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OH NO!!! Connecting a sewage spill, watersheds, and limited coastal access!

Between May 8th and 9th, an estimated 14,400 gallons of untreated sewage spilled into Ballona Creek and was carried out into the ocean, according to health officials. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health ordered a beach and ocean water closure for two miles of coastline south of Venice Beach to Dockweiler Beach. When I worked at Heal the Bay, we considered this a major spill---anything over 10,000 gallons.


Ballona Creek is part of the of Ballona Watershed that encompasses an area that included Beverly Hills and Koreatown on the north, the 110 freeway on the east, Inglewood on the south, and everything in between. The outlet for this watershed basin---think of the drain at the end of a bathtub or bottom of a kitchen sink---is at the beach where Playa del Rey and Marina del Rey split. These days the watershed has been built over by the storm drain system, which is a human-made series of pipes, gutter, catch basins, and drains that mirrors nature's watershed and allows communities to drain after a rainstorm so that they don't flood. Sidenote here---besides moving water, creeks, streams, and rivers--all components of the watershed---also move sediment. The overall LA basin, which was bisected by a multitude of rivers and creeks draining the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains, was such a fertile home for the Tongva communities.


All Los Angeles communities are connected to the ocean through the storm drain system because every community is connected to a watershed. As such, anything that gets into the storm drain system often goes straight to the beach or ocean untreated. With LA being so built out, there are a lot of pollutants, trash, and waste that get into the system and end up at the beach. THE STORM DRAIN SYSTEM and the WASTEWATER SYSTEM ARE DIFFERENT!!!!!However, on occasion, the two intermingle...sometimes intentionally--like when we capture and divert low-runoff producing rainstorms to the wastewater treatment plant for treatment, which is a good thing. However, like the Ballona Creek spill demonstrates, there are unintentional interactions between the two systems that can have impacts to public and ecological health.


Illustration of a Natural Watershed

When there is a sewage spill that leads to a beach closure, folxs need to stay out of the water and off the beach sand due to potential pathogenic--disease causing bacteria and viruses--material that can be present in the water at elevated levels. Depending upon the size of the spill, the beach area impacted and the duration of the are closed will vary. During these times, the public beach is not accessible---obviously for good reasons from a public health perspective. However, this pollution impact does not only impact ocean waters and thereby limit beach access or recreational opportunities. These sewage spills also happen within our local rivers and creeks----see Ballona Creek spill, which can impact a community's ability to access nature in more inland areas. Unfortunately, there have been spills in Los Angeles County waterways that have impacted recreational access to the Los Angeles River, the San Gabriel River, and Malibu Creek. People swim, wade, and connect with Los Angeles' waterways with the same passion as being at the ocean. It is important that we support and invest in infrastructure that enables these resources not to be impacted by pollution from either sewage spills or runoff. Pollution that impacts access to nature is another barrier that needs to be eliminated.


CNC program participants at the beach.


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