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A Climate Change with Matt Matern
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143: Heal the Bay's CEO Tracy Quinn Unveils Climate Change's Aquatic Impact

Guest Name(s): Tracy Quinn

Tracy Quinn, the CEO of Heal the Bay, discusses the impact of climate change on water sources and storm water capture initiatives like Measure W which is putting $300M/year into capturing this storm water!

Matt and Tracy also discuss her role on the Metropolitan Water District Board, addressing challenges with emerging contaminants including microplastics and Heal the Bay’s initiatives to eliminate single-use plastics from the environment through policy advocacy.

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Tracy Quinn, the CEO of Heal the Bay, discusses the impact of climate change on water sources and storm water capture initiatives like Measure W which is putting $300M/year into capturing this storm water!
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Heal the Bay is an environmental nonprofit established in 1985 that is dedicated to making the coastal waters and watersheds in Greater Los Angeles safe, healthy, and clean. We use science, education, community action, and advocacy to fulfill our mission…
143: Stormwater Solutions: Measure W & Heal the Bay’s CEO Tracy Quinn's Insights on Climate Resilience

You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host, and I’ve got Tracy Quinn of Heal the Bay on the program. Really excited to have Tracy on the program. Tracy, how are you?

I’m doing great. Thank you so much for having me.

Well, tell us a little bit about what Heal the Bay is and what your role is there, your CEO, correct?

Yes, I am very proud to serve as president and CEO of Heal the Bay. We’re an environmental organization based here in L.A. and we’ve been working for nearly 40 years. Next year will be our 40th anniversary. And our mission is simply to protect and restore the coastal waterways of greater Los Angeles and, of course, the world famous Santa Monica Bay. We do that using science advocacy, community engagement, and education. Many folks may not realize it, but we actually operate the aquarium underneath the world-famous Santa Monica Pier. And it’s a really exciting organization and I’m really excited to be here.

That’s great. And I came to Los Angeles 30 plus years ago and heard about Heal the Bay pretty early on. And it’s great that the organization has continued to grow. And tell us, how long have you been there? And also, what brought you into the environmental movement just to begin with?

I joined Heal the Bay about a year and a half ago. May will be my two year anniversary here, but I’ve been part of the environmental movement, environmental policy for most of my career. I grew up here in Southern California and like many kids visited the beach, are lucky to grow up within half an hour of the beach in Anaheim, California. But I also noticed that, you know, it wasn’t safe to swim particularly after storms.

Friends who were surfers were getting sick from swimming in polluted waters. And it really inspired me to find a career where I could ensure that future generations were going to have the opportunities to play in the surf and experience what makes Southern California so special. So I went to school, I became a civil engineer, and I worked on water infrastructure for about a decade. And then I had the wonderful opportunity to join the Natural Resources Defense

I spent over a decade working on climate adaptation policy here in California.

So what does climate adaptation policy look like in the real world here in Southern California?

Well, of course, my focus was water. And so what I looked at is the ways in which climate change was impacting our ability to have safe, reliable and affordable water in California. Here in Southern California, the vast majority of our water comes from hundreds of miles away from places that are experiencing climate change.

That are it’s we get our water from snowpack and the Northern Sierras and in the Colorado River and here in the city of Los Angeles, we also get it from the Eastern Sierra’s up in Mammoth, where I was just a few days ago checking out our snowpack and also getting a little skiing in. But those areas are seeing much more variability in the amount of snow that’s falling. In fact, this year we’re in a snow drought. We’re only getting about 25% of the snow to date that we get on average.

And our system is designed here so that snow will slowly melt over the spring and summer and fill our reservoirs so that we can have that through the high water use during the summer and then carry us until the snow falls again the following year. But what we’re seeing is that hotter and drier temperatures mean less snowpack, which means less runoff. And then we’re seeing hotter and drier extended droughts. So a lot of my work at NRDC was…

How do we ensure that we have a reliable supply? And a big way we can do that is to reduce our demand. So I focused a lot of my climate adaptation policy on ensuring that we’re using water efficiently here in California.

