Teachers know that in order to make sure our region has responsible leaders and residents in the future, we must raise a generation of science-minded students with an awareness of our regional water issues and a commitment to conserving resources. Sounds like a challenge to accomplish in the classroom, right? We thought so, too. That’s why we created Project SWELL.
Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership) is a completely free, standard-aligned, K-6 science curriculum about the importance of San Diego County’s water. San Diego Coastkeeper, City of San Diego’s Think Blue and San Diego Unified School District partnered to develop this teacher curriculum complete with models, hands-on projects and field experiences to spark students’ inner scientist, environmentalist or future responsible decision maker, all while reinforcing state standards.
Through Project SWELL, San Diego Coastkeeper provides teachers with training and in-class support including free classroom presentations, experiment kits and lesson plans. From showing first graders how trash from the schoolyard can hurt marine animals to helping sixth graders build their own watershed model, Project SWELL allows teachers to explain local environmental problems while ensuring that students meet Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math as well as Next Generation Science Standards.
During 2014 alone, San Diego Coastkeeper’s Project SWELL experts provided classroom presentations to 2,900 students in San Diego Unified School District and provided Project SWELL science education kits to hundreds of teachers for use in teaching hands-on science to students. In addition to working with San Diego Unified School District, we also provide free environmental literacy and stewardship resources to any and all educators interested in bringing water-based science education to their students and communities through Water Education for All. This includes homeschool groups and teachers outside the district, clubs, scouting organizations, camp leaders, artists and many other informal educators. Click here to browse these materials and download lessons for free.
San Diego Coastkeeper brings together volunteers to keep our beaches clean for everyone to enjoy. But that’s only the beginning.
Up to 80 percent of trash found in the ocean originated on land. That means it wasn’t dumped into the ocean intentionally, but ended up in the water after being improperly disposed of on land. Sadly, San Diego’s marine life is in danger of ingesting or becoming entangled in marine debris. To make a lasting impact on the health of our ocean and marine life, we must work to keep trash on land from becoming marine debris in the first place.
That’s why San Diego Coastkeeper volunteers not only collect trash from beaches, they fill out a debris data card to record each piece of trash they find. We use this data from all our beach cleanups to analyze the state of San Diego beaches every year. Our cleanups are so much more than beach beautification activities – they are a way to prevent marine debris and participate in an ongoing study about the origins, quantities, and types of trash on our beaches.
San Diego Coastkeeper provides three ways to get involved with beach cleanups to combat marine debris in our region. First, we’ve teamed up with Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter to host twice-a-month public beach cleanups across San Diego County. We bring the supplies and anyone is welcome to join us for a two-hour cleanup. Second, our Sponsored Cleanup Program allows companies and organizations to provide a private cleanup event for their employees as both a team building activity and a way of enhancing their corporate stewardship. Finally, we encourage people to borrow our cleanup supplies when we are not using them through our Beach Cleanup in a Box program. We love empowering San Diegans to be good stewards of their coastal environment whenever they can, regardless of our cleanup schedule.
All these beach cleanups combined have led to the removal of over 72,325 pounds of trash from our beaches and waterways since 2007. In 2015, cigarettes and cigarette butts were once again the most prevalent type of debris found at our beach cleanups. Littered butts continue to be a major concern for the health of San Diego County beaches. The problem with cigarette butts is that they are non-biodegradable and leach toxins into the water, poisoning marine life. They also move with ease through the City’s stormwater system, meaning a cigarette butt dropped elsewhere can easily end up at the beach. Click here to read more about what we’ve learned from the latest beach cleanup data.
We may not think about it every day, but we all live in a watershed. A watershed is the area of land that catches all the rain and snow, which collects into a marsh, stream, river, lake or groundwater. What we do on the land affects the quality of water for all communities living downstream. So what does this mean? It means our rivers and streams are the report card for a watershed’s health.
San Diego Coastkeeper has been monitoring local waterways since 2000. We assess watershed health on a monthly basis by measuring nutrients, bacteria, and basic water chemistry (temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, etc). We monitor fixed sites in nine of San Diego County’s eleven coastal draining watersheds and use our data to assign water quality scores to each of our sites and annual watershed health reports. Most importantly (perhaps) is that we share these scores with the public by updating water quality information monthly on our website.
San Diego Coastkeeper is the only countywide, routine water quality monitoring program in San Diego, and we’re the largest volunteer-led effort of its kind in the state. We train over 100 volunteers each year to collect water quality data, and by analyzing the data that volunteers collect, we identify polluted waters and reduce sources of pollution.
We’ve learned a thing or two after 16 years of monitoring San Diego County’s water quality. These are our top five lessons learned.
