SM BAY — The environmental group Heal the Bay warned Southland residents and visitors Tuesday to avoid going into the water at Los Angeles County beaches for the next 72 hours in response to the area’s first significant rainfall after the recent Station Fire and a record period of drought.
The county’s 2,800-mile storm drain system is designed to channel rainwater to the ocean to prevent local flooding — resulting in polluted water pouring directly into the Santa Monica and San Pedro bays following rainstorms, said Matthew King of Heal the Bay.
After heavy rains, more than 70 major outfalls spew man-made debris, animal waste, pesticides, automotive fluids and human-gastrointestinal viruses into the marine ecosystem. That pollution poses human health risks, harms marine life and dampens the tourism economy by littering shorelines, King said.
After the recent mountain brush fires in Los Angeles County, including the massive Station Fire in the San Gabriel Mountains, a large amount of pollution will be washed into storm drains during this first flush event, he said. The recent fires scorched vegetation that once helped to filter and stabilize the pollutants.
Debris and toxins that have been accumulating for months on sidewalks, roadways and riverbeds are also being washed into the storm drains.
Exposure to the runoff can cause a variety of illnesses, most frequently stomach flu, King said.
During dry months, Heal the Bay and county health officials urge swimmers to stay 100 yards from flowing storm drains, which have been shown to have elevated levels of known carcinogens and pathogens.
“Our region’s waterbodies are likely to see unparalleled pollution levels after this rain event due to the recent brush fires and drought conditions,” said Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s director of water quality.
“It is critical that swimmers are aware of this risk and stay out of the water.”