Be Like Jo Ann And Ted: Create an Oasis and Save Water at the Same Time

Written by Guest Author

Guest Author is Brook Sarson, H2OME

True Water Conservation requires an integrated approach and taking the initiative to be part of the solution. Jo Ann and Ted, in Talmadge, were reluctant to get rid of their front lawn because they did not know what it could turn into, did not want to put something in that required a lot of water and did not like the cactus and gravel look. But, we found a solution that worked.

We arrived at a design including fruit trees, natives and pollinating plants. We installed a 420-gallon rainwater tank that overflows into a basin in the front yard for passive water collection during the rainy season. We put in a simple Laundry-to-Landscape system to provide a consistent supply of water to fruit trees every week. This yard is augmented by good soil and mulch to create better absorption of water and prevent evaporation. In just a year, Jo Ann and Ted have a thriving oasis and more wildlife than ever before (lizards, butterflies, hummingbirds, bees). They have told me that they are amused to overhear their neighbors remark, “Don’t they know we are in a drought?” even as they watch their apples ripen without any municipal water.

Save water and create an oasis by planting drought-tolerant and native plants.

Save water and create an oasis by planting drought-tolerant and native plants.

Generally, with the right combination of strategies, people are seeing reductions by half in their water use. Here are some tips to help you get started at your own home.

  1. Start by REDUCING your water use.
    Get rid of your thirsty landscape so you don’t need water in the first place. This doesn’t mean artificial turf, gravel and cactus, or hardscaping. It also doesn’t mean investing a ton of money in re-landscaping, tanks, or greywater plumbing. Property value can be preserved with the right plants in the right places and some well directed rainwater. Notice a return of butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees to our neighborhoods!
    If you are preparing your landscape for redevelopment and you want to make the best use of your water resources, before you decided on plants and a design, figure out what greywater and rainwater potential you have. Create a water budget. Design your plantings to use the the easiest water to access and at the volumes that are plant appropriate.
    Sometimes, if you can imagine changing some personal habits a little or altering your routines, your water distribution will be more effective! Like changing your showered from a 2GPM showered to a 1.5GPM shower head. With 20 minutes of showering a day you end up saving 10 gallons a day! That’s 3600 gallons for the year! Not to mention getting the water budget right for your landscape. 40 gallons a day might be too much for a drought tolerant landscape. Better yet, create an outdoor shower to avoid expensive retrofits and let the water go directly to the plants that need them, ending your need for irrigation.
    This can look like many things, but often looks like a 205-gallon tank instead of a 55-gallon barrel. Did you know that a 1000-square-foot roof will shed 600 gallons in just one inch of rain? With 10 inches of rain on average in San Diego, that adds up to a lot of water. Think big for your water storage needs.
    Getting your neighbors and friends involved can make short work out of a greywater or rainwater installation. Host a workshop for your friends and neighbors.
    You just have to learn what your resources are, and make sure you get it done right! Connect with a local expert for a consultation, take their recommendations, and use them as your resource along the way. Buy a good book and follow the instructions. Learn about water budgeting. Take a class and make a friend to skill-share with to get the job done. You can find tons of good resources at
    Sometimes your neighbors don’t want to do what you are doing, but you’d be surprised how they can contribute if you just ask! Like one family who is borrowing their neighbor’s downspout to help fill their 1320 gallon rainwater tank.
    In our community we have some amazing resources. You don’t have to do everything yourself, and often times we all benefit from working together. Bring a friend to a workshop so you each can internalize the parts of the information that you are best at. Get consultations from local experts in creating a water plan, developing a landscape plan, creating good soil, growing food, growing natives. Likely, if we all rely on people who are really skilled at what they do, we can create something far more abundant than if we try to do everything ourselves.
    Did you know that your water footprint takes into account the food you eat? If your food is grown outside of San Diego, your water footprint is higher. Growing food in your own backyard with onsite water (rainwater for veggies, and greywater for fruit trees) means that you aren’t wasting oil to bring the food to San Diego and water, usually imported, to grow your food.
  10. We are ALL part of the solution to creating local water in San Diego.
    If all homeowners in San Diego reduced landscape irrigation by 50% using an integrated approach to onsite water management, we would decrease our imported water needs by 20%, more than twice what the Carlsbad desalination provides for our county by much more energy intensive methods! Plus by rerouting our rainwater into our gardens, we offset storm drain pollution and by rerouting our greywater into our soil, we offset costly infrastructure upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities! If you don’t own your home, talk to your landlord, or your friends who own their homes. Turn the conversation up and the water use down! Join the movement.

