Posted by: LAWaterkeeper | July 17, 2013

TSS, Conductivity, Indicator Bacteria…It’s All Greek to Me!

DrainWatch volunteer, Oscar, in the water quality lab running some FIB samples.

DrainWatch volunteer, Oscar, in the water quality lab running some FIB samples.

I get a lot  of questions from people interested in volunteering in one of our water quality monitoring programs (SWAT and DrainWatch). One of the most common ones is, “What do you test for?”. The simple answer is we test parameters like pH, TSS, DO, FIB’s, dissolved metals, COD, etc. But that’s about the time I see people’s eyes glaze over, so let’s break it down and start from the beginning.

What does water quality mean? And how do we measure it?

All water is of a certain “quality” (and you can’t tell just by looking at it), but what does “water quality” really mean? Water full of dirt and grime might work fine for your garden or water with algae and aquatic organisms might be suitable for swimming but would you want to drink it? Water quality can be thought of as a measure of the suitability of water for a particular use based on selected physical, chemical, and biological characteristics. Water thats supports fish or is used for recreation and swimming have different water quality requirements than water used for say, drinking. A set of physical, chemical and biological standards against which compliance can be assessed exist for all our rivers, streams, lakes and coastal waters. These standards are what we refer to when we measure water quality.

Here in Los Angeles, toxic substances and high populations of microorganisms can present health hazards that impact swimming, fishing and boating and affect wildlife that rely on the water for drinking and habitat. California and Los Angeles Regional water quality laws specify protection of fisheries and recreational use, and require, as a minimum, retention of current quality standards.

So what do we test for at LA Waterkeeper?

Our water quality monitoring programs, SWAT and DrainWatch, focus on the chemical and biological parameters that impact the beneficial use of our local waters. This includes testing for high populations of bacteria that indicate threats to swimmers and measuring heavy metals like copper and lead that adversely affect fish and aquatic species living in our rivers and off our coast.

Here are some of the most common water quality tests that we use at LA Waterkeeper, whether at our monthly volunteer water quality sampling along Ballona Creek or while monitoring stormwater runoff from industrial sites:

FIBs-Fecal Indicator Bacteria– FIB, like E.coli and enterococcus, are natural inhabitants of the gastrointestinal tract of humans and other warm-blooded animals. These bacteria in general cause no harm but are an indication of an increased likelihood of, harder to test for, harmful pathogens present in waters. Unlike FIB, pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoa do pose a health risk to humans.

TSS-Total Suspended Solids– TSS concentrations and turbidity (a measurement of light scatter) both indicate the amount of solids in the water, whether mineral or organic. High concentrations of particulates can cause increased sedimentation and siltation in a stream, which in turn can ruin critical habitat for fish and other aquatic life. Suspended particles also provide attachment places for pollutants such as metals and bacteria, offering them a free ride.

pH- pH is a measure of the acidity in water. To protect aquatic life, natural waters must maintain a pH range of 6-8 (or 6-9). Beyond this range, the pH can cause harmful ecological effects such as the death of invertebrates that are not resistant to extreme pH values.

COD-Chemical Oxygen Demand- COD is commonly used to indirectly measure the amount of organic compounds in water, making it a useful test of water quality. Measuring organic compounds in the water tells us how much oxygen total is required so that natural processes such as the conversion of organic matter into carbon dioxide are not jeopardized.

Dissolved metals- Some metals are naturally formed through geological processes and are essential for life; normally, once trace amounts of these metals enter the water. Metal, however, can also cause chronic and acute poisoning. Industrial activities, like scrap metal recyling and mining may sometimes lead to the contamination of a water resource with toxic metals such as arsenic, barium, chromium, copper, nickel and mercury.

What does water quality mean to you?

To find out more information or volunteer for our water quality monitoring programs, contact me at 

-Lara Meeker, Watershed Program Manager

Posted by: LAWaterkeeper | July 11, 2013

The Social Issues of Water Pollution

Skid Row

Los Angeles is the homeless capital of the nation, with more than 58,000 people living on the streets of our city. Among a list of reasons why addressing this issue should be a top priority is the fact that it has a major impact on water pollution in LA.