So in terms of wasting water, you hear a lot about we have a lot of runoff and a lot of it runs out into the bay when we have rainy days like we’ve had the last couple of days, and we’re not necessarily taking advantage of that fresh water that could be recharged into our aquifers and things of that nature. What are we doing to do a better job of capturing that water?

You are spot on. As we’ve developed these cities, as we have become highly urbanized, we’ve also paved over a lot of soil and natural areas that used to absorb that rain when it came. Back in the 1930s, Los Angeles experienced an epic flood. Lives were lost, property was damaged, and we decided that the solution, or the folks at the time decided the solution was to channelize, dealt with the overpaving of our cities by paving our rivers, which helped us to protect against flood to get that water away from our homes and buildings and businesses and into a storm channel.

Unfortunately, that means that the water that used to infiltrate and refill our aquifers is now rushed out to sea. So we’re doing a lot of work here. Obviously, Heal the Bay was founded to prevent pollution and protect public health at the coasts.

But we realized that a lot of that pollution is actually coming from our stormwater. So we started engaging in stormwater capture policy initially as a way to reduce the pollution that was reaching our coasts. But it’s also an incredible climate resilience strategy. And Los Angeles is leading the way.

Back in 2018, Angelino’s actually decided to tax themselves in Measure W, a measure that is providing now close to $300 million a year to LA County to invest in stormwater capture projects. And we’ve made incredible progress to date. The project has been, the program has been up and running. And we actually just completed a report called Vision 2045 that we worked on with NRDC and the Los Angeles Waterkeepers.

And that really provides some recommendations to the county on how do we ensure that this is a really, truly effective program as we go from piloting something that hasn’t been done anywhere else in the country and really pivoting it to something that is going to ensure that we are increasing green space for all areas of Angeleno, that we’re maximizing our stormwater capture, and that we’re doing this in a way that is equitable and just, and we’re ensuring that we’re investing in low-income communities across Los Angeles.

Is it possible that we’ll ever unpave and take up the concrete and the LA River and other streams and creeks in LA so that it would go back to maybe a more natural state?

I’m not sure that it’s going to happen anytime soon, but I would love to see it. I think there are a lot of things that we can do in the interim that are going to be really helpful and also help us to move in that direction. One of the things that I’m most excited about is how we use our landscapes in a highly urbanized area or suburban area like we have throughout LA County. Most people don’t know this, but the number one irrigated crop in America is turf grass.

Turf is not native to Southern California. If you look across how much landscape we have, both in our front yards and our backyards, but also in our public rights away, in our commercial properties, in our parks, there is a lot of opportunity for us to replace and transform landscapes that don’t belong in Southern California to ones that are gonna help us to become truly climate resilient.

Our healthy soils with healthy organic matter can actually sequester carbon. So if we design landscapes that have healthy soils, we’re going to be mitigating the impacts of climate change. We can also contour those landscapes so that they’re capturing the stormwater when it comes, minimizing flood risk like we saw across Southern California these last couple of days, but also making sure that we’re infiltrating that water and recharging our groundwater.

Those landscapes can also be designed so that we have healthy trees that are native to Southern California that are going to provide shade and help us to address extreme heat. And we can plant native plants, plants that don’t need a significant amount of supplemental irrigation that’s going to help us to have a more reliable water supply when right now 50 to 80% of our water, depending on where you live, is used for outdoor irrigation.

But we’re also going to be able to address biodiversity. Native plants mean that we’re going to have a healthy bee and butterfly population, and those species are really going to help us to ensure that the entire ecosystem is healthy. So it’s really, I’m really excited about what our landscapes can do to help make sure that Los Angeles is prepared for a climate future.

So have the kind of building codes changed in LA such that it encourages or requires people who are building new properties to address these things, so that like stormwater capture and landscaping, so that the new build out doesn’t increase the problem going forward?

Yeah, there are a few different strategies that play that are helping us to reach our goals with transforming our landscapes. One is we have a statewide policy called the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, which dictates about how much water you can use on new and redeveloped landscapes. Here in Los Angeles, for over a decade now, we’ve had a low impact development ordinance, which requires you to capture stormwater for properties where your new development or redevelopment.