Who Do You Want Planning Your Coastline?

Written by Matt O'Malley

A new plan is in the works that will decide the future of San Diego’s coastline. Recently, the State Lands Commission and the Port of San Diego decided to pursue a marine spatial planning pilot project off the San Diego coast. The two agencies created a Memorandum of Agreement aimed to engage community members along the way.

Marine spatial planning is a process that aimed at helping a community make informed decisions about how to use a marine area in an ecological sound and sustainable way. If done well, the process can create a framework built around achieving true sustainability and conservation in our offshore areas while integrating the successes we’ve achieved with our Marine Protected Areas. In the past, however, traditional land-use has largely been conducted for the benefit of development and industry and has often times excluded or marginalized the involvement of the environmental community. We are hopeful that this planning agreement will live up to its commitment to “transparent, robust public engagement during all phases of framework development” – including meaningful participation of the environmental community – and we remain committed to working for the protection and restoration of our coastal waters.

Why does this matter to San Diego Coastkeeper?

As the voice for San Diego’s water, Coastkeeper is committed to ensuring the region’s waters remain fishable, swimmable and drinkable. Over the past 20 years, we have:

Coastkeeper is concerned that if the environmental community isn’t involved and properly recognized in the planning of this marine spatial project, the results could contribute to streamlined industrialization of our already-stressed marine environment – meaning a major step backwards for the health of our coast.

Why is environmental community involvement important?
The Commission and Port say they view this new marine spatial planning project as an opportunity to expand on collaborative, coordinated management of the San Diego coast. However, past traditional land-use planning projects haven’t generally involved such collaboration.
To ensure that the planning of this project prioritizes the health of our coastline, the environmental community must have every opportunity to be involved, and that voice must not be marginalized in the process.

We will continue to be your water watchdogs by fighting for the health of our inland and coastal waters and ensuring that Coastkeeper remains part of the planning for our marine coastline.

Stay up to date on Coastkeeper’s advocacy efforts by following us on social media and subscribing to our newsletter.

Published in Marine Conservation

Why Cathy Stiefel and Keith Behner Decided To Fuel A Movement

cathy-keithCathy and Keith are on a mission to make a difference. For more than five years, Cathy Stiefel and Keith Behner have partnered with San Diego Coastkeeper to massively expand the reach of our education program, Project SWELL. Because of their passionate engagement and tremendous generosity, local water issues and a conservation ethic have permeated classrooms across the County. They see inspiring, hands-on water education for our next generation of leaders as a vital part of a more fishable, swimmable, drinkable future for San Diego County.

Last year, Cathy and Keith made it possible to expand our team with our Project SWELL education specialist. The expansion has had an incredible impact on the program, allowing San Diego Coastkeeper to reach more future leaders more effectively with inspiring, formative education experiences.

“In the time that Keith and I have been supporting Project SWELL, the program has grown substantially – serving more grades, training more teachers and reaching more schools and students,” says Cathy, who is also a board member of Coastkeeper.

Cathy and Keith’s engagement is truly an investment in San Diego’s future. You can thank them for the engaged community members and the smart decision making for our water in the next couple of decades. Or, if your kids cite the dwindling water levels in the Colorado River Basin the next time they refuse to take a bath, you can thank Cathy and Keith for that, too.

“We believe that childhood science education is critical to developing an educated and aware citizenry for our region. There is no more important issue in San Diego than water quality and the sustainability of water resources in our unique coastal environment. We have been more than gratified by the growth of the program and the enthusiastic reception from teachers and students alike,” says Cathy.

Here’s How We Spent Our Summer Vacation

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

In our mission to build a generation of future leaders that love and respect water as much as we do, we don’t take a break for summer vacation. In fact, often the best time to reach kids is when they don’t think they’re learning. That’s why we partner with after school programs and summer camps for some sneak-attack water education.

Here are some of the highlights from our summer “break.”