As a frequent volunteer on Skid Row, I am always in awe of the number of people that live in the 50 block radius. A last resort for the low-income population of Los Angeles, Skid Row is home to nearly 18,000 (of which 5,000 are living on the streets), making it the highest concentration of homeless people in the country. This means that 5,000 people have to use the streets to sleep, eat, and even go to the bathroom. Last July, it got so bad that the LA County Department of Public Health was required to remove the build up of trash and human waste along the streets and sidewalks. They came in and did a 13-day sweep, collecting nearly five tons of trash, gallons of feces and urine, and more than 81 cubic yards of waste water. Learning this was particularly upsetting to me, not only because so many people have to live in these conditions, but because all of it is ending up in our local waters.

There is some good news, though, and there is definitely something that can be done about this atrocity. The good news is that in addition to trash screens being installed on storm drains, there are also a few low-flow storm drain diversion systems in the area (at least one of which is a result of LA Waterkeeper’s Collection System settlement agreement with the City of LA!). This means that during the dry-weather season, any urban runoff (the gross stuff mentioned earlier) that enters the storm drains, will be diverted to the sewer system and then filtered and treated instead of going directly into our precious waterways. Sometimes its difficult to connect the trash you see on the sidewalk to the pollution in the ocean that ends up making us sick and destroying marine life. And when you do connect the two, you start to realize how intertwined everything is, and the direct correlation between the social and environmental issues of our community.

So what is the solution, here? Tackling the issue of homelessness head-on is first and foremost. Los Angeles currently spends $875 million in public resources to manage homelessness every year. This costs comes from law enforcement, criminal justice, and healthcare systems. What most people don’t realize is that its actually 40% less expensive to place someone in a home than to leave them on the streets. Providing our city’s homeless with permanent supportive housing is the key. This means giving them a permanent home with access to the supportive services that they need to become self sufficient. Several non profit organizations in LA already use this model, and if the city put even half of the $875 million into permanent supportive housing, our homeless would be off the streets and our water would be cleaner. In the meantime, though, Los Angeles Waterkeeper is fighting to protect our local waters through enforcement, fieldwork and community action. You can do your part, too, by volunteering with us, donating to our programs, or spreading the word about the work that we do. Learn more at

-Rachel Stich, Communications Manager

Posted by: LAWaterkeeper | July 4, 2013

Unfrack California

Fracking activity in Baldwin Hills near residential area, Los Angeles

Fracking activity in Baldwin Hills near residential area, Los Angeles

Last week, LA Waterkeeper submitted comments to the State of California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) on the agency’s “Discussion Draft” of new proposed regulations for fracking in California. A couple of things to note–

1) Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of oil and gas productions that involves blasting millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, under high pressure deep into the earth. Fracking breaks up rock formations to allow oil and gas extraction.

2) Fracking has been reported in at least 10 counties in California, including Los Angeles. Most California fracking is for oil, not gas.

3) There are no comprehensive regulations for this type of oil or natural gas extraction. Thus, oil and gas companies do not have the same inspection, notice, and monitoring requirements as other extraction activities.

4) Chemicals used in the fracking process are considered proprietary by the industry so regulators, health professionals, and the public have no idea what they are being exposed to at or near fracking locations.

5) There have been at least 1,000 instances of water contamination caused by fracking and drilling throughout the United States.

6) California is currently the target of the oil industry, which claims there are 15 billion barrels of oil in the Monterey Shale ripe for extraction.

So, it seems like a good thing that the State agency charged with regulating oil extraction activities is finally drafting some guidelines and requirements, right? Well, that would certainly be the case if (1) we knew more about the actual impacts and risks associated with fracking, and (2) we trusted that DOGGR has the environment and public health in mind in its drafting. However, since we don’t know either of these things, I’m less than excited about this process.