And then we also have conservation and efficiency regulations at the state board, which are helping us to better understand how much water we should be using outdoors. And then that’s complemented by incentive programs, which help us to pay for replacing those landscapes and putting in something that is a lot more friendly to our local climate.

Well, that’s a lot. Hopefully, we’re moving in the right direction. You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. And I’ve got Tracy Quinn, CEO of Heal the Bay, on the program. And we’ll be right back to talk to Tracy about next steps and where we are in this journey here in LA and across the country in addressing water in particular.

You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. I’ve got Tracy Quinn, CEO of Heal the Bay on the program, and Tracy, right before the break, we were talking about kind of legislation that’s been moving the needle towards creating a system that works here in California. Can you tell us a little bit about the stormwater capture and where are we at along that journey in terms of maximizing stormwater capture? Are we 20% there, 50% there? Where are we at, and how do we get to where we need to be?

That’s a great question. We’ve made great strides in how much storm water we’re capturing, but we’re still only capturing a fraction of the water we’re seeing. We know that climate change means that we’re going to have really dry years, really hot years. But when we do get precipitation, that it’s going to come, it’s going to be much more intense. And we’re going to get the types of storms that we’ve been seeing this week in the first week of February. That’s a great question.

That’s going to be a real big challenge. We have significant investments to be made. To date, what we’ve done is a lot of the simple kind of what I would call shovel-ready projects. We’ve done a lot of projects of putting cisterns under existing parks, but there’s a lot more we can do that are going to provide multi-benefit projects, add green space and much needed park communities.

And so we have quite a long ways to go, but we’re really lucky here in Los Angeles because of Measure W, because of the bold step that Angelino’s made in passing Measure W. And we have our Safe Clean Water Program, which is again, putting $300 million a year towards these projects. So, it’s gonna be a heavy lift, it’s gonna be a long journey, but I think within the next 20 years, we could be recovering and capturing a significant amount of stormwater.

I’m going to try to nail you down on that one. What’s significant and what percentage of the whole and are we ever going to get to like 100% stormwater capture? Is that kind of a pipe dream, if you will?

It’s going to be a challenge to get to 100% of stormwater capture, but we could certainly capture enough that are going to help us to be reliable, have a reliable water supply in the face of climate change. So stormwater capture combined with water conservation and efficiency and the recycled water projects that we are investing in here in Southern California are going to go a long way to ensuring that we have a safe, reliable and as affordable as possible water supply for Angelino’s.

You know, I think as far as the specific numbers, I don’t have those, unfortunately, at hand right now. But, you know, I will say that the investments that are being made are not only helping us to be more reliable, but they are helping us to have healthier communities in a number of ways. And I’m really excited about that.

Well, I think that is the good news that we can solve this problem. That’s kind of the optimistic part of this is that if we make the right investments, we can capture enough rainwater and recharge the ground and kind of create a healthier future. I guess taking us to kind of the statewide picture, you’re on the Met Board. Tell us a little bit about the Met Board and tell us about the California future as far as water going forward.

Yeah, I’m really honored to represent the City of Los Angeles. I was appointed by Mayor Garcetti back in 2019 to sit on the board of the Metropolitan Water District. It’s the wholesale water provider that imports water to Southern California from the Northern Sierras, the Sacramento Delta, down through the State Water Project and also the Colorado River. We serve about 19 million people in Southern California, and it’s the largest water supplier in the country.

I chair the One Water Committee, which helps the Wedgbulton Water District make decisions about what types of supplies we want to invest in, whether that is shoring up the infrastructure for our existing imported supplies, investing in recycled water or other new supplies, as well as looking at things like what is a regional wholesale water supplier’s role in capturing more stormwater really increasing the efficiency with which we’re using water in our households and in our businesses.

