First Flush

First Flush of Pico-Kenter Storm Drain

October 5th, 2011

Every week I test the ocean water at the Pico-Kenter Storm Drain, but the this morning I saw something I have never seen before. The cloudy, brown water was flowing rapidly out to the ocean as I knelt to collect my sample. I was seventy-five feet away from the actual line where sand met ocean, but today there was no break, the water from the storm drain had completely flooded the beach. I looked out to see the muddy, brown water meet the greens of the ocean.

As co-president of the Heal the Bay Surfrider Club at Santa Monica High School, I help lead our, “Teach and Test,” water testing program which provides water quality results used by various businesses in Santa Monica. After this morning, I hope that these results will convince Santa Monica and its surrounding cities of the importance of reducing water pollution and the direct and very dramatic effect of pollution.

I approached the beach and watched as aerosol cans, plastic water bottles, clothes, and a sickly brown foam spread out on the beach, covering more than five hundred square feet of our treasured Santa Monica beach. The first heavy rains of winter broke through the sand bar created to form a barrier between the polluted storm drain and the ocean. This led to several tons of water from our storm drains pouring onto the beach and on into the ocean. I stood ten feet away from the sidewalk of the hotel Shutters and had this brown water up to my knees. This event exposed every piece of trash carelessly littered and the direct effect this pollution has on our ocean.

A member of our school’s famous Team Marine, Jesse Robertson, and I wrote an article together that was published in the Santa Monica Mirror (shown below):

Welcome to Plastic Ocean.  Would you like fecal bacteria with that?

By Jesse Robertson of Team Marine & Jessica Kendall-Bar of The Heal the Bay Surfrider Club

 www.teammarine.orghttp://teachtestsm.blogspot.com

Santa Monica High School 601 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405

The “first flush” of the storm drains is an annual event every fall or winter. The first heavy rain causes massive amounts of water and trash to flow out of the storm drains, onto the beach, and hours later, into the ocean.  As a result, there is an enormous amount of plastic and urban runoff that is brought to the coastline, and this month was no different. After the first heavy rainfall hit the Los Angeles area on the morning of October 5, garbage lodged in catch basins from all over the city was shuttled to the ocean shore. Santa Monica High School’s Team Marine and Heal the Bay Surfrider Club were quick on the scene. The groups ventured to the storm drains to collect samples, survey the damage, and start cleaning up.  Club members tested ocean water for fecal indicator bacteria, while Team Marine assessed the state of plastic pollution on the shore and performed an emergency beach cleanup after school.

Members of the Heal the Bay Surfrider Club, continuing their third year of weekly water quality monitoring as part of the Teach and Test Program with Surfrider Foundation found extremely high Enterococcus fecal-indicator bacteria levels at all three of their testing sites (Santa Monica Pier, Pico Kenter, and Lifeguard Station 26).

“Our results indicate bacteria levels in the ocean at Pico-Kenter were the highest since the Teach & Test Program began at Samohi three years ago,” said club president Jessica Kendall-Bar.
Meanwhile, Team Marine assessed the flow of plastics out of the Pico-Kenter storm drain before school for their fourth year in a row.  Later, Team Marine returned to pick up plastic pollutants after school, fully equipped with nets, trash bags, buckets and rubber gloves. The goal was to collect as much plastic as possible and to properly recycle it or throw it away, instead of letting it funnel into the ocean.
During the cleanup, students toiled for about four hours focusing on two areas totaling about 90 square meters.  Making baby piles, they removed roughly 300 pounds of garbage. This consisted of mixed leaf litter, single use plastic films, wrappers, containers, bags and packaging. The amount of Styrofoam found was particularly bad this year; it made up the vast majority of non-organic waste found on the beach.

The morning flow of plastics and “mystery foam” from the Pico-Kenter storm drain

“Though this may seem like a large amount of garbage on the sand, it’s a relatively small amount compared to what flowed into the ocean earlier in the day, which is really disappointing,” commented Jesse Robertson of Team Marine.

Team Marine and the Heal the Bay Surfrider Club strive to keep the coasts clean and free of plastic debris and harmful waste. The “first flush” is proof that there is a lot more work to be done to protect the environment from human products and waste.  The passage of the city’s plastic bag ban and other pending state laws give hope that plastic and fecal pollution will become a thing of the past.

Jessie Kendall-Bar holds up Pico-Kenter ocean samples. All wells are glowing with fecal bacteria.
Team Marine to the rescue after school on October 5, 2011