statewide must be monitored once a week from April to the end of October.  The monitoring program provides critical information to better inform the public of the potential health risks of swimming at potentially polluted beaches.

This April, families can finally return to Baby Beach in Dana Point. Due to the state budget crisis, the Orange County Health Department cut water quality monitoring at the popular enclosed beach near the Ocean Institute aquarium.  Baby Beach has long been a destination for families to take their young children to swim in the ocean without the fear of rip currents and breaking waves.  Unfortunately, since November, kids swimming at Baby Beach did so at their own risk because their parents didn’t have any water quality information. 

Considering that Baby Beach has been on the Beach Report Card’s annual beach bummer list multiple times, the cessation of the fecal bacteria monitoring program definitely put public health at risk.

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Stormwater Crossroads

After 20 years, the City of Los Angeles’ stormwater program is at a crossroads.

The program has come a long way since its beginnings in the early nineties as a result of the Hyperion consent decree and new regulations under the federal Clean Water Act and the first countywide stormwater permit. The City has done a superb job on stormwater education for students, businesses and the public. During the early 1990s, Heal the Bay worked closely with the City on our Gutter Patrol program where volunteers helped stencil tens of thousands of catch basins all over the city. Today, the City runs the program and you can’t find a catch basin in the city without a “No Dumping” stencil.

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A High Impact Ordinance

The L.A. Board of Public Works' LID ordinance is a giant step in the fight to reduce runoff pollution.

Jan. 15, 2010 is the day that the Los Angeles Board of Public Works enlisted the help of the development and business communities and homeowners to green L.A. and clean local rivers and beaches.

The cost of clean water is high and we all need to do our part to reduce runoff pollution. The newly adopted Low Impact Development ordinance is an equitable approach to reducing runoff and will help the city keep down the cost of compliance with water quality standards.

The board unanimously approved the draft LID ordinance, which requires 100% of the runoff generated from a three-quarter-inch storm at newly constructed homes, larger developments and certain redevelopments to be captured and reused or infiltrated on site. If compliance is infeasible on site, developers can pay a stormwater pollution mitigation fee to help pay for off-site public LID projects like green streets and alleys.

Support came from diverse parties, including the Green L.A. Coalition, the L.A. Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, NRDC, local business leaders, the Sierra Club, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, local developers, Heal the Bay, the Assn. of Professional Landscape Designers, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, the Regional Water Board, neighborhood councils, TreePeople, local gardeners and many other individuals and environmental groups. An incredibly impressive group realizes that LID is a cost-effective way to reduce runoff pollution, augment local water supply, and green L.A. 

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Déjà vu

Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant

Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant: 301(h) waiver denied!

Today’s guest blogger is Kirsten James, Water Quality Director at Heal the Bay

History has a habit of repeating itself. Nearly 25 years ago, Heal the Bay was born when Dorothy Green and her friends fought the Environmental Protection Agency’s 301(h) wavier for Los Angeles’ Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant. Despite Clean Water Act requirements for secondary treatment, Hyperion was spewing effluent with only primary treatment into the Santa Monica Bay and causing massive environmental damage. Contrary to what some argued, sewage was NOT good for the fish! Fortunately for the Bay and its inhabitants, Heal the Bay efforts were successful and Hyperion is now a world-class treatment facility.

Who would have thought that a quarter of a century later, Californians would be fighting the same battle again?

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No Day at the Beach

L.A. County legal strategy puts swimmers at risk

L.A. County legal strategy puts swimmers at risk

This week, the State Water Board heard Los Angeles County’s appeal on the inclusion of enforceable beach water quality standards in the county’s stormwater permit.  The county appealed the permit despite the fact that the L.A. Regional Board modified the permit nearly three years ago and it has been relatively successful in getting a lot of beaches cleaned up of fecal pollution during the summer months.

The county’s dubious arguments stem from its challenge to putting enforceable numeric limits in the permit.  In the case of Santa Monica Bay, the limits are that every beach along the Bay must comply with fecal bacteria water quality standards 100% of the time from April through October.  Some beaches, like Santa Monica Pier, Dockweiler at Ballona Creek, and Malibu Surfrider exceed limits dozens of times each summer.

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