I’ve been exposed to a number of things that I think are worth sharing as far as what the threats to water reliability are in Southern California. And you know, I think the top three that come to mind are ensuring we have a safe supply of water. We’re seeing a lot more information about emerging contaminants. I think PFAS is the one that gets the most attention.

And I was really lucky to work on PFAS and drinking water in my role at NRDC just a few years ago. It’s a really interesting and complex problem. We’re learning a lot more, we have a lot more technology to be able to detect these emerging contaminants. And we’re finding them more frequently in our drinking water and our health experts are helping us to understand, you know, the impacts of these contaminants on human health.

It’s really concerning. It’s also really concerning that in the U.S., we have the Safe Drinking Water Act, which was amended back in the 1990s to say that in order to regulate a contaminant, you had to show that it was cost effective to remove it. And that is really been challenging with getting new drinking water regulations passed.

In fact, I’m not sure we’ve had a new drinking water regulation passed since the 90s, since that amendment because removing some of these contaminants is quite expensive. So I’m really worried about how we’re going to deal with these emerging contaminants, especially also in a country where you have to prove something is dangerous before you can regulate it.

So rather than having a policy where you have to prove something is safe before you release it into the environment here in the US, you have to prove it’s dangerous before you can regulate it. And that presents a real challenge for providing safe drinking water. We know we’ve already talked a little bit about the threats of climate change and how that’s impacting the reliability of our water. We know we have a large and growing gap between the amount of water that nature is providing and the amount of water that we need for our homes and our businesses and to grow the food for the world that we do here in California.

And so there are some real threats from climate change on our ability to provide a reliable supply of water. And as we look to provide that reliable supply of water, I think one of the big concerns is, how do we do that affordably? These projects that we’re looking at are really expensive building the Delta Conveyance Project that is going to, you know, that would help to move water through this and around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

That’s a proposed $16 billion project. And the max benefit from that, I think, is about 450,000 acre feet a year. That’s less water than we use in the city of Los Angeles in a year. We’re looking at recycled water projects, you know, taking our wastewater and purifying it to drinking water standards.

The projects here that the Metropolitan Water District is working on is proposed to be about $8.6 billion for the construction of the project. So these things are incredibly expensive. And you’re down in San Diego, they built a seawater desalination facility that cost a billion dollars and only produces, I think about 56,000 acre feet a year of water or about 10% of the water that Los Angeles would use in a year.

So these things are hugely expensive. And many of these things are also really energy intensive, which is going to add to the impacts of climate change. So doing things in a way that are going to help the affordability of water is really challenging. And that’s why I think it’s so important that we focus first and foremost on ensuring that we’re using water efficiently. And right now there is a rulemaking at the State Water Board, which would set standards for the efficient use of water.

And it’s really important that the state board proceeds with as strong a standards as possible because we know that water conservation and efficiency is not only the most cost effective way for us to bridge that gap between supply and demand, but it’s also the fastest.

You know, it’s gonna take us 10 plus years to build the major infrastructure for these new supply projects, if we’re lucky, but we can start conserving today, and we can make a huge impact and also put in place policies and programs that are going to provide a lot of different benefits to our communities including ensuring that our water is affordable.

Well, a lot to unpack there. I’ll just start with something you didn’t exactly say, but it’s on my mind, which is microplastics and how we can take that emerging contaminant out of our drinking water and whether or not steps are being taken or whether it meets the, quote, cost-effective standard to remove them.

That is a great question. And, you know, just as we’re getting used to talking about microplastics, the researchers and the news comes out with a new concern of nanoplastics. I’m not sure if you saw that article that came out recently, but yeah, absolutely. Microplastics in our drinking water are a huge concern. At Heal the Bay, we’ve been working on eliminating single-use plastics from the environment for quite some time.

You know, when we do our beach cleanups, Heal the Bay is nothing but sand, beach cleanups here across LA County. And the number one thing we pick up is plastic. It’s plastic that’s coming from across our communities. And it’s ending up in our waterways and it ends up in our drinking water and it ends up in the ocean and in our sea life. And so there are multiple ways in which this is, these microplastics and nanoplastics are coming into contact with humans and harming our health.