What’s worse is that the “Discussion Draft” released by DOGGR and currently open to public comment is horribly inadequate. For one, the draft offers little protection for communities that live near fracking operations. In fact, since oil and gas companies only have to disclose their activity to the regulators 10 days prior to fracking, the regulators need only give the public 3 days notice on a website they need to check themselves. Further, provisions do not include requirements that would prevent the public from being exposed to harmful air emissions, wastewater contamination containing harmful chemicals such as benzene, and oil companies are not required to capture the methane produced, which is a seriously harmful greenhouse gas. And oil companies do not collect baseline data so there is no way to track the actual air quality and water quality impacts from fracking.

To guarantee that the public health and natural resources are not compromised, LA Waterkeeper urges DOGGR (and state legislators) to impose a fracking moratorium during which a thorough study of fracking impacts on natural resources and public health in California should be conducted. In the absence of a moratorium, we believe the Discussion Draft must be substantially revised as described in the recommendations below to ensure adequate protection of California’s residents and environment.

LA Waterkeeper Recommendations:

  • Fracking regulations must require compliance with the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act and California’s Underground Injection Control (“UIC”) Program.
  • Fracking regulations must address the disposal of fracking wastewater via underground injection wells because this type of disposal method poses significant risks of ground and surface water contamination.
  • Fracking regulations must require operators to disclose the sources and volumes of water used in fracking, as well as the disposition, volume, and composition of wastewater associated with fracking operations.
  • Fracking regulations must require the collection of baseline water quality data before commencement of a fracking operation; groundwater testing must be conducted during and after completion of the fracking operation.
  • Operators should be required to notify the Department of Conservation and other applicable agencies and the public atleast 60 days before fracking and interested parties should be given the opportunity to submit comments.
  • The public and regulators should be immediately notified in the event of a spill.

Submit your own comments on DOGGR’s Discussion Draft to To find out more about other issues that LA Waterkeeper is involved in, visit our website:

-Liz Crosson, Executive Director

Posted by: LAWaterkeeper | June 26, 2013

On The Water with Waterkeeper

Waterkeeper's on the water boat presence and outreach efforts continues to spread the word about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and encourage compliance with MPA fishing regulations. Photos by Lauren Jack

Waterkeeper’s on the water boat presence and outreach efforts continues to spread the word about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and encourage compliance with MPA fishing regulations.
Photos by Lauren Jack

This past Sunday we documented two kayak fisherman with lines in the waters of the Pt. Dume Marine Protected Area (MPA). Afterwards, we passed out a few MPA maps and guides, and shared local MPA regulation information with the grateful kayakers up from Orange County, who then paddled up on to legal fishing grounds just past El Matador State Beach. I am glad to report that they had not landed any fish before the Waterkeeper boat met up with them. I am also glad to report that we have been seeing the two elephant seals that were released at Paradise Cove a couple of weeks ago yodeling from the rocks off of Pt. Dume. The blue and humpback whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions cruising the Santa Monica Bay waters are a pleasant addition to our MPA Watch boat trip excursions.

We have definitely seen a few more boats fishing inside the MPAs since Memorial Day. While we were out on the water with Antioch University students last week, we spotted a purse seine pulling its net onboard just outside the MPA boarder up at Paradise Cove. The act of compliance was observed just after we documented, and then informed, some recreational fisherman that they were fishing in a restricted area. They expressed their appreciation, pulled up anchor and moved to legal waters. Our outreach and education on the water mission sails on!

Volunteers who crew our boat and document boating and fishing activity in and around Pt. Dume and Pt. Vicente/Abalone Cove MPAs are always welcome. Boat trips run around 4 hours out of Marina Del Rey. Help us spread the word and enjoy a day on the Waterkeeper boat by volunteering! Check out the MPA Boat Trip calendar  or contact me for more information at

-Michael Quill, MPA Project Manager

Posted by: LAWaterkeeper | June 19, 2013

Water Down the Drain

Culver City Flood

Last Tuesday, I woke up with a lake in front of my house on a quiet residential street in Culver City right next to Ballona Creek. A thoughtful and compassionate neighbor of mine had run (or shall I say, waded?) through our neighborhood, knocking on every door to wake us all up to move our cars while we could. In the confusion and commotion of moving two cars to a higher and drier spot, then wading through knee-deep muddy water to my house only to watch the same water inching up to our porch for the next three hours, I could not help but think about the unjustified waste of such a precious, expensive resource due to mismanagement and poor planning. This was not the first time our front yard was turned into a lake due to a water main break. In fact, it was the second time in less than four years! I also shuddered at the thought of all the pollution flowing into Ballona Creek as our drinking water, which had traveled hundreds of miles to get to our faucets, was instead swiftly exiting through the storm drain after washing off pet waste, motor oil, fertilizers and fecal bacteria into the Creek and ultimately the Santa Monica Bay.

