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Your Post-Storm Reminder To Avoid The Ocean For The Next Few Days

Out in Santa Monica. (Photo by spacelola via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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We've posted this warning before: stay out of the water during the days after a storm, as rain runoff carries a lot of nasty stuff into the ocean. The warning takes on a special urgency this time around, however, because the latest storm has dropped as much as two inches in some parts of L.A., making it one of the most impressive downpours we've had in a long while.

As noted by Heal The Bay's Leslie Griffin, a water quality scientist, the agency normally advises people to stay out of the water for 72 hours after a rain storm. But, considering the magnitude of this storm, Griffin says beachgoers should be even more cautious. "This is one of the first really big storms of this year, so it might be worth staying away from the water for four to five days," Griffin told LAist. "At the moment, it's not a safe time to get out there."

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, on the other hand, has issued a rain advisory that will last only until 11 p.m. on Sunday. They reason that "Discharging storm drains, creeks and rivers only comprise a small portion of the beach, therefore, anybody who wants to go to the beach will still be able to enjoy their outing," according to City News Service.

While there may be differing opinions about the scope of the health threat, there's no doubt that runoff does, indeed, sweep a lot of grossness out into the ocean. For instance, E. coli, giardia, and norovirus—all of which may originate from fecal matter—are among the more well-known germs that may be swimming off the shore. Griffin notes that factors like open wounds, or a suppressed immune system (such as in the elderly), may heighten your chances of contracting disease. She reminds us that areas near storm drains and piers are usually more contaminated.

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Water runoff isn't just bad for our individual health. Of course, it also takes a jab at the ecosystem at large. According to the L.A. County Department of Public Works, a rainstorm can result in as much as 10 billion gallons of runoff that gets flushed into the ocean. To put this into perspective (as if you need it) this amount of water would be able to fill 120 Rose Bowls, according to the county. In a blog post published on Friday, Heal The Bay notes that this surge of runoff, which gets dumped by more than 70 outfalls near bodies of water, may include environment-harming substances such as pesticides and car fluids.

There may be relief in sight, however. Last year, in response to the historic drought, the Department of Water and Power presented a whole set of plans to capture rainwater before it gets swept out to the ocean (and before it comes into contact with too many pollutants), reported the Times. The so-called Stormwater Capture Plan includes building structures in the San Fernando Valley that would collect rainwater, laying water-permeable surfaces in select areas, and providing incentives to homeowners and businesses who take rainwater-saving measures. As Griffin informs LAist, we don't have to rely on policy makers to be of help. There are lots of small, everyday events that we can reassess to prevent pollutants from entering the Pacific. "We recommend thinking about where everything goes," said Griffin. "And a lot of times it goes into the ocean." She says that, obviously, you should be picking up your dog's droppings, so that it doesn't wash off into the drain. She also advises getting your oil changed at a professional shop that's more likely to handle the pollutants in a responsible manner. Also, if you're thinking about turning your lawn into a drought-resistant one, you can look into certain measures that are rainwater-conscious. You can add bio-swales, for instance, which help remove pollution from the runoff before it enters the storm drains, or retention basins that keep the water and direct it back into your soil.

But back to the beach. If you're itching to go into the water (even though the weather's gotten nippy), Heal The Bay advises you to stay away for four to five days. Beyond that, you can check the organization's "Beach Report Card" site to check up on the water quality at your nearest beach. The grades are updated every few days (as Griffin noted, it takes time to test and process the results from the water), so make sure to check if the reports are up-to-date.