Environment & Science

Latest Santa Monica Bay report cites better water quality monitoring

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A state commission tasked with improving the waters off Santa Monica and the South Bay coastline finds some key habitats protected and some beaches safer for swimming. KPCC's Molly Peterson reports that for those silver linings, the group's findings include some lingering clouds.

The comprehensive State of the Bay report comes from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, an independent state organization that ensures the long-term health of the bay.

Shelly Luce is its executive director. She says along with better storm water management, better water quality monitoring has emerged since the last report five years ago.

"That's one of the reasons we can say that we think the beaches are cleaner and safer for swimming during dry weather. We know that they're not during wet weather most of the time. And we are working on new ways of measuring bacteria and viruses much more quickly."

Right now, tests that take 24 to 36 hours to process hamper what local water officials know about possible sewage spills and contamination.

Luce says faster, better testing matters because of looming legal mandates for water. "We've already passed some of the deadlines for dry weather bacteria concentrations and the wet weather bacteria is basically now," she acknowledges. "So the deadline has forced people to pay attention to that."

Some areas of study have found what Luce calls worsening problems. Fish populations continue a long-documented drop.

"We've seen it over the last 10 or more years and they're very important species. The halibut, the striped sand bass and the kelp bass... and these are fish people like to eat, and many other species as well, that are important for the marine ecosystem in Santa Monica Bay. And we've seen very serious declines."

Along the Palos Verdes shelf, the new report describes fish contaminated with decades-old pesticides and DDT.

The Santa Monica Bay restoration commission's Shelly Luce says that's a significant concern for the Asian community, whose anglers fish from public piers and eat their entire catch. "The enormous amount of grassroots efforts that have gone into really educating that population I think is a good news story. The flip side is that we don't know what to do with that contamination yet."

Luce says the hope of more research is better coastal management policies and better results next time around.