Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Rain in SM: Beach Warnings and Water Lost at Sea


December 1, 2014

Public health officials in Los Angeles and Orange counties are asking surfers and swimmers to stay out of the ocean because of the bacteria, debris and trash that washed into the water from this week's storms.

The advisory remains in effect until 7 a.m. Sunday for all Los Angeles County beaches, but it may be extended depending on the rainfall. In Orange County, health officials advised beach-goers to stay out of the water for three days after the latest storm.

As a rule, bacteria can lurk in local waters for at least three days after a significant rainstorm.

Rain intensity and the volume of runoff from storm drains, creeks and rivers can elevate bacteria levels in the ocean.

The elevated levels of bacteria can cause sickness among children and the elderly.

San Diego County officials issued a similar warning Wednesday.

The dock areas at Balboa Bay Club in Newport Bay are closed because of a sewage spill.

The Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge and Border Field Park were closed in southern San Diego because of polluted runoff from the Tijuana River.

Runoff this week was expected to deliver enough contaminants into Santa Monica Bay that public health officials issued a warning for beach-goers to avoid areas near storm channel outlets.

The warning will remain in effect at least through Thursday evening, and then be re-evaluated, according to a statement issued by Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, MD, interim health officer for Los Angeles County.

Pollutants carried into the bay by the flood control system typically include trash, oil from roadways, and excrement from dogs whose owners failed to pick up after them.

"Our wet weather is when the largest amount of pollution gets flushed out to the bay," said Sarah Sikich, VP of the environmental organization Heal the Bay.

Since the millennium, Santa Monica has installed several underground filtration systems in the main storm channels that empty into the bay.

In the next two years, the filtration system for Pico-Kenter, the highest volume drain in Santa Monica, will be upgraded to trap more of the solid contaminants, Shapiro said.

The Bay City has also invested in a treatment plant dubbed "SMURFF"--Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility." It captures, treats and recycles so called "dry" runoff that comes from yard watering and other water uses when it is not raining. The recycled water is then put to use on municipal properties for irrigation and other non-drinking purposes.

SMURFF can process as much as 500-thousand gallons a day, Shapiro said, but lacks the massive storage capacity to accommodate the vastly larger surges of runoff that occur during times of rain.

In Los Angeles county during a typical rain, as much as 10 billion gallons of rain runoff goes out to sea.


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