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How Healthy Is the San Gabriel River Watershed?

For you, me and everyone we know, it’s personal.

If you never swim in a Los Angeles lake, or drink a glass of water or wash your hands, then I suppose this story won’t be of interest you.

But for the rest of us living in the Los Angeles basin, the quantity and quality of water continues to be a concern.

Ban-ki Moon of the United Nations reminds us that safe and clean drinking water is unavailable to 2.6 billion people worldwide. But in temperate California, home to Big Agriculture and America’s produce section, a 400-mile aqueduct, 1200 dams, and the flood-protected Los Angeles River, water shortages are the new black.

Population growth and development increase water demand for drinking, agriculture and recreational use. Recent drought years have magnified the issue.

Sanitation, solid waste management and clean water are interconnected. And often complicated.

All of this became evident in reviewing the materials covered at the Council for Watershed Health’s San Gabriel River Watershed Symposium, held July 20 in Whittier. 

Five-Year Study

The Council for Watershed Health last week released a five-year study on the state of the 689 square miles known as the San Gabriel River Watershed.

Formerly known as the Los Angeles and San Gabriel River Watershed Council, this nonprofit group of citizens, environment advocacy professionals and scientists coalesced in 1995 to facilitate dialogue and information sharing among the various agencies and stakeholder groups responsible for providing water and safeguarding the Los Angeles water supply.

Promoting stewardship and sustainability of the San Gabriel River Watershed, one of six watersheds in Los Angeles, includes monitoring wildlife habitats and stream health, water for consumption, agriculture and recreation. And future plans include new technology and programs to capture stormwater for use on our yards and in our homes.

The study posed questions directly related to the water provided by or collected in the San Gabriel River. Not surprisingly, scientific testing of streams for toxicity, biological communities, and chemical levels showed more disturbance to native streams in urbanized areas versus “healthiest” upper watershed locations. In 2007, a Diazinon spike occurred, although the product was taken off the market in 2005.

Swimming safety

“Natural streams and lakes are not the right place to recreate,” according to panel presenter Bernard Franklin, Chief Environmental Health Specialist, L.A. County Environmental Health-Recreational Waters Program.

Franklin described weekly monitoring for E. coli bacteria as mandated by Assembly Bill 411. Puddingstone Lake, Santa Fe Dam and Castaic Lake are equipped with chlorine-injection systems to regulate bacteria levels. Pyramid Lake has no chlorine-injection system.

Fish safety

Tilapia, red ear sunfish and bluegill did not exceed accepted toxicity thresholds and are considered safe to eat. Largemouth bass and carp caught in Puddingstone Lake and the Santa Fe Dam Lake showed elevated levels of mercury. Thus, these fish should not be consumed. Fish caught in Upper Estuary locations contained PCB concentrations and should be consumed not more frequently than once a week.

Nancy Steele, Executive director of the Council for Watershed Health, called the day-long symposium a request for public participation.

“We want your input in the dialogue,” Steele said in her opening remarks.

For more information on how to volunteer or hear more about the health and safety of local water supplies, visit the Council for Watershed Health at http://lasgrwc2.org/Default.aspx

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