So, you know, the number one thing we can do with a pollutant like plastic is to get it out of the environment. We’ve been working on local and state policy to take single-use plastics out of the environment for quite some time. I saw that you interviewed Senator Ben Allen and we were really excited to work with him on SB 54 a few years ago to reduce single-use plastics and put that responsibility on the producers to find new ways to get us what we need.

But here locally, we’ve been banning things like styrofoam and single-use plastics with the LA City Council. And that’s really the number one way that we’re going to deal with this is to eliminate single-use plastics from our everyday life.

Amen to that. Well, you’re listening to A Climate Change. We’ve got Tracy Quinn, CEO of Heal the Bay on the program today, and we’ll be right back in just one minute to talk to Tracy about plastics and water and everything else.

You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. I’ve got Tracy Quinn on the program today from Heal the Bay. Tracy, you were just bringing up my favorite Senator in the state of California, Ben Allen. So what should we be pushing Senator Ben to do next? I mean, what have you done for us lately? SB 54 was nice, but we need to get plastics completely out of the state and out of this planet. So what do we do next?

That’s a great question. I mean, Senator Allen really pushed the envelope with SB 54. It was a first of its kind legislation to create funding for eliminating single use plastics from our environment. But there is always so much more to do. I think we really need to make sure that we’re continuing to protect our most vulnerable communities as we look to eliminate single-use plastics, you know, there’s a big push for recycling.

And those recycling facilities are often in low-income communities, communities of color, and there is a lot of harm that can be brought to those communities when we’re trying to provide the benefit of reusing and recycling single-use plastics. So I think, number one, we want to make sure that as we as we move forward with regulating plastics, we’re doing it in a way that is not causing harm to our most vulnerable communities.

So I would be looking for Senator Allen’s continued leadership on that as we move forward in addressing our plastic crisis here in California and his leadership in thinking about how do we expand what we’re doing here in California to the rest of the country.

Certainly, I think that we are in the vanguard in California to create policies that can be implemented in other places, which is great on the issue of plastics. And we’ve seen that we can eliminate certain things like plastic bags at the grocery store and such like that. Kind of circling back to the water issue, and you’re talking about all these enormously, deliver more fresh water to people in California.

I think of one project that would be very easy, which is stop giving Colorado River water to the farmers down in the Imperial Valley who are farming in desert conditions and getting more water than the entire state of Nevada and Arizona for farming things like alfalfa, which never should be farmed, probably anywhere in California, at least of all in the desert. What are your thoughts on that front?

Well, you know, that is a really challenging question, and I appreciate you asking it. Just a few months ago, as a Met Director, I was able to take an inspection tour of our Colorado River facilities. And as part of that tour, we visited a farmer in that region. I think he’s in the Palos Verdes Irrigation District, also a senior rights holder irrigation district in that area, in the desert.

And he has implemented regenerative agriculture principles for his farm. And he is growing alfalfa, but instituting regenerative agriculture principles has been able to get increased crop values. He’s producing a lot more and with only a fraction of the water.

So I think getting folks out there that are piloting these new techniques is going to be really important and showing that they can actually make a lot of money, they can get a huge return on their investment and they can use a fraction of the water is gonna be really important for transitioning farmers in that region from the types of irrigation practices that they’re using now to ones that make a lot more sense for a hotter, drier future and practices that are gonna leave enough water for our urban communities that rely so heavily on the Colorado River.

Right, and I’m not talking about taking away their farms or not compensating them if we turn off the tap. I would say, hey, we’re going to have to pay for it, but it certainly would be less than $16 billion, and we could get a lot more water from that source and say, hey, farming was good for you for 100 years, but quite frankly, 40 million of us are not going to pay the price for your whatever, couple hundred, couple thousand farmers, you know, that’s just, it’s kind of insane.

Yeah, yeah, I think what’s really exciting is that, you know, Metropolitan Water District has the opportunity because we lease a lot of the land out there to encourage and incentivize farmers in that area to implement these really important practices to focus on healthy soils. And I think it’s really exciting that farmers out there are seeing that with a fraction of the water, they can get a higher quality product and a higher value product. They can make more money with implementing these practices.

