San Diego Bay: What’s new in the massive cleanup?

fisherman san diego bayFor three decades, toxins sat in the sediment at the bottom of San Diego Bay, a legacy of poor practices at the shipyards of yesteryear.

What was once a thriving ecosystem went dead.

Even after the Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered a cleanup, San Diego Coastkeeper and its allies spent years advocating for a plan that would protect both the environment and the communities through which the toxic waste would be hauled. Finally, in 2013, the cleanup began with the dredging of the southernmost of two sites.

Legal battles among the responsible parties has prevented cleanup of the northern site. On July 22, 2014, the San Diego City Council approved funds for a portion of the cleanup so that it could begin.

Thank you City of San Diego. We’re pleased to see the City following through on its obligations to clean San Diego Bay, and we hope that remediation activities will now begin. We attended the council meeting when the council approved the funds so that we could give them our “attaboy.” We wanted to let them know that we are watching and urge that no further obstacle stand in the way of a complete cleanup, as ordered by the Regional Board.

Our bay provides sustenance, recreation and industry. It deserves nothing less.

Four Ways to Stay Informed about the San Diego Bay Shipyards Cleanup

The Shipyards cleanup is finally about to start. 

After decades of studies, plans, negotiations, expert reports, technical reports, legal posturing, and public hearings, we are poised to see contaminated dirt removed from San Diego Bay.  This cleanup is a critical step towards healing our bay so that it can once again be safe to feed our families fish from the bay.

TSD-Clean-Bay-Project-Maphe cleanup is slated to start by September 17 so the dredging will continue through the fall and winter months, ending before the least tern nesting season, which starts April 1.

So how can you stay on top of the cleanup progress?  What if you live or work near the shipyards and need to contact someone with a question or concern during the cleanup?  Here’s how you can stay informed:

1.  Attend a public meeting about the cleanup on Tuesday, September 10 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Barrio Station, 2175 Newton Ave, San Diego, 92113.

2.  Fill out this survey.  You can mail it back to the shipyards at: PO Box 420785, San Diego, CA 92142  or email it to  The survey lets the shipyards know how you want to stay informed about the cleanup progress–by mail, e-mail, social media or public meetings.

3.   Check out the cleanup webpage.  It contains lots of good information about the cleanup, including information about the route trucks carrying the dredged dirt will take to the highway, and a contact page where you can leave a message or get on the mailing list or e-mail list.  Information on the website is in both English and Spanish.

4.   Call the cleanup hotline at (855) 817-4397.  It contains a cleanup update message in both English and Spanish and allows you to leave a message.


Dredging, Drying, Trucking, and Testing: The Ins and Outs of the San Diego Bay Cleanup

Water quality in San Diego Bay may start improving as early as September 15 of this year, when removal of the bay’s toxic sediment, the ground beneath the water, is scheduled to begin. The cleanup is slated to remove 159,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from a 63-acre site near the NASSCO and BAE Systems shipyards just south of the Coronado Bridge. Those responsible for discharging the pollutants, including landowners and their tenants, are responsible for funding the cleanup.

During the cleanup, toxic sediment will be dredged from the bay bottom using a clamshell bucket specifically designed to minimize the spread of contaminates. Sediment will be dropped onto nearby barges and transported to shore, where it will be dried and mixed with a chemical compound to promote solidification. Sediment will then be tested to determine pollutant concentration (this may also be done while the sediment is still under water, a process known as in situ sampling) and will finally be transported by truck to the appropriate landfill disposal facility.

Water quality will be monitored both during and after the cleanup to determine its success. Monitoring stations will be located 250 and 500 feet from the dredge area, and a reference station will be located at 1000 feet to provide baseline measurements. A double-layered silt curtain will also be placed around the dredge area to prevent contaminated sediment from traveling into open water, which would compromise water quality.

Measures are also in place, and further plans are being developed, to reduce the cleanup’s impact on neighborhoods adjacent to the project site. Once dry, toxic sediment may become airborne and endanger air quality. To protect air quality, the permits require dried sediment to be controlled while it is stockpiled on shore or being transported. Also, cleanup operations are scheduled to run 24 hours per day and 6 to 7 days per week*, so requirements are being designed to protect residents from the noise and air pollution associated with ongoing truck traffic.

San Diego Coastkeeper has been actively involved in determining the ins and outs of the cleanup since it was ordered by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board in 2012. Waterkeeper Jill Witkowski collaborated with other stakeholders to create a cleanup implementation plan and Coastkeeper’s work in setting the terms of the cleanup’s waste discharge permit was recently lauded by the Regional Board. Coastkeeper also submitted comments to the San Diego Unified Port District regarding the cleanup’s coastal development permits, which were issued yesterday. The final permit that must be granted before the cleanup can begin is a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers. This permit is necessary when a project will add any material to or remove any material from waters of the United States. If all of the required permits are issued, the long-awaited cleanup of San Diego Bay will get underway this fall. Great news for those of us who love the bay!

* Dredging is scheduled to occur between September 15 and March 31 of each of three years to avoid the nesting season of the endangered California Least Tern, which lives within the project site.

Coastkeeper Makes Waves at the Water Board: San Diego Bay Cleanup on Horizon


Yesterday was a big day for San Diego Bay. The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a waste discharge permit for cleanup at the shipyard sites just south of the Coronado Bridge. This permit allows the cleanup to move forward and imposes requirements that will protect water quality while toxic sediment, the ground beneath the water, is removed from the bay.

The Regional Board called upon all dischargers listed in the Cleanup and Abatement Order to get involved in cleaning up San Diego Bay. Waterkeeper Jill Witkowski has collaborated with representatives from NASSCO and BAE Systems since the Order was issued in March 2012 and yesterday defended the work that those corporations have done to move the cleanup forward. The power of that collaboration was clear when NASSCO and BAE Systems supported all of the permit revisions that Coastkeeper proposed, which were accepted by the Regional Board.