Fortunately, the lake in front of our house is gone and the street is being repaved. What is still here is the attitude that we can treat our water quality and water supply issues separately and that we can exploit our infrastructure until it is on its death bed. Through our litigation and advocacy efforts, Los Angeles Waterkeeper has consistently fought to change this attitude with the goal of protecting and enhancing all water resources in Los Angeles County. Every time measures to protect water quality were implemented as a result of our work, these same measures resulted in better planning, better infrastructure development and maintenance and better living. Now we just have to learn to plan before problems arise…

To find out ways that you can get involved in the fight to protect’s LA’s waterways, or to make a donation towards our work, visit .

-Tatiana Gaur, Staff Attorney

Posted by: LAWaterkeeper | June 12, 2013

Making REALLY BIG Waves

The blue-lit fig tree added great ambiance for the 300+ people celebrating LA Waterkeeper’s Making Waves 20th Anniversary Event at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows in Santa Monica.

The blue-lit fig tree added great ambiance for the 300+ people celebrating LA Waterkeeper’s Making Waves 20th Anniversary Event at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows in Santa Monica.

It’s hard to write about our Making Waves 20th Anniversary celebration and feel like I am doing the event justice.  In short, in  raising $330,000 this was easily our most successful event ever!  The warm, late spring evening was perfect for the outdoor, elegant venue at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows in Santa Monica.

The silent auction tables were overflowing with insanely cool items ranging in value from restaurant gift certificates to international luxury vacations.  We only expected 2 silent auction tables and ended up using 5!  Guests enjoyed a wide variety of tray passed hors d’oeuvres and drinks under the fig tree.  Even the succulent centerpieces were so beautiful that they became hot sellers before the end of the event!

More importantly than the food and décor, it was seeing all the support and feeling the vibe of giving for clean water that  truly made the event unforgettable.  Over 300 supporters, volunteers, LA Waterkeeper board members and staff, and community leaders all came together to show how much they care about clean water and what LA Waterkeeper does to protect LA’s water.  You can see for yourself what LA Waterkeeper has done to fight for clean water over the last 20 years by watching our 20th Anniversary Video!

As the night rolled on, our Executive Director Liz Crosson and Santa Monica Baykeeper founder Terry Tamminen spoke about the accomplishments of the organization as well as hopes for the next 20 years.  A live call for support far surpassed our goal of $20,000 for 20 years by raising over $30,000.  As the silent auction table closed and dessert was served, Steven Roth’s band rocked the house.  The evening wrapped up as a huge success and I think everyone involved is  looking forward to celebrating the next 20 years of fighting the battle for clean water with LA Waterkeeper.

-Amanda Gruen, MPA Outreach Coordinator

Posted by: LAWaterkeeper | May 21, 2013

Oil Spill Exercise in Santa Monica Bay!

Last week Los Angeles got a test of what would happen during a major oil spill.  Every three years there is a National PREP (Preparedness for Response Exercise Program) exercise to fully test the Los Angeles/Long Beach Area Contingency Plan.  Avoiding a world of acronyms and jargon, basically the exercise tests the oil spill response plan that covers ocean waters from Orange County in the south and includes San Luis Obispo County in the north (including the islands).  The best way to protect our local marine life and coastal communities is of course to prevent oil spills in the first place.  If an oil spill becomes a reality, then it is imperative that our response systems are as fast and effective as they can be.

Drills and exercises are a good thing!