And so, you know, it’s really gonna take, seeing the, you know, the proof that they can make this happen and being incentivized to do so. And at Metropolitan, we’re in a really unique position to be able to help to advance some of those practices. And, you know, I think within a few years, certainly with the negotiations on the Colorado River and we’re at on the Lake Mead levels, there’s a lot of incentive for us to, and for the federal government to think about incentivize our farming partners to use a lot less water.

So what are the incentives that you’re giving to the farmers to change their principles, practices?

Well, I think those are still being developed, but giving them the information and the tools they need to implement regenerative practices, understanding what the focus on healthy soils looks like and how that’s going to benefit them is really going to be important. So I understand that there are studies being done, I think it’s at Chico State, that is looking at sort of the carbon sequestration potential of healthier soils on these farms, seeing if we can get climate credits, apply to some of these practices, and then obviously paying our farmers to make these investments.

Hopefully with some of the federal dollars that are going towards making sure we have a lot more climate resilience along the Colorado River. But I think we’re at the early stages now, figuring out exactly what those incentives are going to look like and exactly how we’re going to get there. But what’s really exciting is that we’re seeing demonstrations that it’s possible and that it’s potentially lucrative for the farmers.

Well, I do think that that’s an important thing going forward, is that we should link profitability and environmentally valuable practices together so that we put people’s incentives in line with both of those things. Hey, you can make money doing this and you can help save the environment. So it’s a win-win scenario versus, oh, you have to sacrifice and eat rocks.

It’s not going to get too many people excited about this. So I did want to just kind of give you a shout out as to your service on the Met Board and saying thank you for all of us Angelenos and people around the state for the service that you do that helps all of us. And I encourage all of us to get out there and do our part and not just say, hey, Tracy’s doing it.

You know, she’s got this. She’s so smart and, you know, forget about it. So I think all of us need to be a part of that process, but I appreciate you being kind of at the tip of the spear there. And one other point, I wanted to ask you about this conservation regulation issue and what your thoughts are on that front.

Yeah, I’m really excited about the direction the state is going when we’re thinking about conservation and efficiency. Historically, we’ve set goals that are percentage reductions, right? We’ve set it back in 2009, the state set a goal to reduce our urban water use by 20 percent by 2020.

And, you know, it was an easy metric to follow. You can look at how much you’ve how much water we’ve produced, but it really didn’t take into consideration that some water suppliers and we have about 483 urban water suppliers here in California. Some of them had been early adopters of efficiency and getting to that 20% was gonna be a lot more difficult than folks that hadn’t started anywhere and had a lot of low-hanging fruit.

It also really didn’t tell us anything about how efficiently water was being used. You could reduce by 20%, but if you’re using 50% more than you need, you’re still wasting a heck of a lot of water. So the state has switched to a framework they’ve created these customized budgets for each of our 480 urban water suppliers that takes into consideration, you know, what is the makeup of the water district?

How many residential households do you have versus businesses? How much landscape do you have? How hot and dry is it where you are? And it creates customized budgets for how efficiently water is being used in those communities.

It’s a really fair and equitable approach, and it has a lot of flexibility. Water suppliers will get standards for indoor water use, outdoor water use, and they’ll get a budget for how much water they’re allowed to lose in their distribution system through leaks and breaks, pipeline breaks. So it’s really helping us to figure out what’s a reasonable amount of water a community should use given its local conditions.

It’s getting a little bit of pushback. People are saying it’s too expensive. I think the state estimated that it’s gonna cost about 13 to $14 billion, but it’s also gonna save about 500,000 acre feet of water a year. That’s as much water as the city of Los Angeles, the second biggest city in the country uses in a year.

It’s a massive amount of water. And as we spoke to earlier, other new supply projects are more expensive per acre foot of water. And they don’t provide the multiple benefits that water efficiency does. And so, really this conservation and efficiency regulation, it’s called making conservation, a California way of life, is really important.