Niños de la Promesa

Decomposition Trash Activity in Tijuana

Water connects us all, no matter what side of the border we live on. International cooperation and regionwide thinking is a vital part of protecting and restoring San Diego County’s fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters. That’s why we partnered with the Tijuana orphanage, Niños de la Promesa, to bring water education to 54 future stewards of our water. Did we mention our Water Education For All curriculum is bilingual?

Refugee Children in City Heights


We brought hands-on water science education to 25 refugee children from all over the world.  

Junior Lifeguards

Junior Lifeguards Playing Water Jeopardy

We joined the Junior Lifeguards for interactive learning at two Environmental Day fairs with City of San Diego departments, including Transportation and Stormwater, Wastewater and Pure Water. With kids sitting alongside the water, the opportunity was perfect to expand their knowledge of local habitats, urban runoff and pollution prevention.

How We Help Teachers Grow Future Leaders

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

project-swell-middle-schoolTeachers 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.

People We Can’t Live Without: Getting to know David and Ann Welborn


OK, maybe it’s a bit extreme to say that we can’t live without them, but it’s not an overstatement to say that our work would not be possible without the support of our donors and volunteers. From time to time, we will share conversations with people who, like you, make generous investments of their time and resources to ensure fishable, swimmable and drinkable water in San Diego, today and for generations to come.

David Welborn is a past member of San Diego Coastkeeper’s Board of Directors, including one year as Chairman. He and his wife, Ann, have invested in Coastkeeper’s work through targeted grants and general support. David joined me recently for a chat in our Liberty Station office.

Tracie Barham: David, I know you’ve had a long history with San Diego Coastkeeper, can you tell me why you first got involved?

David Welborn: I have almost always lived near the coast, and when I’m near the water I feel like I’m in a sacred place. Our water is such a valuable asset, I felt it was important for me to help protect it. After all, without water there is no life.

Tracie: I couldn’t agree more, David. We are so lucky to live in this paradise. Tell me, what about Coastkeeper’s approach excites you the most?

David: As former teachers, Coastkeeper’s youth education programs have a special appeal to both Ann and I. Also, your water quality monitoring program has multiple impacts on the community. It’s not just the data that informs all of your work, but the valuable experience gained by our future scientists as volunteers. Lastly, we are glad that Coastkeeper holds polluters accountable through litigation, when necessary.

Tracie: I’ll admit, as Coastkeeper’s new Executive Director, the fact that our programs are so interconnected is really inspiring to me. What do you wish more people knew about San Diego Coastkeeper?

David: I think people would be very impressed if they knew how much Coastkeeper is able to achieve with such a small budget. Your small staff (aided by many volunteers) is able to do so much for our community and the environment thanks to their passion and intelligence.

Tracie: Thank you, David. I agree, we are small but mighty! Okay, last question, what outdoor activities do you and Ann like to do when you’re not busy serving your community as Board members and donors?

David: Not surprisingly, many of our favorite things to do are on the water! We like to go outrigger canoeing in the Bay, kayak surfing, and stand-up paddleboarding.

Tracie: Nice, I’ll see you in the water! Thank you for all that you do for the environment and our community.

When a Safe Harbor Isn’t Safe

Written by Matt O'Malley

Polluted runoff is San Diego County’s number one water quality problem.  It’s what causes the Department of Environmental Health to issue 72-hour polluted beach advisories when it rains and what causes our local streams and rivers to receive poor health ratings.

To address that issue, the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (“MS4”) permit requires our local governments to create and implement plans to prevent pollution in urban runoff and stormwater from reaching our waters. Naturally, Coastkeeper supports that permit and its goal to protect and restore our waters. Until recently, the permit required strict compliance with the Clean Water Act and with standards aimed at protecting our waters from pollution. It held the cities and other governments accountable if they weren’t achieving clean water.

But on November 18, 2015, the San Diego Regional Water Control Board approved an amendment known as a “Safe Harbor” that gives permit holders a pass from accountability for water-quality protection if they have a plan to eventually, someday reduce pollution into our waters and achieve fishable, swimmable waters. They get this “pass” from the moment their plan is approved and it continues indefinitely as long as they keep trying to do better, even if they continue failing to meet water-quality standards.  In December, we filed a petition to the State Water Resource Control Board to overturn these amendments and to restore accountability of our governments under the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act long ago recognized that the job of protecting our waters was bigger than the EPA or Regional Boards alone.  In doing so, it created a provision that gives citizens the right, if not responsibility, to enforce the laws meant to protect our waters. Since the Clean Water Act is the best – and many times only – tool we as citizens have to defend and protect our waters, it is crucial that we work to protect and preserve that right with the same devotion and intensity we put into protecting our rivers, streams and ocean.

