A joint initiative between the federal government and a local water quality agency has the potential to usher along the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands as well as improve water quality in the Santa Monica Bay, say local environmental experts.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board announced a pollution reduction effort March 27 that is designed to enhance water quality and help restore ecosystems through plans called Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).

The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission has been monitoring water quality in the Ballona Wetlands as part of the state’s efforts to rehabilitate the ecological reserve south of Marina del Rey.

The commission is assisting the California Coastal Conservancy and state Fish and Game Department in the much-anticipated restoration of the 600-acre wetlands. They have been engaged in baseline monitoring and conducting a variety of studies in the ecological reserve.

“The maximum loads for the Ballona Wetlands that were established by the EPA are for legacy sediment, which includes dredge spoils, dumping, and fill placement on the wetlands and for invasive exotic vegetation,” said Karina Johnston, a restoration biologist with the commission.

“These impacts have severely altered the habitats of Ballona, functioning of the system, and wildlife and aquatic organisms dependent on those habitats.”

The biologist said within the maximum load numbers, the EPA identified the stressors to the system and then set a maximum limit for that particular stressor.

“When these goals are met, it will restore the functioning and beneficial uses to the Ballona Wetlands and all of the other water bodies for which the maximum loads have been set,” Johnston predicted.

EPA Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest Jared Blumenfeld said the initiative between the federal agency and local water board makes significant strides toward enhancing watersheds and ecological systems in the region.

“EPA and our partners have achieved a breakthrough on the path toward restoring the health of Los Angeles’ creeks, streams and beaches,” Blumenfeld said. “These precious natural resources lay at the heart of what makes the Golden State shine.”

Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay sees the plan as critical to improving water quality throughout the Santa Monica Bay as well as in the wetlands, which, according to water quality scientists, is suffering from unhealthy water flow.

“It’s extremely important to have these standards in place,” said Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s director of water quality. “(Improved water flow) has a strong nexus to the restoration of the wetlands.”

Representatives of the local water board touted the collaborative efforts between the federal government and local agencies.

“I am proud to acknowledge achievements that are leading to healthier watersheds for the benefit of the people and wildlife who call the Los Angeles area home,” said Maria Mehranian, chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. “This wave of water quality improvement is the result of tremendous efforts by this board, past boards, and EPA in collaboration with local municipalities and environmental organizations.”

The joint venture is part of a 1999 legal settlement between the EPA and local environmental groups in which the federal agency committed to approve TMDLs developed by the local water board or independently establish maximum loads for a list of water bodies in the Los Angeles region.

As a result of the consent decree, 47 of these plans have been established for 175 water bodies that address numerous pollutant impairments including elevated bacteria, metals, pesticides and trash, according to EPA officials.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, states are required to develop pollution reduction plans for waters that are impaired by pollutants. “Many of these water bodies were damaged due to problems from one or more contaminants, including: pollutants, sediments, nutrients, and habitat alterations,” Johnston explained.

The EPA established the total maximum daily loads in order to define a pollution control limit for water bodies that had trouble meeting water quality standards, Johnston added. “These limits are set to try to reduce the pollution entering these water bodies enough that they are able to serve all of their beneficial functions again, like recreation, marine and aquatic life, or drinking waters, etc.,” she said.

Los Angeles County Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe praised the joint initiative.

“I’d like to recognize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its work with cities and the county of Los Angeles in developing these new water quality standards,” said the supervisor, who represents Marina del Rey and the area that includes the wetlands. “At the end of the day, we’re all working towards cleaner, safer waterways and communities.”

Knabe has been an advocate for keeping pollution out of coastal waters. In 2007, Assembly Bill 800 was sponsored by state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Marina del Rey), then a member of the Assembly. The bill was the result of an investigation by Knabe after it was determined that there was a breakdown in communication between public health officials at the county level and local wastewater operators following a series of sewage spills that found their way into the ocean.

AB 800 requires any entity responsible for a sewage spill to report it to the local public health officer and the Office of Emergency Services.

“The health of our rivers, lakes and beaches is tied closely to the quality of life of our county residents and the vitality of our regional economy,” Knabe said. “The county and cities continue to invest in technologies and solutions that protect our water quality, but, with limited resources, we face an uphill battle.

“We need the public’s help to keep the region’s water supply system free of litter, pet waste and other pollutants.”

Los Angeles County is involved with a joint project of its own with the federal government. On Nov. 15, the Board of Supervisors approved an agreement between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and county officials for a dredging project that will move approximately 140,000 cubic yards of clean sediment offshore to Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey and up to 75,000 cubic yards will be pumped on Redondo Beach to address beach erosion.

In addition, up to 760,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment will be removed from the Marina del Rey Harbor entrance and transported by barge to the Port of Long Beach for a redevelopment project. The dredging project is slated to begin this month.

Heal the Bay was a party to the consent decree, and the organization views the water reduction plans as another component in rehabilitating the Ballona Wetlands.

“This is another tool that will help keep restoration on track and at the end of the day focus on all of the beneficial uses,” James said. “It’s really gratifying to see all that is being accomplished and we look forward to future successes.”