Again, $13 billion to save 500,000 acre feet of water versus $8.6 billion to produce only 150,000 acre feet of water. For a recycled water facility here in LA, it makes a lot of sense. And we know that when we save water, that we save energy. In fact, during that big drought we had between 2011 and 2015, when the governor came out and asked us to reduce our water use.

We actually saved more energy through our water conservation practices than we did with all of the energy efficiency programs in the state combined. And so it shows the real impact of saving water on our energy use and on our climate mitigation approaches. This is a really helpful climate tool as well.

That’s fascinating. I don’t think I had ever heard anybody connect the two, which is saving water saves energy. So it’s a win-win. You’re listening to Climate Change, and I’ve got Tracy Quinn, the CEO of Heal the Bay on the program. And we’ll be back in just one minute to talk to Tracy.

You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Mettern. I’ve got Tracy Quinn on the program. Tracy is the CEO of Heal the Bay. Tracy, just kind of want to ask you some questions about biodiversity and the biodiversity here in California is pretty great. But are we concerned that things are changing such that we’re not really, you know, protecting our biodiversity.

I know that I’ve seen pictures of how much kelp there used to be along the coast in California and because of farming and fertilizers being diverted down our rivers and streams and then into the ocean, that it kind of wiped out the belt of kelp that was along our coast, which would have promoted all kinds of sea life and it’s just not there. So what are we going to do to get that back?

That’s a great question. You know, more and more science is coming out showing that one of the keys to human survival in the face of climate change is the health of our oceans and our oceans capacity to sequester carbon. And so it’s imperative that we invest in a healthy ocean. And we’re lucky here in Los Angeles, we have the gorgeous Santa Monica Bay right at our doorstep and we have a giant kelp forest in our Santa Monica Bay.

Keeping it healthy is going to be a challenge. There are groups like the Bay Foundation that are doing incredible work to ensure the health of our kelp forests. Heal the Bay is also looking to embark on some of the challenges and threats to our kelp forest. One of the ones I’ve become aware of since I joined Heal the Bay was the threat of sea urchins.

There’s an imbalance in the population of sea life in our oceans, particularly here in California, where we’ve seen sea stars, which are a natural predator of sea urchins experiencing mass declines in population. And those urchins are then feeding off the kelp and really causing an imbalance there. And so we’re looking at ways in which we can rebalance that ecosystem with with new sea stars and we’re doing a lot of research with that at our aquarium.

So that in combination with the work that the Bay Foundation is doing, we’re really hoping to improve the health of our giant sea kelp forests in the Santa Monica Bay. Hopefully we can pilot things here that can be implemented across the globe to ensure healthy kelp forests and a healthy ocean. But there are so many threats to our ocean plastic and trash to ocean acidification and hypoxia. So many things that we need to work on here in LA that can really have a global impact.

Well, turning to that in terms of, I’ve heard of these dead zones that are being experienced in places all over the planet, also in part due to agricultural runoff. Are we experiencing those things in Santa Monica Bay and or up and down the California coast? And if so, what are we doing to mitigate that?

We are experiencing that here in Southern California and in the Santa Monica Bay, not necessarily because of agriculture, but because of our wastewater treatment plants. So the ocean acidification and hypoxia issue is being exacerbated by the volume and the concentration of nutrients that we are putting into our ocean.

So, you know, with agriculture, that’s, you know, nitrogen fertilizers. But we also have a lot of nitrogen, nitrates coming out of our wastewater treatment plants. Researchers have modeled what that is doing to sea life, particularly shelled sea life. And we’re seeing huge impacts. Our oceans between the nitrogen and the, you know.

And the heating of the waters is causing acidification and it’s making it really challenging for animals that have shells. Those shells are starting to degrade. They’re becoming weaker because of the acidification. We’re seeing compaction in where is a livable area for our marine life.

And we know that it is directly, at least in the Santa Monica Bay, it is directly due to the discharges from our wastewater treatment plants. What gives me a little bit of hope is that as we’re thinking about doing recycled water and making investments in that water treatment and that wastewater treatment, hopefully we can put in some advanced treatment that is going to take care of that nitrogen outflow into our bay.

