What are the Issues?
In its natural state, open space in the Los Angeles area used to absorb most rainfall into the ground, naturally filtering and cleansing this water as it percolated down. However urban development has introduced hard surfaces, such as asphalt and concrete, to the Los Angeles landscape that disrupt this natural process. Now rainwater rushes along streets, picking up trash and pollution as it flows, depositing this pollution into lakes, rivers, and eventually the ocean and beaches. During a typical storm, billions of gallons of water rush directly into the ocean.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health warns that stormwater runoff poses significant health and environmental risks. Rivers, lakes, beaches, bays and coastal waters in the County area have been found to be contaminated by health-threatening pollutants at levels well above established public health standards, and the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
Polluted runoff has consequences:
- The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health posts warning signs on beaches hundreds of times each year due to bacterial contamination. Swimming in this contaminated water can lead to gastroenteritis, ear, nose and throat infections, as well as cause other serious health problems.
- Every year, thousands of children and adults contract a gastrointestinal disease after swimming at a Los Angeles County beach or lake. (1)
- Hundreds of thousands of tons of trash from our streets wash up on Los Angeles County beaches every year. (2)
- Every year hundreds of seals, sea lions, and dolphins along the California shoreline are found dead. These deaths are attributed to pollution and reduced food sources. (3)
- There is an oxygen-starved “dead zone” off the Los Angeles County coastline at the outlet of the San Gabriel River, according to NASA’s Goddard Earth Sciences Center. Excess fertilizers from our lawns and yards flow into the ocean and feed blooms of algae, which are decomposed by oxygen-sucking bacteria. Without enough oxygen, fish and shellfish suffocate. Only worms and jellyfish remain.
Hard, or impervious, surfaces in the Los Angeles area also keep storm water from percolating into the ground, and recharging ground water supplies. This limits the amount of locally available drinking water. We currently import two-thirds of our drinking water—spending billions every year. This amount will need to almost double in the next 10 years.
1 Given S, Pendleton LH, Boehm AB. Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Environmental Science and Engineering Program, 46-071A Center for Health Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles 90095-1772, USA.
2 "California Coastal Cleanup Day 2011", Santa Monica Mirror.
3 “Harmful Algal Bloom Toxins Found in Dolphin Diets,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.