SANTA MONICA, Calif. - Melissa Von Mayrhauser said she has never seen so many flowers at the Ballona Creek Estuary as there are now. But the recent heavy rains have brought more than just flowers.
The waterways at the estuary carry runoff, including industrial and residential pollution, from all over Los Angeles County into the ocean, which is why it's a good place to observe and measure water quality.
Mayrhauser is the watershed programs manager for LA Waterkeeper and she says that for a long time, L.A. hasn't noticed or cared about its waterways. But that's changing.
“We're in a really interesting time in L.A. right now,” explained Mayrhauser on a walk along the estuary. “For so long we've had this very traditional, large-scale engineering approach to our waters, thinking about getting them out of L.A. as quickly as possible, and now we're thinking of it more as this really important local resource that we can use and benefit from locally rather than moving it out to the ocean as quickly as possible.”
Historically, much of L.A.’s water infrastructure was designed for flood control, hence the concrete, but one of the things Mayrhauser points to as evidence of a shift in thinking was the passing of last November's Measure W, the special parcel tax designed to improve water infrastructure.
“Potentially the money that comes together for Measure W will fund projects which will increase the permeability of our land surface here,” said Mayrhauser. “So, perhaps removing concrete and getting water back into the ground, into our groundwater.”
Mayrhauser said she is happy to see people discovering the waterways in L.A. that have been hidden in plain sight for so many years, that it has increased awareness about how human activity affects these water systems.
“Everything that we do day to day really connects to the health of our waterways in our communities,” said Mayrhauser.
In nearby Santa Monica, the recent heavy rain has naturally had a huge impact on coastal water quality, especially near the Pico-Kenter storm drain which feeds into Santa Monica Bay at the point where Pico Blvd hits the beach.
Luke Ginger of Heal the Bay, which monitors water quality of some 500 beaches from California to Washington State, is in charge of the water quality report cards the organization publishes.
“The current report card right here is unfortunately an 'F' based on the sampling that took place last week,” Ginger explained. “There are some areas on the beach that are an 'A,' but this one in particular was an 'F' because of the storm drain.”
Ginger continued, “Water runs off the street into the storm drain at the curb and ends up here.”
Heal the Bay’s report cards publish data from testing done by various state and local agencies, but in a broader sense, their community engagement, which includes beach cleanups and volunteer programs, hopes to make people aware of the interconnectedness of all of L.A.’s waterways.
“Pour out your coffee in Silver Lake,” said Ginger, “that coffee is going to end up in the ocean. We found that once people have an appreciation for the natural environment they'll care more about protecting it.”.