There is often a misunderstanding about responding to major oil spills, with some believing that disappointing responses are often due to a lack of resources (such as recovery boom).  It is more often the case that mismanagement or human error are to blame for mistakes.  Full scale exercises are useful because all response parties  (Coast Guard, State Fish and Wildlife, response contractors, agencies, and the responsible party) get to know each other and work with each other in a pressured environment.  The protection of our environment and coast depends on these groups working together in the most efficient and effective response system possible.

The morning briefing of the oil spill exercise, showing the initial spill using ERMA, a GIS response tool.  If a major oil spill occurs off our coast, various industry and government professionals would work together using the Incident Command Structure.  At the exercise, responders wear vests to label their position within ICS.

The morning briefing of the oil spill exercise, showing the initial spill using ERMA, a GIS response tool. If a major oil spill occurs off our coast, various industry and government professionals would work together using the Incident Command Structure. At the exercise, responders wear vests to label their position within ICS.

Who let in the Environmentalist?!

I was privileged to witness the oil spill exercise that tested a worst case discharge from the Chevron El Segundo Marine Terminal flowing into the Santa Monica Bay.  To their credit it is important to note that Chevron volunteered to participate in the exercise.  I had previously been working with the Coast Guard, State Fish and Wildlife, contractors, and Chevron on the planning team for the exercise.  I learned a lot from them and they in turn invited me to play on the volunteer unit during the exercise, enacting a scenario where volunteers serve as spill observers on Los Angeles beaches.  It is rare for an environmental NGO to observe and participate in a large drill where this is a risk of misunderstanding, and I want to thank them for including me.

I’m glad Chevron volunteered because practicing the response at an open ocean terminal can only yield future protections in the event of a spill.  Unlike a ports or harbors where it is easier to contain and recover oil, the open ocean environment presents formidable challenges to even the best responders with potentially disastrous winds, waves, and currents.  Environmentalists, Chevron, the government and the public can all agree on one thing: nobody wants a spill at the El Segundo Marine Terminal.  Chevron has avoided a catastrophic spill to date [knocking on wood], but if there ever was a spill in the Santa Monica Bay, hopefully it occurs in calm ocean conditions.

Dispersants are a Hot Topic!

At the oil spill exercise I was an observer but was able to represent the concerned public and submit my concerns of environmental impacts of oil to the Liaisons of the exercise.  Those representatives of the Coast Guard, State Fish and Wildlife, and Chevron were very professional in dealing my concerns.  I worked with them, circling areas of concern on nautical charts, especially regarding the deep rocky habitats of Santa Monica Bay that we believe may be affected by chemical dispersants combined with oil.  Many effects of dispersants are not as well known as the effects of crude oil on birds and mammals, but are continuously being uncovered in the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill.  Local fish and invertebrate communities of Short Bank, Point Dume, and Rocky Point could be impacted if there was an oil spill and chemical dispersants were applied.  By applying dispersants you force a tradeoff scenario, often reducing impacts to birds, marine mammals, and the coastline, but increasing impacts to open ocean and deep sea communities.

Major oil spills are a no-win scenario and must be avoided at all costs.  If they do happen we want to make sure that the response is effective, and that if appropriate, the concerned citizens can help the response effort according to their prior training.  Watch LA Waterkeeper’s website for future information on this important topic.

-Brian Meux, Marine Programs Manager, Los Angeles Waterkeeper

“Community Day” portion of the oil spill exercise was held on May 13, 2013 at the Dockweiler Youth Center. Responders showed up with booths and equipment to educate the public about oil spill prevention and response. Here, LA Waterkeeper staff Amanda Gruen speaks with professional response staff.

Posted by: LAWaterkeeper | March 27, 2013

2013 Winter MPA Photo Contest WINNER!!!!!

zuma night 2Congratulations to the winner of our 2013 Winter MPA Photo Contest, Khai Bryan Tran.  This stunning night sky image was taken at Zuma Beach in Malibu.  Zuma Beach is located within the boundaries of the Point Dume Marine Protected Area (MPA).  Although parts of the Point Dume MPA are “no take” zones, this area allows for some limited fishing within the given regulations.  You can learn more about this and other MPAs here.  A huge thank you to those who submitted images, they were all fantastic making this a difficult decision.

