SANTA MONICA BAY — If you saw the beach in October after the first rain of the season then you know it was gross.
Birds picked through the garbage that made its way from the mainland down to the edge of the shore.
But the first flush was detrimental to the city by the sea in ways that don’t meet the eye.
Samples from two dozen industrial facilities throughout the county taken during the flush by Los Angeles Waterkeeper, a Santa Monica-based advocacy group, showed dangerously high levels of fecal bacteria and heavy metals.
“Storm water is the main source of pollution in the Santa Monica and San Pedro bays, endangering aquatic life and public health, and negatively impacting our tourist economy,” the report stated.
A sample take from one of the sites contained fecal bacteria levels hundreds of times greater than the legal limit. Aluminum levels at another were thousands of times over the limit. Many of the regulated substances for which these facilities are in violation are known to cause cancer and birth defects.
“The way our storm system is set up, all of that stuff is directed straight toward our bays and beaches,” said Liz Crosson, executive director of L.A. Waterkeeper. “What we’re finding upstream is also what we can expect to find downstream at the beaches. It definitely indicates that there is a problem flowing through our storm drains and down to the beach.”
L.A. Waterkeeper is investigating the facilities and will litigate those in violation of state or federal regulation if necessary. The organization has had success taking companies to court in the past, and recent runoff results show significant improvements by those that lost or settled lawsuits. The problem, she said, is that there are so many facilities to monitor.
Few of the industrial buildings subject to this type of testing are located in Santa Monica, said Neal Shapiro, supervisor of City Hall’s Watershed Section. Further, the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling facility treats dry urban runoff and even first flush runoff for reuse.
Many of the worst offenders are scrap metal yards, auto recyclers, waste transfer sites and recycling yards.
“We are however the recipient of stormwater discharges from Caltrans and West Los Angeles (specifically Kenter Canyon) at several points in our collection system over which we have no control,” Shapiro wrote in an e-mail. “What is needed is a more holistic or watershed monitoring approach.”
The most recent update to a permit, the Municipal Separate Stormwater Sewer Systems permit, is a good start, he said. It includes a requirement for watershed monitoring and more conservative goals.
The new goals “should have significant and long lasting benefits to the quality of life and water quality in Santa Monica and the bay,” Shapiro said.
Within Santa Monica, much of the possibility for runoff comes from construction sites, said Kirsten James, water quality director at environmental watchdog Heal the Bay. With the incoming Expo Light Rail Line and a spate of new development, the construction sites are many but, she said, Santa Monica has a great system that allows people to report issues, she said.
Go Request, a smart phone app, allows residents to report violations seen at construction sites, James said. Santa Monica is one of the better municipalities when it comes to responding to these types of problems, she added.
“I’ve had very good success with them following up,” said. “I find it to be particularly strong in Santa Monica.”