What is A Waterkeeper?

Written by Matt O'Malley
San diego Coastkeeper Water Pollution Patrol

Photography By 9M Photo

As San Diego Coastkeeper’s Waterkeeper, Legal & Policy Director, and attorney, it is my job to ensure that those businesses, governments, and individuals who pollute San Diego’s waters are held accountable and that our waters are both protected and restored.

The honest truth is that while many of our pollution laws in San Diego and the U.S. are quite strong, they are seldom enforced. That’s where we come in. Waterkeeper organizations patrol local waters and prosecute polluters. We are the voice for the water and a defender of the right of every person in San Diego County to live with fishable, swimmable, drinkable water.

San Diego County’s rivers, bays and ocean are under a threat of a thousand cuts. Many different sources of pollution pour into our water every day, which combined become a powerful and often toxic mix poisoning our water and our livelihood. Because this threat is so distributed and gradual, it doesn’t create cause for alarm in the same way something like an oil spill does, making it much more dangerous. It’s easy to just accept the fact that, for the safety of swimmers and surfers, our beaches need to close for 72 hours after it rains. But as Waterkeepers, we do not and will not ever stop protecting our waters.

Our model is simple and powerful: find and fix. One by one, we identify sources of pollution and then use every tool at our disposal, most often legal actions and advocacy, to bring polluters into compliance with the law and heal the cuts that are harming our waters.

San Diego used to average a sewage spill-a-day. With strategic legal action, we were able to push the City of San Diego to invest $1 billion in infrastructure upgrades, reducing sewage spills by 90 percent. That’s just a single lawsuit of the many in our twenty-year history of turning pollution into clean water and polluters into responsible protectors of our water. Imagining San Diego County without San Diego Coastkeeper is, frankly, a bit too scary to consider.

This isn’t a new practice. It’s a tradition that’s proven incredibly effective—across the world. We’re part of an international movement of more than 300 independent Waterkeeper organizations all over the world dedicated to protecting and restoring a specific body of fishable, swimmable, drinkable water. We’re proud to be a part of this tradition, and proud to be one of the largest Waterkeeper organizations in the world.

But I can’t do anything without you by my side. We have to do this together. We all share our water. We all benefit from our water and a thriving, abundant ecosystem. So it’s all of our responsibility to protect it.

If you see something polluting our waters, let me know. I’m your Waterkeeper. If you want to join the Waterkeeper movement and support San Diego Coastkeeper, consider making a donation or joining our team of dedicated volunteers.

Finally, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter so I can keep you up to date on the latest information you need to know about San Diego County’s water.

The polls are in! Kids want to protect our waters

Written by Sandra J. Lebron
Coastkeeper Project Swell 3rd grade

3rd-4th Grade Marine Debris Lesson

How San Diego Coastkeeper took water education to the next level in 2015-2016

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. Through Project SWELL, San Diego Coastkeeper provides all San Diego Unified School District teachers with free science kits and trainings. The curriculum explores the impacts of humans on our waters through a hands-on course of study focusing on water quality and pollution prevention.

This past school year, Project SWELL got a major boost. Thanks to a generous donor, we hired Julie Earnest as our dedicated education specialist for Project SWELL and the results have been stellar.

San Diego Coastkeeper Project Swell

6th Grade Modeling Pollution in Watersheds Experiment

The 2015-2016 school year was filled with lots of hands-on experiments, watershed models, marine debris activities and storm drain field trips for 4,460 K-6th grade students and 300 teachers. Our tireless and overly enthusiastic education specialist, Julie, offered 83 SWELL presentations in 67 schools in San Diego Unified School District.

To evaluate the effectiveness of Project SWELL, we surveyed students before and after the classroom presentations. The results of the K-6th grade student surveys showed us that more students now understand the importance of keeping our waters clean and have the desire to prevent pollution. But don’t take our word for it — see the results  yourself.


