Environment & Science

Storm brings significant rainfall, triggers pollution at beaches

Saturday's lighting captured by our Facebook friend Martin Morales.
Saturday's lighting captured by our Facebook friend Martin Morales.
Martin Morales
Saturday's lighting captured by our Facebook friend Martin Morales.
Saturday's lighting captured by our Facebook friend Martin Morales.
Martin Morales
Saturday's lighting captured by our Facebook friend Martin Morales.
Saturday's stormy skies captured by our Facebook friend Martin Morales.
Martin Morales
Saturday's lighting captured by our Facebook friend Martin Morales.
From Griffith Park, above the Observatory taken by our Facebook friend Rick Cortes.
Rick Cortes
Saturday's lighting captured by our Facebook friend Martin Morales.
In Porter Ranch about 9 a.m. Saturday. "That's my car windshield," writes Gin Sanders on our Facebook page.
Gin Sanders
Saturday's lighting captured by our Facebook friend Martin Morales.
"Rain in Disney = rides shutting down. But I don't mind!! We need the rain," writes Olga Diaz on our Facebook page.
Olga Diaz


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Los Angeles County Department of Public Works captured 245 million gallons of storm water during a weekend of downpours fueled by remnants of former Hurricane Dolores off Baja California. That's enough water to supply 6,000 county residents for one year. 

Bob Spencer, chief of public affairs for Los Angeles County Public Works Department, said the rainfall is unusual for July. He told KPCC that it will eventually "percolate down into the ground water system and that's the water we will be using in a few years."

"Will it make a difference? It will certainly make a difference," he told KPCC. "But it's nowhere near what we need to bring us back to our normal sort of reading for this time of year and certainly there's no end to the drought from this storm. We would probably need a couple hundred storms of this nature come back."

The National Weather Service reported impressive rainfall totals around Southern California after this weekend's storm.

Ramona in San Diego County received 4.1 inches of rain in the 48 hours ending at 7 p.m. Sunday, while Pinyon Pines in Riverside County got 3.28 inches. Running Springs and Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains had more than 2½ inches, while Kearny Mesa in San Diego received 2.39 inches.

Countless lightning strikes and numerous flash floods were reported during the weekend. A bridge washout collapsed Interstate 10 about 50 miles west of the Colorado River. All traffic along a major freeway connecting California and Arizona was blocked indefinitely when a bridge over a desert wash collapsed during the heavy rain

Flash-flood watches remain in effect for much of the Mojave Desert and are now extending hundreds of miles up the spine of the Sierra Nevada.

Rain triggers early 'first flush'

Last weekend’s summer storm also triggered a rare amount of pollution for the summer at Southern California’s beaches.

Public health departments in Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties all issued advisories to beachgoers, telling them either to swim with care or to avoid contact with the ocean altogether.

Public works officials and environmentalists call it the “first flush.” Bacteria, oil, metals, chemicals and trash build up in waterways during the summer dry season. Then the first significant rainfall carries the extra pollution through storm drains and rivers into the ocean.

"You need to stay out of the water," said James Alamillo, the Beach Report Card manager for Santa Monica-based environmental group Heal the Bay. The Beach Report Card compiles water quality ratings, advisories and closures into a letter-grade system.

Alamillo said the "first flush" came early this year. Rainwater flowing through Southern California's flood control systems is "carrying a lot more pollutants than we would normally see in a general rain storm," he said. Once the rain stops, swimmers and surfers should wait 72 hours before getting in the water.

"Discharging storm drains, creeks, and rivers only comprise a small portion of the beach," said Los Angeles County's beach advisory, so people can still safely swim in other areas.

But Alamillo warned pollution drifts: "Invariably you’re gonna be running into some type of plume."

A.J. Lester, an ocean lifeguard specialist with Los Angeles County Fire Department's Lifeguard Division, said the chemical runoff from a storm — especially a storm like last weekend's — can cause stomach flus and rashes.

“I can tell you from being a surfer for 20 years that when it rains really hard, that’s usually not the best time to go right into a storm drain,” he said. Few beaches in Los Angeles County are without some kind of storm drain.

"If you are going to the beach today, make sure that you check in with the lifeguard," he said. "They can tell you where the safest areas are to swim."

—Taylor Haney

To see audience-submitted photos of this weekend's #LArain storm, click on the slideshow above. Share your photos with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #LArain and tagging us @kpcc.