Posted by: LAWaterkeeper | March 21, 2013

March 22 – Celebrate World Water Day!

Imported Photos 00009Tomorrow we will mark the 20th Annual Word Water Day. Started in 1993, coincidentally the year in which Los Angeles Waterkeeper was founded (as the Santa Monica Baykeeper), each year the World Water Day celebrates the importance of water for our planet. This year was officially designated the International Year of Water Cooperation in recognition of the fact that because water is essential for life, it cannot be protected and preserved without the participation and consideration of the interests of all stakeholders and users of our finite water resources.

Just like all of us, my life is inextricably connected with and dependent on water – for drinking, washing, watering my vegetable garden, playing, swimming, you name it. Water is so ubiquitous and basic that we almost forget how important it is. We, especially those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world, remember it only when we hear news of a really bad pollution accident or when we are deprived of it.

That is why I consider myself extremely fortunate and proud to have a job that allows me to fight to protect our water. Every day I am reminded that we all have the right and the obligation to work together to ensure our water is clean and abundant for us and for future generations. Since 1993, Los Angeles Waterkeeper has worked untiringly to defend our waterways from all sources of pollution, even when the government agencies tasked to protect our environment and the public from contamination, have been ineffective. In short, for the last 20 years the Los Angeles Waterkeeper has represented the public interest in clean water, making sure that the public is always part of the decision-making process affecting our water resources. By constantly bringing the public interest to the table, we are making possible the so much needed dialogue around water celebrated during the International Year of Water Cooperation. Happy World Water Day to all of us!

Celebrate World Water Day with LA Waterkeeper! Join our DrainWatch Water Quality Monitoring  team for a water quality “snapshot” of Ballona Creek on Sunday, March 24th, 2013 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m PST. Teams of DrainWatch volunteers will sample water quality along the lower reach of Ballona Creek in order to raise awareness regarding stormwater pollution in L.A.’s native freshwater supply. Click here to register.

Posted by: LAWaterkeeper | March 11, 2013

Action for Our Water Future

Trash at Ballona

After about mile three, the initial burn running through my legs and chill in the morning air wear off. I settle into the 15 miles awaiting me and begin to observe and digest my surroundings. I’m talking about my 18 mile bike ride up The Strand – from home in Redondo Beach to my office at LA Waterkeeper in downtown Santa Monica. It is my sanity and haven – allowing me to escape from grueling LA traffic once or twice a week, while at the same time making me feel so blessed to live in a place where I can ride my bike to work along one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world.

There’s a lot that happens over my 18 mile journey – interesting and unusual people and conversations, dogs, surfers and paddle boarders. But what I see more than anything is pollution – trash. As my photo shows, after a good long rain last night the amount of trash in the water was at its highest. As I came around the corner and crossed the Ballona Creek Bridge from Playa Vista to Marina Del Rey, a sea of styrofoam, plastic bottles, and paper garbage laid out before me. Making my way up the Ballona Creek bike path, I passed people walking with their kids and dogs, biking and running. It reminded me how amazed I always am at how much the path is used and appreciated by the community – even with the current state and level of pollution. But people aren’t the only ones that rely on the creek; birds, fish, rabbits and families of wildlife call this creek and the waterways throughout Los Angeles home. The sad part is, this is the most polluted part of my ride, and yet it is also the area where I see the most wildlife. As I stopped my bike to document the trash floating down the creek and making its way out to the Santa Monica Bay and eventually the Pacific Ocean, a pelican shot down from the sky and dove into the water, while a group of more than 100 curlews huddled together nibbling on the ring of trash surrounding them.

Curlews at Ballona Creek

People stared at me while I snapped shot after shot. Did they wonder what I was doing? Did they think I was crazy … or do they notice the trash, too? As I put away my camera and started in on the home stretch of my morning commute, I was hoping that just maybe, they didn’t think I was just a crazy lady with a camera on a bike, but that what I was doing had a purpose.

You can make a difference in your community! Join LA Waterkeeper tomorrow, March 12, 2013 at the County Board of Supervisors hearing from 9:30am-1pm, and let your voice for clean water projects in your community be heard. Click here to sign-up.

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