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Water Quality Improves at Santa Monica Beaches, “State of the Bay” Report Finds

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

February 2, 2016 -- Levels of harmful bacteria found in Santa Monica Bay have dropped significantly, and the amount of trash littering its beaches has also declined, according to comprehensive update on environmental conditions at the bay and its watershed.

The 2015 “State of the Bay” issued recently by the Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program concludes there have been noteworthy improvements in conditions at the bay on several fronts, including the amount of bacteria found in its beach waters. It also notes that there has been better coordination among government agencies and others trying to improve water resources management.

“This SOTB report is our clearest view yet of the condition of the natural resources in Santa Monica Bay,” said Richard Ambrose, of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and Department of Environmental Health Science, and who chaired the technical advisory committee.

The last report was issued in 2010, but he said the newest findings used more data and a “clearer process for determining” the condition of the Bay’s habitats, as well as a scientific foundation of ongoing efforts to improve the bay.

Tom Ford, executive director of The Bay Foundation in Santa Monica, said part of the project’s ongoing mission is determine how the natural beauty and health of the coast can be protected in face of the ever-growing human population.

“We’re loving our beaches to death,” Ford said.

The major focal point for the future will be making sure all of Los Angeles County’s beaches, including those in Santa Monica, can overcome losses in sediment due to the human population. Natural sources of sediment, like creeks and culverts, are encased in concrete now as part of the local flood-control system.

“We’ve cut off the natural sediment to our coast at a time when see sea levels are rising,” he said, adding that he is “cautiously optimistic” that governments and environmental groups can make progress on a timely basis.

The most recent SOTB report points out that most habitats in most areas of the Bay and its watershed are degraded to “some degree due to human disturbances”.

“With a continuously growing population, it would be nearly impossible for this not to be the case,” said Julie Du Brow, a representative for the program.

A science-based assessment of the bay, the update focuses on water quality, natural resources and “benefits and values” to humans, Du Brow said in announcing release of the report.

Pollution of the bay’s waters, most of it caused by urban runoff, is a decades-old problem in Santa Monica, and landed part of the beach in a top position in Heal the Bay’s Beach Bummer list in 2015. The Santa Monica environment group put the beach adjacent to the Pier in sixth place, slightly worse than the year before.

Santa Monica and the rest of Los Angeles County’s beaches were reminded of their pollution problems in the wake of Sunday’s Southland storm, when warnings were posted of potentially high bacteria levels due to runoff.

The advisory was to stay in effect until 9 p.m. on Wednesday. As is usually the case, the county urged the public to avoid contact with ocean water for 3 days after the storm, especially near flowing storm drains, creeks and rivers.

In all, the report notes many improvements over the years. The quality of effluent discharged from wastewater treatment plants in the bay has “improved steadily” since the 1980s, for instance, although the amount of human-related debris has as well.

“There is clear evidence that our beaches are cleaner, with less trash and bacterial contamination,” Guangyu Wang of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, a participant in the study, wrote.

One change is a number on chemical pollutants federal and state restrictions found in marine debris over the last five years, the report said. It cited limits on dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, or DDT, and Polychlorinated biphenyl, PCB, in Santa Monica Bay.

Harmful levels of bacteria found in Santa Monica Bay beaches have been greatly reduced during dry weather conditions due to efforts by local governments to reduce runoff and improve water quality, including the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility, the study found.

SMURFF, close to the foot of the Pier, intercepts 500,000 gallons a day of contaminated runoff from the Pico-Kenter catchment area, it said.

The result of those efforts “is a measurable improvement in beach water quality,” the assessment said.

Pollution remains a problem at the source, the report said, with many creeks and streams in the bay watershed continuing to be contaminated with heavy metals, toxins, chemicals and trash, “limiting their ability to support a healthy ecosystems” in the Santa Monica Bay.

New regulations to require trash-free creeks and streams will reach full effect in 2021, with “expected corresponding reductions in other pollutants,” it said.

The quality of water from sewage outfalls is also becoming cleaner, improving the health of local fish and protecting public health, it concludes.

The new State of the Bay report is the fifth produced since 1993.

Partners in the project include The Bay Foundation, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, the Center for Santa Monica Bay Studies at Loyola Marymount University and the Seaver College of Science and Engineering at LMU.

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