Malibu’s water quality improved, report states


The report by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission also states that problems like beach erosion are ongoing issues that must be addressed.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

The 2010 State of the Bay report, released by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission last week, hailed improvements in Malibu’s watershed.

In the past, some of the city’s worst environmental degradation stemmed from runoff into Malibu’s creeks and streams, forcing local agencies to implement mitigation measures. Many of the significant accomplishments outlined in the report are the result of actions put in place more than 10 years ago, but which became evident only recently.

Lia Protopapadakis, marine science and policy analyst for SMBRC, said Malibu’s watershed would improve dramatically after storm water treatment at Legacy Park comes online and the city is connected to a sewage system.

“The biggest effects will probably be seen when Phase II of the Malibu Lagoon restoration project is completed,” Protopapadakis said. “But even more exciting results should come from the watershed restoration and preservation along Malibu Creek.”

The issue of a sewage system is controversial in Malibu. The Regional Water Quality Control Board passed a ban last November on septic systems in portions of the city, attributing them as the main cause of pollution in Malibu Creek and Lagoon and Surfrider Beach. The entity wants Malibu to implement a sewer system that would treat 60,000 gallons per day of wastewater. The city estimates this would cost $52 million. The city is awaiting the results of five water quality tests to determine the sources of the pollution. Some speculate that much of the pollution is coming from upstream watersheds and facilities outside the city’s jurisdiction, such as the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility. In the meantime, the State Water Resources Control Board must approve the RWQCB’s ban in order for it to go into effect.

Though the 2010 State of the Bay report touts “remarkable progress,” there are still objectives that have not been met and new challenges have emerged that will require future action. In Malibu, beach erosion is an ongoing issue, particularly in areas like Broad Beach.

Phyllis Grifman, associate director of the USC Sea Grant program, said the profusion of sand bagging there is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

“When natural tidal flow is impeded, it causes future issues,” Grifman said. “The waves hit the sandbags, bounce back and create beach scour, exacerbating the problem you are trying to fix. There are options, from seawalls to sand nourishment (returning sand to beaches) to textile-based submerged reefs. But they all have their own attendant problems and they all cost money.”

According to the report, there are noteworthy accomplishments elsewhere in the bay. After the two primary county wastewater treatment plants (the Hyperion and Joint Water Pollution Control plants) began aggressive secondary treatment measures in 1998, the ecosystems at the ocean outfalls (the site where treated water is discharged into the bay) have shown “significant” improvement, as measured since 2007, despite a continued population growth. Biodiversity has increased, and toxic metals and hydrocarbon contaminants have been reduced.

Beachgoers have benefited from significant improvement in beach water quality over that of five years ago, with reduced pathogen contamination during summer dry weather thanks to installation of low-flow diversions and on-site treatment facilities in storm drains throughout Santa Monica Bay watersheds. Sewage spills have also been dramatically reduced, leading to fewer beach closures.

And, during the past 10 years, the SMBRC has acquired more than 8,000 acres of open space in bay watersheds, including streams, wetlands and coastal sage scrub. Some 970 acres were acquired for preservation in Corral Canyon and Cold Creek Canyon alone. Restoring these habitats has been initiated and completed in many locations and provides critical open space for wildlife, as well as human recreation.

However, the report also sounds the alarm on major challenges that threaten the bay in coming years. Climate change will seriously impact local oceans through acidification. Increased harmful algal blooms will rob the water of oxygen, atmospheric deposition will load up the ocean with trace metals, and contaminants of unmonitored chemicals that are only just being discovered and are difficult to remove from wastewater will emerge.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program predicts severe drought in the western United States (2007 was the driest year in L.A. in 130 years), increasing demand on water supply. In the past 100 years, ocean levels have already risen nearly eight inches and climate models predict another rise of perhaps more than 1.4 meters by the end of this century. Serious strategizing is necessary to protect more than14,000 coastal residents vulnerable to flooding.

Ocean acidification is already occurring, due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere coming from burned fossil fuels and deforestation. This will reduce oyster and mussel populations and affect the entire marine food web.

Because of increased toxins flowing into the bay, harmful algal blooms that cause domoic acid poisoning will kill off marine species. And harmful metals are flowing into the bay, via storm drains, from road dust, tire wear, construction dust and brush fires.

Emerging contaminants are streaming into waters through runoff in increasing concentrations. Pharmaceutical products, prescription medicines, pesticides, hormones from livestock feeding operations and industrial chemicals like flame retardants must be minimized in the future, perhaps through public educational programs to prevent future “legacy pollutants” like DDT and PCBs.

The SMBRC developed a bay restoration plan in 1995 to help comply with mandates of the 1972 federal Clean Water Act. An updated bay restoration plan was adopted in 2008.

Chief among the plan’s goals was improved water quality through treatment or elimination of polluted discharges, prevention of pollution at the source and controlling the impact of emerging contaminants like DDT and PCBs, and benthic organisms that cause algal bloom.

The plan’s next priority was to protect natural resources, acquiring land for preservation of habitat, managing invasive species and restoring wetlands, coastal bluffs and deepwater habitats.

Finally, the SMBRC seeks to protect public health, increase public access to beaches and increase local water supplies through conservation.

The full State of the Bay 2010 report can be found online at