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U.S. EPA and SWRCB Complete Multi-Agency Study of Waters off Southern California

Release Date: 3/7/2003
Contact Information: Mark Merchant (415) 947-4297

Comprehensive look at the Southern California Bight by 62 agencies provides new information about this ecosystem

LOS ANGELES -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California's State Water Resources Control Board have released the "Bight 98 Executive Summary Report" that details the findings of nearly five years of study of the marine environment from Point Concepcion to Baja California.

This study, which examined coastal ecology, shoreline microbiology and water quality, was a follow up to the 1994 regional monitoring effort known as the Southern California Bight Pilot Project, and plans are already underway for further study of the bight later this year.

The EPA and the SWRCB found that water quality has improved since the 1970s and it continues to improve, though some areas of concern such as environmental quality of beaches and bays remain.

The EPA and the SWRCB believe this report shows that the Clean Water Act remains a vital tool to protect Southern California's coastal waters, but the agencies need to continue efforts to reduce beach closures and protect water quality through programs such as Governor Gray Davis' Clean Beaches Initiative, total maximum daily load requirements and sediment quality objectives.

"Overall, we're pleased with the findings of the report," said Art Baggett, chairman of the SWRCB. "The state and regional water boards will continue to protect California's coastal water quality."

"Bight 98 has provided Southern California with a unique regional perspective about the condition of the marine environment," said Wayne Nastri, regional administrator of the U.S. EPA's Pacific Southwest office in San Francisco. "With our partners, we will take the information developed through this study and build on it to protect the exceptional coastal resources of Southern California."

Ocean activities contribute more than $9 billion to the coastal economy, and $31 million is spent every year on monitoring the Southern California Bight. Despite this, only 5 percent of the bight is routinely monitored. The bight study focused on three areas coastal ecology, shoreline microbiology and water quality. Some of the study's findings include:

  • Pollutants accumulate in sediments, which become a source of contamination to marine food webs. Sediment contamination was widespread, but mostly at levels not expected to cause adverse biological impacts. High toxicity in sediments is a concern in 3 percent of the bight. Sediment toxicity was most prevalent and more severe in port and marina areas; DDT and related compounds are the most widespread contaminants in the bight sediments caused by a history of DDT dumping. Three-quarters of the bight had fish with DDT at levels of ecological concern. But DDT levels in fish have been declining over time; The highest levels of contamination were found in harbors and near wastewater treatment plant outfalls;
  • Fish populations were healthy, with normal communities and background levels of diseases;
  • 96 percent of the shoreline met water quality standards during dry weather;
  • 58 percent of the shoreline failed water quality standards during wet weather.
  • Beaches near flowing storm drains had poor water quality regardless of weather.

The study also makes a number of recommendations that sediment quality assessment tools be improved; that environmental agencies better assess the level of predator-risk associated with DDT contamination in the bight; the there be better characterize land-based runoff; that regional monitoring surveys of the bight should be repeated at periodic intervals; regional monitors conduct intercalibration exercises as an ongoing activity.

The entire survey, results and recommendations as well as the agencies that took part in the study can be seen at: