A freight train roars by a graffiti-covered container in the currently desolate river section know as the Bowtie Parcel. (Jim Burns)
The nonprofit Heal the Bay, which publishes the yearly Beach Report Card, Wednesday released a 37-page water study of the Los Angeles River. Weekly water samples from Rattlesnake and Steelhead parks in the Elysian Valley and one in the Sepulveda Basin revealed a fecal indicator bacteria that exceeded federal standards.
“The study shows that popular recreation spots along the Los Angeles River suffer from very poor water quality, which poses health risks to the growing number of people who fish, swim and kayak in its waters,” according to a Heal the Bay press release.
More than six years ago, kayakers proved that the river was indeed a “traditional navigable waterway,” a legal term, and the Environmental Protection Agency invoked the Clean Water Act and triggered its protections.
“EPA is committed to a healthy L.A. River, and we will continue to work with our partners at the state, and other stakeholders like Heal the Bay, to improve water quality, habitat and recreational opportunities,” wrote EPA Public Affairs Specialist Soledad Calvino, in an email. “Water quality is an ongoing challenge in urban rivers, which require monitoring, assessment and measures to address pollutants from stormwater runoff and other sources.”
The EPA was reviewing the Heal the Bay findings at the time of this writing.
Closer to home, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office lauded the fact that L.A. has made progress “by significantly reducing trashing in our stormwater and reducing spills by 85 percent of the last 10 years.
Kayaking activist George Wolfe was instrumental in establishing the Los Angeles River as a “navigable waterway,” which invoked the Clean Water Act. (Courtesy George Wolfe)
“However, bacterial levels tend to exceed federal standards, which is not a surprise for an urban river that receives runoff from more than 800 square miles of heavily populated areas,” according to Liz Crosson, the mayor’s water policy advisor.
Earlier this month, an old sewer pipe, built in 1929, ruptured in Boyle Heights, causing some 2.4 million gallons of effluent to spill into the river. Health officials closed both Seal Beach and Long Beach for a time. The largest spill in L.A. history comprised some 30 million gallons in 1998, blamed on El Nino storms.
The spill occurred miles from both recreation zones, which are both upriver.
Based on its findings, Heal the Bay recommends:
- Kayaking and Angling: People should limit water contact, especially avoiding hand-to-face water contact. Users should not enter the water with an open wound, if immunocompromised, or after a rainfall. If there is water contact, rinse off with soap and water afterward.
- Swimming: While many families recreate in the water, particularly on hot days, adults and children should avoid swimming in the L.A. River, particularly submersing their heads under water. We envision a swimmable L.A. River one day but current water quality is not yet at a healthful level. If there is any water contact, rinse off with soap and water afterward.
- Public notification: All groups promoting recreation in the L.A. River should provide water quality information and best practices to all participants, using consistent, accurate and prominent information on all outreach materials, and in multiple languages, consistent with the demographics of visitors.
- Increased monitoring: The City of Los Angeles or responsible municipal agency should institute, at a minimum, weekly water quality testing for fecal indicator bacteria in the recreation zones during the open season (Memorial Day to the end of September), and at other known swimming spots along the Los Angeles River.
See you on the river, Jim Burns