Concerned Citizens Work to Help Keep Santa Monica Bay Clean

A fog catcher on a hillside in rural Peru

Stewards and stakeholders of the Santa Monica Bay watershed are working in collaboration to help keep our local waters clean and plentiful. In the midst of a drought and while battling pollution from visitors and residents, it’s a constant fight to find workable solutions.

The Santa Monica Bay watershed community was formed in the 1990s.  Concerned members and agencies met online Thursday, Sept. 23, to provide an update on their latest efforts.

One way to help keep the bay healthy is to monitor the creeks feeding it. Alberto Grajeda, associate civil engineer with the LA County Department of Public Works (DPW), described a new project affecting the north Santa Monica Bay from Malibu through Topanga. The Viewridge Road Project, currently under construction, is an underground filtration system being installed just east of Topanga Canyon Blvd on Viewridge Road. Currently, the water is untreated as it flows into Topanga Canyon through to the bay. The DPW project will not only filter the water, but also add 16 trees to the street level urban canopy.

At Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura, another underground treatment project is in the planning phase to address water quality and reduce pollutants. By intercepting water from storm drains on Liberty Canyon, the flow will be diverted to treat the water, capture debris and then filter it from other toxins. Cleaner water will then discharge back into the Santa Monica Bay. That project should be completed by late 2024.

Money to fund many of the projects touted at the meeting comes from Measure W, which was passed three years ago during another multi-year drought. LA County voters approved the measure by 68 percent to address surface water quality, storm drain water before it reaches oceans and rivers, pollution, and to improve and enhance water supply.

Pollution is a huge problem, according to Dr. L.B. Nye of the Los Angeles Water Quality Control Board.

“Trash is a constant battle,” Nye said, adding, “A new regulation focuses on landowners, including in Malibu, and their obligations to reduce trash that’s getting into Malibu Creek. We’re working with the National Park Service, California [State] Parks and all the landowners.”

Another expansive project to reclaim used water was explained by Dave Roberts, resource conservation manager from Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (which includes some of the 90265 zip code, but not the City of Malibu). The Pure Water Project takes effluent from the Tapia Reclamation Facility and converts it into potable drinking water. The technology of how that process works is on demonstration at the water district’s headquarters on Las Virgenes Canyon Road. Eventually, a full-scale operation will be housed on Agoura Road.

“Once operational, all of the discharge we currently put into Malibu Creek would be turned into potable water,” Roberts said. “That will create a local potable water source for the first time ever for us because all of our water is imported—100 percent. That will reduce the amount of imported water required for the district by 20 percent. It will be one of our single largest conservation efforts.”

And on the subject of effluent, the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains conducted a study to find out whose poop is getting into the Topanga watershed. Findings show some human markers, but the biggest culprits are dogs and seagulls. Still, just one deposit that could come from a dirty diaper or a transient human causes significant bacterial damage, according to the conservation district’s Rosi Dagit, a senior conservation biologist. And that’s not the only issue.

“Fire sediment removal has been continuing in collaboration with the California Conservation Corps and other agencies,” Dagit said, later adding, “We have not found any steelhead in Malibu Creek watershed since March of 2017. The only place where steelhead still occur in the Santa Monica Mountains is Topanga.”

Dagit answered a question about the reported increased algae in Malibu Lagoon.

“The Bay Foundation folks are looking into what kind of discharge is coming from the construction project in the Civic Center area that has a permit to discharge 200,000 gallons a day or something crazy like that,” she said. “We don’t have an answer yet.”

The Zoom session ended with a presentation about an innovative water project in Peru that holds interest for California, especially during a drought. Fog net water catchers are fairly primitive devices currently being used in the South American country. The fog catchers are used by people living off the grid. Nets catch fog and capture micro droplets that go through pipes and are collected in tanks. Up to 400 square meters of water can be collected using the simple devices used for daily living and small-scale farming.