A cleaner bill of health for Santa Monica Bay


You have to be a scuba diver to see the difference, but areas of Santa Monica Bay that were historically fouled by sewage discharges are making a strong comeback.

The new State of the Bay report notes the revival of bottom-dwelling marine life in the wake of treatment upgrades at the two big wastewater plants that empty into the bay several miles from shore.

Diver surveys have documented sea animals and plants on the sea floor “where really it was barren before,” said Shelley Luce, executive director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, which issues the report every five years. “I think this is one of the more remarkable recoveries we’ve seen,” she added.


“It’s right up there with the return of the bald eagle and brown pelican.”

Maybe not as visually dramatic: We’re talking about snails and worms and other invertebrates crawling back into areas that for decades lacked the oxygen to support all but the most pollution-tolerant sea life.

In 1998, Los Angeles’ Hyperion plant upgraded to full secondary treatment; four years later, the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts’ plant did the same. The more advanced process scrubs out most of the solids that had been previously pumped into the bay, consuming oxygen as they decayed.

The outfall areas, off Dockweiler State Beach and the Palos Verdes Peninsula, “have a healthy and diverse community that resembles more pristine areas,” Luce said.

But historical contamination from DDT and PCBs persists in bay sediment, and urban runoff continues to pollute bay waters.