- Urbanization is linked to poor water quality.
Want an example? See how fertilizers alone hurt our water.
- Nitrates are especially high in Escondido Creek.
At high levels, nitrates can be toxic to animals and humans. The best way you can prevent nitrate pollution in our waters is to limit the use of chemical fertilizers in your yard, or better yet rip up your grass and plant native plants that don’t need fertilizers.
- Bacteria levels are really high after a rain event.
Here are ten tactics to keep bacteria out of our waters by preventing polluted runoff.
- Drought affects water quality, not just quality.
Ambient measurements help us determine when poor water quality is harming the flora and fauna of our waters.
- We could not do this without our extraordinary volunteers.
Each month, 40 – 45 San Diego residents volunteer their Saturday to collect field samples and process them in the lab. During 2014 alone, 194 volunteers gave a total of 1,888 hours.
Susan Cobb, one of San Diego Coastkeeper’s most dedicated Water Quality Monitors, spends her weekends collecting water samples from across San Diego for scientific analysis. Passionate volunteers like Susan are the reason we can catch sewage spills early and find and fix the sources of pollution making San Diego less fishable and swimmable. We sat down with Susan to find out why she loves water and what drives her to protect it.
Why do you volunteer as a Coastkeeper Water Quality Monitor?
I began volunteering when I was a teenager. My mom recycled everything (newspapers, cans, glass) and I spent a few hours every weekend at the local recycling center. When I moved to San Diego County many years later, I started volunteering everywhere I could. Finally, after helping with a few beach cleanups in North County I heard about San Diego Coastkeeper. When I read about their Water Quality Monitoring program and commitment to the waterways in San Diego, I knew I wanted to be involved. That was May of 2015 and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Besides the obvious fact that our environment is worth saving, when I joined San Diego Coastkeeper I met a room full of people that felt the same as I did. My first day as a Water Quality Monitor, I was paired up with Adrian and Steve Kwik. As we drove up the coast to the Los Penasquitos sites, I knew that I wanted to make a commitment to the Water Quality Monitoring program. Those two had been doing it for 8-9 years and I was so impressed with their attitude and longevity.
I love the outdoors. My family and I hike and camp as often as possible. We enjoy the beach and my husband’s hobby is ocean fishing. So, I consider this a perfect fit. I can spend about 5 hours once a month and know that I’m having a positive impact on this big beautiful rock we live on.
Why is it important to return every month?
I see quite a few others that make this a regular part of their schedules each month so I know that I’m not alone. For me, it’s important to come every month because I can. I put it on my calendar, and when other things come up, I work around the water quality monitoring schedule. I am proud to say that I’ve only missed a few since starting in May of 2015.
One thing I love about coming every month is the friendships I’m forming. All of the volunteers care about the environment, but also many are in education (teachers and students) or their jobs are directly related to the environment. Also, it’s not surprising that since I am here on a regular basis, I feel confident in my knowledge of the proper procedures; which I know is important. It’s important for team members to participate each month so we can help train those who are either new or only help occasionally. A strong base of volunteers is essential to the success of the water quality monitoring process to ensure consistency in the data collection itself; whether it be location or the procedure of collecting the data.
What should everyone in San Diego know about this program?
People in San Diego should know that local and state agencies don’t have the funding and/or man-power to monitor our water ways as they should. The data we collect and analyze is used to keep our local industries in check. Since we collect in compliance with scientific procedures (clean gloves, dirty gloves, double bagging, keeping samples on ice, etc) and the lab follows set procedures to ensure accuracy, the data can then be used to support environmental laws if and when the need arises.
Our waterways are the foundation of our life in Southern California. The diversity of our plants and animals cannot survive without a healthy foundation and they deserve protection. Human activity in the outdoors must also be protected. We all should have fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters. We should be able to enjoy seeing clean water and the wildlife it supports. Our environment is worth saving for ourselves and for our future.
How do you feel about the health of San Diego’s inland waters?
The health of San Diego’s inland waters fluctuates based on numerous factors. Water quality is not solely based on how industries treat our water, it also depends on how the general public, regular people like us, act in our daily life. Runoff from homes and roads, lawn fertilizers, oil from driveways, miscellaneous trash, and more can all have a negative impact on our watersheds. We all can make a difference. What we do matters when it comes to the health of our precious watersheds.
What do you do outside of Coastkeeper?
I’m a middle school science teacher. I encourage my students to participate in beach clean ups and any other causes they find worthy. I volunteer with Coastkeeper because I want them to know the importance of our waterways, and the environment in general. Leading by example is important.