Check out how the younger students showed us what they learned with these inspirational art pieces:

Project Swell drawing4 Project Swell drawing5  Project Swell drawing3 Project Swell drawing2

Imagine the next generation of students making responsible environmental decisions because they know we should take care of the environment every day. This could mean a new generation of leaders that will be caring for our planet and teach others to do the same — the ultimate goal of environmental education.

After the classroom presentations, 96 percent of teachers said:

  • The presentation was engaging to their students
  • They would recommend the presentation to a colleague
  • They were more confident incorporating the Project SWELL curriculum into their classroom

Teachers in San Diego County can request a free professional development workshop at their schools whenever they want or join us in our scheduled workshops at the Advanced Water Purification Plant or at the District’s Instructional Media Center.

Since we started visiting schools in 2014, we have brought Project SWELL to a total of 96 schools and 7,362 K-6th grade students. Not bad for a team of two educators, some awesome interns and the support of our local donors and partners.

2nd Grade Student Surveys

2nd grade students showed an increase in learning, with the best improvements in their responses to these questions:

  • Q1: When water goes down the storm drains in San Diego, what happens to that water?
  • Q2: After it rains, why is the ocean in San Diego unsafe for swimming?

Project swell results 2nd grade


3rd – 4th Grade Student Surveys

3rd-4th grade students showed an increase in learning, with the best improvements in their responses to these questions:

  • Q2: After it rains, why is the ocean in San Diego unsafe for swimming?
  • Q3: What happens when “invisible” pollutants such as gasoline and fertilizer go into the ocean?

Project swell results 3rd.4th grade

5th Grade Student Surveys

5th grade students showed an increase in learning, with the best improvements in their responses to these questions:

  • Q1: Most of the water in San Diego used for drinking, cooking, and cleaning comes from where?
  • Q2: When water goes down the storm drains in San Diego, what happens to that water?
  • Q4: When water inside homes, schools, and businesses goes down the drain and enters the sewer system, what happens to that water?

Project swell results 5th grade

6th Grade Student Surveys

6th grade students showed an increase in learning, with the best improvements in their responses to these questions:

  • Q2: What features determine the boundary of a watershed?
  • Q4: When rainwater and urban runoff flow into storm drains in San Diego, what happens to that water?
  • Q5: When water from inside our homes flow into the sewer system in San Diego, what happens to that water?

Project swell results 6th grade

There was an average increase learning of 20-56 percent for all groups of 2nd, 3rd/4th, 5th, and 6th graders. Students showed an increase in knowledge about the difference between storm drains and sewers, where San Diego water comes from and how runoff pollution affects the ocean. This could help change behaviors in our students as well as their families and communities as they become advocates of our water resources.

San Diego Coastkeeper Education Programs

If you are not part of San Diego Unified School District, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Thanks to the support of the Port of San Diego, we’ve developed and piloted a new curriculum called Water Education for All. This is available online and has already reached nearly 3,224 children and adults in Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, Coronado, San Diego and National City.


What Can Insects Teach Us About Our Water?

Written by Meredith Meyers

SDCK_water_quality_testingSan Diego County has at least 360 known pollutant impairments in 166 bodies of water. How do we know? One of the methods that San Diego Coastkeeper uses to identify polluted water is to take a survey of the insects that live there.

Some insects are more sensitive to pollution than others. By collecting information about the types and numbers of insects living in a waterway, we are able to determine whether the water is healthy enough to support the species that call it home.

We conduct these studies, called bioassessments, with teams of volunteers along rivers and streams in San Diego County. In addition to collecting and identifying aquatic insects, the volunteers work together to measure physical characteristics of the streams such as sedimentation and the state of the stream bed. We usually conduct these assessments once a year, during the springtime when our rivers are flowing most consistently.

San Diego Coastkeeper’s bioassessments go hand in hand with Water Quality Monitoring, our program to analyze water samples for basic chemistry, nutrients, bacteria and toxicity. Because they go beyond measuring chemical components, bioassessments help us to make connections between the quality of our water and the health of our animals that call it home. This gives us a deeper, more holistic understanding of water quality in San Diego County – and that’s the first step to making our water healthy for everyone to enjoy.