Annual Progress Report, 2013
Cleaning Up Southern California Waterways
EPA and California have been longtime partners in the quest for cleaner surface waters in the Los Angeles region.
Over the past 14 years, EPA and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board have established pollution reduction plans to clean up 175 waterways in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
These include beaches, harbors, creeks, lakes, rivers and wetlands that are used for swimming, surfing, and fish and wildlife habitat. EPA has been working with the Los Angeles Regional Water Board to set site-specific pollutant reduction plans known as TMDLs – Total Maximum Daily Loads – for each waterway impaired by pollution. Across the Pacific Southwest Region, EPA approved 426 TMDLs in 2012 alone.
The TMDLs established in the Los Angeles region call for reductions in the amount of trash, bacteria, nitrogen, phosphorus, mercury, pesticides and other toxic chemicals polluting the region's waters. More than 95% of the waterways will meet water quality standards once the TMDLs are fully implemented.
Reductions in bacteria levels in Santa Monica Bay already benefit millions of people who visit its beaches each year. TMDLs for trash in rivers and creeks have led 42 cities to capture trash from storm drains before it enters the LA River (above), reducing trash in the river by 65%. In Calleguas Creek, a TMDL for nitrogen led to installation of advanced wastewater treatment, which reduced ammonia levels and resulted in documented water quality improvements in the Arroyo Simi watershed.
Other TMDLs established by EPA in 2012 include plans to reduce bacteria in the LA River and estuary, and beaches in Long Beach; DDT, PCBs and trash in Santa Monica Bay; sediment and invasive plants in Ballona Creek wetlands; toxics, trash, nitrogen and phosphorus in nine LA-area urban lakes; and toxic pollutants at the LA and Long Beach Harbors and Machado Lake.
Wastewater Projects Advance
The completion of sewage treatment upgrades in Southern California and in Mexico south of the Arizona border marked the conclusion of a decade-long push for cleaner waters.
Orange County, Calif., just south of Los Angeles, has a population of more than three million. Its wastewater goes through one of two treatment plants to prevent pollution of the county's beaches and nearshore waters.
So it was big news in October 2012 when the Orange County Sanitation District finished expanding its Fountain Valley facility to full secondary treatment. The county's Huntington Beach treatment plant completed similar upgrades in 2011.
Secondary treatment injects air into churning concrete pools of wastewater to speed the growth of bacteria, which break down the sewage. Such treatment has been required by the Clean Water Act, but EPA can grant a waiver if a primary-treated discharge is not harming the environment.
The district had such a waiver, but by 2002 many residents opposed renewing it, and EPA encouraged an upgrade to full secondary treatment. The $3.4 billion project also included replacement of aging sewers and construction of anaerobic digesters that produce methane to generate most of the electricity the treatment plants use.
In the border city of Nogales, Ariz., sewage flowing from Nogales, Sonora (Mexico) – through the Nogales Wash and into the Santa Cruz River – had been overwhelming the capacity of the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant for decades. EPA helped the Arizona city clean up the river by completing a $70 million upgrade of the plant in 2009.
The results were stunning. Where the polluted river was murky and had a foul smell, by 2010 the restored, clear, oxygen-rich waters became a magnet to fish, wildlife and people.
However, the river was still sometimes tainted by sewage spills and surges of stormwater mixed with sewage. In partnership with Mexico, EPA provided partial funding for projects in Nogales, Sonora, to replace broken, inadequate sewers and build the Los Alisos Wastewater Conveyance and Treatment Project, completed in 2012. These projects led to a significant reduction in sewage spills in the wash and river.
The sewer collection and treatment plant projects for the Ambos Nogales region, built with roughly $100 million in EPA funding, account for four of 102 drinking water and wastewater projects built by the Border Water Infrastructure Program with Mexican and U.S. partners over the past decade. Thanks to these projects, well over 500,000 homes have access to wastewater collection and treatment systems for the first time, and 60,000 homes have received safe drinking water.
Focus on the San Joaquin Valley
EPA works with state and local partners to protect valley waters from contamination.
The San Joaquin Valley depends on both groundwater and surface waters, including rivers, creeks, canals and more than 575 community water systems.
Access to safe drinking water is a major challenge for small communities, in part due to contaminated groundwater (see page 19). The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has targeted small non-complying community water systems with health-based violations throughout the state, of which over 50% are in the San Joaquin Valley. EPA, in partnership with CDPH and local stakeholders, continues to work with these communities to identify barriers to compliance and to develop long-term sustainable solutions.
Some of the most promising signs of progress to protect surface waters have come from the San Joaquin River. First, a 50-mile stretch that went dry part of every year due to dams and water diversions was re-watered. In November 2012, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife captured adult salmon and trucked them upstream to spawning areas, in hopes of restoring a San Joaquin salmon run for the first time in more than 60 years.
In June 2012, EPA awarded $59,000 in grant funds under its Urban Waters initiative to Revive the San Joaquin, a nonprofit in Fresno, to establish a citizen-based water quality monitoring and pollution prevention education program in the city's 15 miles of neighborhoods lining the riverbank.
Also notable is the success of a 20-year effort to reduce levels of the pesticide diazinon in two stretches of the river, totaling 17 miles. Diazinon was being used on orchards, and runoff was washing the pesticide into the river.
Since 1994, a partnership including growers, the University of California, state agencies, and EPA have collaborated on the Biologically Integrated Orchard System (BIOS) project. Participating growers reduced their use of chemical pesticides, replacing them with biological controls, cover crops, and habitat for beneficial insects. By 2010, diazinon levels had dropped dramatically, and these stretches of the San Joaquin were removed from the state's list of waters impaired by diazinon.