What we all do can, and does, make a difference to others. We impact the world around us whether we realize it or not. I’ve shared with them some of the news that I learn from reading San Diego Coastkeeper’s newsletter. When the new law regarding microbeads passed, we did a mini-unit on plastics and their negative impact on the environment. One of the students this year mentioned how she thought that microbeads were part of the problem and that they should not be allowed. I let her know that the law had been passed and they were being phased out; which made her happy to say the least.
Outside of work, I love to be outdoors. My husband, daughter and I take a yearly camping trip, most often to Sequoia National Park. We have also been to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and others. Locally, we enjoy our local coastline, Anza Borrego and Palomar Mountain. I’ve also done summer traveling with some work friends to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.
And perhaps — your favorite San Diego beer and why?
My favorite beer is called Headbasher IPA. It’s made by a Carlsbad Brewery by the name of Arcana. We belong to Arcana’s ‘Mug-Club’ and I can’t say enough positive things about it. The owner and staff are amazing people and the two dart boards, along with the variety of food trucks, just can’t be beat. They have a nice selection of brews and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. If you’re in North County and are thirsty for a great brew, stop into Arcana and tell them I sent you.
What is polluted runoff?
Pollutants like oil, grease, pesticides and litter build up on our streets and sidewalks each day. When it rains, and when sprinklers spill onto the sidewalk, water carries all of these pollutants through our storm drains directly into our rivers, bays and beaches without any treatment. Another large and related, and somewhat unquantifiable, problem is called industrial stormwater pollution. While this pollution reaches our waters in much the same way as everyday runoff, this type of pollution originates at the many industrial business sites across the county.
Why is polluted runoff the largest threat to our fishable, swimmable water?
Polluted runoff is the reason we can’t swim in the ocean for 72 hours after it rains, and it causes chemical build up in the fish we eat. But fighting polluted runoff isn’t as simple as stopping a single source of pollution. It’s a death by a thousand cuts, originating everywhere from car washes and sprinklers to streets, construction and industrial sites and farms. Imagine stopping the rain from pouring from the sky and running down the streets!
Dive into our polluted runoff series to explore the cutting edge of our work defending San Diego County’s water from urban and industrial runoff and learn how to make a difference yourself.
- Why We Spend Our Saturdays Collecting Water Samples
- Water Quality: What’s Drought Got to Do With It?
Stay tuned for more stories coming soon.
San Diego Coastkeeper member, Water Quality Monitor, and beach cleanup host extraordinaire Amanda Sousa is a water lover in the truest sense. When she sailed from Ensenada to Oahu, Amanda experienced just how wondrously huge our ocean is and how quickly we become small in its presence. And yet, despite all this vastness, there was one persistent and unwelcome visitor from which Amanda could not escape. In her own words, Amanda describes how these constant encounters impacted her.
I recently had the opportunity to crew on a passage from Ensenada, Mexico to Oahu, Hawaii on a 44-ft Leopard Catamaran owned by my dad’s friends, Ian Steele and Sharon Lockhart. I jumped at the opportunity to do some blue water sailing; to hop on the trade winds, experience falling seas, sail wing on wing and live the adventure. On the water, I was absolutely struck by the sheer grandeur of the ocean, I felt so small compared to its vastness.
Day after day there was no sight of land, and yet day after day I saw plastic. We did not chart a course into the Northern Pacific Gyre and were not looking for plastic, but there it was every single day. Over 19 days of different wind speeds, different currents and small swells to large swells, it was always there.
The plastic came in all different sizes from small fragments to ghost nets tangled in a large blob. There was plastic that looked as if it just blown in the water from my home in Pacific Beach, plastic that looked as if it made its way overboard and plastic that had been floating for what looked like years. I started to feel that the ocean was a whole lot smaller.
It pains me that the beautiful ocean, in all it’s splendor, has been so polluted by our trash. This plastic did not fall from the sky and there is no excuse for it being 1,200 miles from shore other than the disregard of our impact to this world.
The damage that has been done is so pervasive and ubiquitous. It was heartbreaking to witness right in front of my eyes. In the deepest parts of my heart I love the oceans, the streams, the lakes and the rivers; I love the animals that live and depend on these water bodies (including all of us); I love the plants that bloom and creep in these places. This passage has reinforced my love of the beauty of the ocean and has also strengthened my conviction that we need to realize our impact. We must take active steps to eliminate this ubiquitous plastic from our lives, our world and our wild places.