So in terms of phytoplankton, and I’ve heard that that’s kind of a big generator in our oxygen all over the planet, and the fact that if we have a mass kind of die off of phytoplankton, basically we’re toast. So what’s happening on that front in our microcosm of Santa Monica Bay and along the California coast?

I have heard the same thing. That’s a little bit outside the scope of my expertise, but I mean, I think that you’re absolutely right. We need to protect those species and we need to address a lot of the threats that we’re seeing to our ocean. At Heal the Bay, the things that we’re focusing on are the plastics and the trash that are going out into our ocean that we know are impacting the health of our sea life.

We’re looking at you know, things like investing in our MPAs, our Marine Protected Areas, we’re working on policy at the state for how to improve our Marine Protected Areas, as well as putting community science programs together, broadening the amount of people who are aware, educating people on our Marine Protected Areas, and helping to ensure that that we are doing everything we can within sort of the framework of our current regulations to ensure that we’re protecting our marine life.

But there is a lot more to be done between the threats of pollution and climate change. We’re just seeing huge impacts to our ocean life here in Los Angeles and across the globe. So a lot more to be done.

Well, that segues nicely into the next question of how do people get involved with Heal the Bay and what are the things that they can do if they do get involved.

There are, one of the things I love about Heald Bay is that there are so many ways for people to get involved. You know, I think I talked a little bit about our beach cleanups, the third Saturday of every month, we move them around. They are oftentimes at beaches, but we also do neighborhood cleanups because we know about 80% of the trash that’s reaching our beaches are coming from inland neighborhoods, from across the watershed. So join us for a beach cleanup.

We also have regular volunteer orientations where you can hear about all of the different opportunities from volunteering at our aquarium underneath the Santa Monica Pier. We do trainings, speakers trainings. We have a program called the Speakers Bureau where we can, we train people to go out into their communities to share what Heal the Bay is doing, share what they can do to improve our public health and the environment here in Los Angeles County, invite people to join us down at the Aquarium.

Come experience all of the native animals that we have in the Santa Monica Bay. Our theory of change at Heal the Bay is that you protect what you love and we wanna share all of the things that we love about the greater Los Angeles area and our beautiful Santa Monica Bay. So come visit us.

Well, it’s a great organization and there’s a lot to love about the environment that we have here in Southern California as well as across California, across the country. So definitely encourage everybody to get involved with Heal the Bay and other organizations that are across Los Angeles that help make our environment a cleaner one.

So I mean, I’m always struck by the fact that so much of the stuff that ends up in the streets, say via cars driving down the street, just leaking oil, that’s the first thing that’s going to go out into the ocean because when we have a rain, it picks up all that oil and then it goes straight out to the ocean. So actually, when we get drive electric cars or like my car is a hydrogen car, it doesn’t pollute any oil. It doesn’t have any oil.

So we’ll have a little bit less runoff the next time we have a rain because more and more of us are getting alternative fuel cars and things like that. So I encourage everybody to continue to move on that trajectory. I wanted to throw a shout out to our listeners to say, hey, follow us on Apple, Spotify, iHeart, and if you do, we will plant a tree in your honor, actually two trees.

Check us out at aclimatechange.com and follow us there. Look at old episodes. You can look at our mutual friend, Ben Allen, talk about SB 54 or other things like that. Tracy, though, thank you so much for being on the program. It’s been a pleasure talking with you and really love the great work that Heal the Bay is doing and has been doing for going on 40 years. It really has made a difference for all of us here in Southern California.

Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s really been an honor to share the work of Heal the Bay and my colleagues here. And just really proud to be at Heal the Bay and thank you for sharing our work.

Okay, well, keep on doing what you’re doing and thank you for your work at the Metropolitan Water District on behalf of the 19 million people that it serves. I say thanks and keep up the great work and everybody tune in next week. It’ll be great to, we’ll have another great guest on the program and looking forward to talking with you in weeks to come.

(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)

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