The Team at the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF)
The Team at the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF)

Field Trip Day!

To recap our project briefly, we are re-evaluating the effectiveness of the“3-Day Rule”. This rule is a warning to beach-goers to stay out of the water for 3 days after a rainstorm to avoid sickness from elevated bacteria levels due to runoff. We are analyzing years of beach water quality data from 2005-2012 in order to determine the appropriateness of this rule for different beach types and rain intensities.

Our team went out into the field to visit a few of our beach sites. We began with Surfrider Beach in Malibu, our furthest north sample site. This is one of the most popular surfing beaches in Los Angeles County, frequented by our very own Mitch Anderson. Malibu Lagoon drains into Surfrider beach when it breaches, which causes a major concern for water quality. We met up with our advisor, Mark Gold, and walked out onto the Malibu Pier to look at the surf break and shape of the coastline. Then, we walked along the shoreline and were appalled at the large quantity and diversity of recently dead sea life in the surf break and on the sand. Purple urchins, swollen sea hares, and big Pisaster sea stars were strewn along the beach. Dr. Gold talked to us about the effects of breaching events and the dead zone that is created by anoxic lagoon water flowing into the ocean and harming local marine life. These effects on the ecology have not been well studied. We continued walking over to the lagoon and discussed the recently completed Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project. The lagoon causes Surfrider to be considered a storm drain impacted beach because it receives a large volume of drainage from the 110 square mile watershed each time a rain event occurs. After working up an appetite, we got a delicious breakfast and coffee at Malibu Inn.

Our next stop was at Pico-Kenter Storm Drain in Santa Monica. We hopped out for a quick look (and to avoid the parking enforcement). The beach at Pico-Kenter Storm Drain is just south of the Santa Monica Pier and has very high visitation year round.  Water flowing down through this drain is treated at the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF), which we visited next. The SMURRF can treat up to 500,000 gallons of stormwater and urban runoff daily during dry weather and recycles it for reuse in landscaping and dual plumbing systems.

The final beach site was Mother’s Beach in Marina Del Rey. This enclosed beach has some of the highest Enterococcus exceedance values, and we were eager to check it out. Pumps have been installed at this beach to generate a small current, moving water from the designated swim area (one of our sample sites) to another portion of the beach (another one of our sites). What was interesting about this beach is that although there is a swim area, the part of the beach where the water flows toward (and probably where most pollution and bacteria build up) is closest to the playground area. Perhaps a little counterintuitive in terms of protecting public health for children and other beach goers.

Overall, it was great to get outside, see some of our beach sample sites, and hang out together! After visiting the sites, we are even more motivated to finish up our project and present our meaningful results. We will give our final presentation along with the other 180 Senior Practicum groups on Wednesday, June 5th at 4:00pm in Young Hall CS50. Hope to see you there!

—The Heal the Bay Beach Water Team