I am a clean water advocate, I am a volunteer and I am a supporter of San Diego Coastkeeper. Collectively, we need to put more energy toward our most precious resource. Now more than ever, we need to take a hard look inside and decide what we want in this world. I have decided I want fishable, swimmable, drinkable water; I want wild places; I want the ocean to be just blue; I want to be small in the ocean again.
The United States and California have some of the best water quality regulations in the world. The problem is, they are seldom enforced. That’s where we come in. San Diego Coastkeeper’s identifies illegal polluters like government bodies and businesses and works, often hand-in-hand with polluters, to bring them into compliance with the law. The end result is a new industry leader in environmental stewardship.
Enter El Cajon Business Precision Metals Products
Precision Metals Products’ facility primarily fabricates steel columns, beams, braces and machines. As you can imagine, a lot of metals on this site that can leach into the water — and they have. Over the past five years, Precision Metals Products has polluted Forester Creek, the San Diego River, and ultimately, the Pacific Ocean. These polluted discharges make our water less fishable and swimmable.
In February 2016, San Diego Coastkeeper and Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation sent a 60-day notice of intent to sue Precision Metals Products, Inc. in El Cajon for violations of the California statewide industrial general permit and the Clean Water Act.
A Win for Clean Water and Sustainable Business
Thanks to hard work from all parties, we now have an agreement that keeps our water clean. Coastkeeper recently filed an agreement between our groups and Precision Metals Products, and it’s now approved by the federal court system and the Department of Justice. This means there is a legally binding agreement requiring the operators to keep the site cleaner and repair cracked pavement. These major changes will prevent the following types of pollutions from entering our waters:
- Total Suspended Solids
Restitution for Past Pollution
While the past pollution cannot be undone, stormwater pollution settlements use the money won to further improve water quality — attempting to balance past damage with investments in the future. Different environmental groups apply for these grants, called Supplemental Environmental Projects.
In this case, the funds from the settlement will go to San Diego Audubon Society for its Supplemental Environmental Project called ReWild Mission Bay, a project to enhance and restore up to 170 acres of wetlands in the northeast corner of Mission Bay.
Setting the Standard
When a business is polluting, we always have the goal to work hand-in-hand with business leaders to help them come into compliance. When that happens, it sets a positive example for the industry that following the law is good for business and good for the community. Eventually, this leads to improved industry standards as a whole.
Everyone has a right to clean water — and our enforcement efforts make up part of the solution to creating a fishable, swimmable, drinkable San Diego County for all.
Meet Monica, our beach cleanup intern-extraordinaire. She signed up with San Diego Coastkeeper to keep our waters swimmable, but discovered a new passion for volunteering itself. Enjoy her first blog below.
It might surprise you that clean beaches are not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the benefits of organizing beach cleanups. While the physical evidence of hundreds of pounds of trash is encouraging at the end of each cleanup, there’s so much more to feel great about. Rising early on a Saturday morning to be a part of a community of families, students, and avid beachgoers sparks thoughtful conversations and meaningful interactions accompanied by warm ocean breezes and the fleeting dance of dolphins in the waves.
Surfers dart past you towards the waves in a youthful jog as you assemble Coastkeeper’s signature blue easy-up gazebo, which in fact isn’t so easy after all. A kind stranger always offers a helping hand and you always accept. What follows is wave after wave of passionate people wanting to take action and make a difference in their community. People meet, share ideas and discuss politics all while getting outside and active on a weekend morning.
Only recently have I come to appreciate all the positive effects volunteer work has on a community and myself. Productively working together to better the community, particularly the environment, creates a positive feedback loop; a group of individuals working hard to improve their community benefits the community, the community becomes happier, which builds a stronger bond with their community and drives more to embrace volunteer work to make it even better.
Volunteer work has positive effects on individual volunteers as well. Working outside boosts physical, mental and social well-being. Working with your peers to create a stronger and more sustainable community focuses attention on local problems that directly affect the members of your neighborhood.
As the cleanup is winding down those same surfers emerge from the water, grinning from the adrenaline rush, and offer a smile or kind words for helping to keep our beaches clean. While they are not wrong, they are unaware of the bigger impact that has elapsed during their brief surf session. Beach cleanups do far more than just clean beaches.
Did you know that clean water is protected by law?
A Clean Water Law is Born
Prior to 1972, people across America could pollute waters freely — and without much consequence. It wasn’t until the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught on fire that the EPA decided to do something about the pollution across our nation.
That’s when the Clean Water Act was born. This federal law regulates what industries and government can and can’t do to water that we all share. Though locally the law is implemented by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, actual enforcement is rare.
The Power of the People
The Clean Water Act long ago recognized that the job of protecting our waters was a much bigger task than the EPA or Regional Water Boards could handle alone. In doing so, it created a provision that provides citizens with the right to enforce these water-protecting laws.
This law is the best – and many times the only – tool we have to defend and protect our waters here in San Diego. Sometimes citizen suits are necessary to stop a polluter from harming our water, but often we can transform a polluter to an industry-leading water steward with some cooperation and collaboration.
Cooperation is Key
Today, without Coastkeeper’s stormwater enforcement program, business and government agencies in San Diego County could continue to pollute without consequences for decades. To prevent pollution, our model is simple: find and fix. We identify industrial stormwater polluters and remedy violations using every tool available like the Clean Water Act and the California statewide Industrial General Stormwater Permit.
Since the Government is not actively identifying industrial polluters and bringing them into compliance, we step in by analyzing data and taking proper steps to notify and work with the facility to come into compliance. Our team can pull a business’s mandatory, self-reported water quality data from California’s public database, and at times we may also take our own water quality samples to determine if a facility is doing enough. This analysis allows us to see if a business has failed to do water quality tests or if its data indicates they are polluting in violation of the law.
Once we identify a business or government agency that is out of compliance, we send them a legal notice required under the Clean Water Act. We also offer to cooperate with them in order to not only protect our water, but protect their business from further legal consequences. Often, industry and government are willing to upgrade their facilities and their practices to the standards necessary under the Clean Water Act to keep our waters pollution-free. In this way we hope to build partnerships and environmental stewards who bring value to our community.
Coastkeeper’s Role in Pollution Prevention
Our industrial enforcement efforts have focused, in part, on areas where environmental injustice continues to occur. A few of our more recent enforcement actions have focused in areas such as Barrio Logan, Chula Vista, and National City, where facilities pollute in close proximity to residential areas and into waterways that residents rely on for fish to feed their families. Often, residents are unaware of the harmful pollution resulting from these businesses in their communities, and the proximity and concentration of industrial pollution near residences and public resources is troublesome.
It’s in our best interest to work with these businesses or government agencies to help them come into compliance. It sets a positive example for industry that following the law is good for business and the community, and can eventually lead to improved industry standards as a whole. Since San Diego’s biggest water issue is runoff pollution, we will need all industries to comply with the Clean Water Act to solve our problem. This takes leadership from our governing agencies like the State and Regional Water Boards, the cities that hold municipal stormwater permits, and the industrial businesses that are part of our community.
Do Your Part
Everyone has a right to clean water, and our industrial enforcement efforts help to create a clean, healthy environment for all. With your help and watchful eyes, we can ensure our waters remain fishable, swimmable, and drinkable.
We have laws in place to limit industrial pollution and ensure that our water can support all of its uses, from swimming and fishing to hosting endangered wildlife. But without enforcement, these regulations cannot keep our water healthy. That’s where San Diego Coastkeeper comes in.
Urban runoff is the single biggest threat to water quality in San Diego. During the dry season, pollutants build up on hard surfaces like roads and parking lots. When it rains, stormwater pushes the accumulated pollutants into our storm drains. In San Diego, like most of California, our storm drains generally do not connect to wastewater treatment plants, so everything flows untreated into our waters. Pollutants created by industries, like metals and oils, are especially serious because they can be toxic in very low concentrations.
The Clean Water Act is a federal law that lays out the legal requirement for protecting, maintaining and improving the health of our water bodies. It is our most powerful tool for making sure San Diego’s water is healthy because it mandates that all states identify creeks, rivers and shorelines that are severely impaired by pollution.
Unfortunately, state and local regulators often don’t review water quality reports or conduct monitoring to make sure that industries are meeting Clean Water Act standards. San Diego Coastkeeper steps up to make sure that industries are doing everything they can to reduce pollution to our rivers and beaches. We review water quality reports, but that’s only the first step.
San Diego’s local government agencies have limited resources and they monitor infrequently, providing only a snapshot of water quality. To solve this problem, San Diego Coastkeeper also conducts our own monitoring to ensure compliance of clean water rules. We collect and analyze water samples from nine out of 11 watersheds in San Diego County every month. To ensure that our data meets the highest quality standards possible, Coastkeeper follows a rigorous quality assurance and control plan and standard operating procedures that have been approved by our state regulatory agencies. Sounds like a big job, right? That’s why we train over 100 volunteers each year and rely on them to help.
When we find polluting facilities, we use the Clean Water Act to bring them into compliance through enforcement actions. Our goal is to force industry operators to install and use best management practices that will meaningfully reduce pollutants in our waterways.
Want to see what kind of report card your local watershed is getting? Click here to explore a map of the most recent data we have for locations from Otay to Carlsbad.