Regional Board Vice Chair Gary Strawn thanked Coastkeeper publicly for the thoughtful, detailed comments that we submitted on the draft waste discharge permit. He appreciated our sharp eye in making sure that the permit was robust and followed the Order as well as the implementation plan developed by cleanup stakeholders.

The next step for the cleanup is to receive a coastal development permit from the Port of San Diego. Coastkeeper’s involvement in the cleanup will continue when our legal team attends the Port’s July 16 hearing on the issue. If you want to make sure San Diego Bay gets clean, join us at the hearing and say so!


Inaugural Half Marathon Sweeps the City

There’s a first time for everything!

The inaugural San Diego Half Marathon was Sunday, March 11.

It was a beautiful, overcast morning (great for a run), when 5,000 runners from San Diego – and across the country – came to participate in this epic 13.1-mile run that toured downtown San Diego.  The race started at Petco Park, where the San Diego Padres play, and traversed through historic downtown, starting in the Gaslamp District, then on to NTC Park at Liberty Station, up Washington street, through Hillcrest, alongside Balboa Park, and then to the epic finish inside Petco Park, where many cheering friends and family were reeling in their runners.

Registration fees for the race went towards community service projects in San Diego.

Racers also raised money for additional charities that are important to them, such as the Make a Wish Foundation of San Diego, The National Foundation for Autism Research, Huntington’s disease Society of America, and San Diego Police Officers Association for Widows and Orphans Fund.  After the run, participants could hang out around downtown, and relax in Petco Park, listening to the band Lifehouse.

If you’ve wanted to donate to San Diego Coastkeeper, and haven’t been able to find the cash. Consider signing up for a running event like this one and set a fundraising goal. Your friends and family are sure to support your running endevors, and it will help you support clean water in San Diego.

I highly recommend you check out this race next year!  Or, you can even check out for more 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, or even full marathons in the San Diego area throughout this spring and summer. The earlier you race, the sooner you can help Coastkeeper!

And if you’ve never raced before, just remember, there is a first time for everything (The San Diego Half Marathon was my first half marathon)!  Get out there and run!

Victory for San Diego Bay

dsc00795-sThere’s still hope for a clean San Diego Bay.

The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board today ordered those responsible for polluting San Diego Bay to clean up their mess. The order directs shipyards NASSCO and BAE, the Navy, SDG&E, the City of San Diego, and the Port of San Diego to dredge a small portion of the 60-acre shipyard site south of the Coronado Bay Bridge to remove the worst of the pollution hot-spots caused by decades of shipbuilding, industrial activity and stormwater runoff.

This is a huge victory for Coastkeeper and Environmental Health Coalition and the community members we represent. The Regional Board has been considering taking action for more than 20 years. Dozens of staff members and volunteers from San Diego Coastkeeper and EHC have devoted thousands of hours over the past two decades to get a cleanup order adopted.

This victory belongs to all of us.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the struggle was the huge amount of time and resources it took to stand on equal footing with the shipyards flush with cash and an army of well-paid attorneys. I honestly believe their strategy was to try to overwhelm us to get us to give up and go away.

Thanks to your support and the support of our generous funders, we were able to stick it out and ultimately achieve a victory.

I’m confident that without Coastkeeper’s and EHC’s participation, the cleanup would be much worse–or possibly non-existent. If you’re impressed with what we have achieved here, please support us so that we can continue to fight the good fight and win important victories for San Diegans and our environment.

20 Years in the Making: Will San Diego Bay Get Clean?

Think back to where you were in 1991, twenty years ago.

The Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture, Gorbachev resigned and the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Senate hearings were in full swing.  If you were the Regional Water Quality Control Board, you were asking industrial dischargers to determine if cleanup of contaminated sediment was needed in San Diego Bay.

A lot has changed in 20 years, but that same sediment sits at the bottom of San Diego Bay, continuing its toxic legacy and poisoning our crown jewel.

Fortunately, 2011 is the year this could change.  The Regional Board will hold an extensive four-day hearing this month on a cleanup plan for that sediment.  YOU can be part of that hearing and a part of history.

Coastkeeper and the Environmental Health Coalition have spent thousands of hours advocating on your behalf, but we need to amplify YOUR voice.  This Wednesday, November 9, if you’re planning to meet friends for happy hour, consider meeting up in Kearny Mesa.  Isn’t a new life for the bay worth three minutes of your time?

What do you need to do? Lend your voice at public comment on November 9 at 5 p.m. at the California Regional Water Quality Control Board at 9174 Sky Park Court, Suite 100 (remember to wear your Coastkeeper blue).

What do you say? We’ve got you covered.  Making any of the points below will help educate the board members and move them to a meaningful cleanup.  And when the cleanup is finally approved, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re a part of history.

  1. I want a clean bay now: where were you 20 years ago, what have you accomplished in all the time that this cleanup has stood at a standstill?
  2. I want a meaningful cleanup: Even though the cleanup plan will address polluted sediment, there are too many loopholes that could keep the cleanup from having its full effect.  Tell Board members you support the common sense additions from Coastkeeper and EHC to make this cleanup a success
  3. I want to enjoy my bay: Kayaking, fishing, swimming, boating, bird watching; what could you do in a clean and safe bay?
  4. I want to hold polluters accountable: since you were very young you learned to clean up your room.  Why should the multi-billion dollar companies who polluted our bay get away with it
  5. I want to be counted:  Public speaking not for you?  Just showing up goes a long way towards supporting your friends and neighbors who do speak, and shows the Board you care about a clean bay.

Being Green is Good for San Diego Business



Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images North America

Last month, in upwards of 200,000 locals and tourists alike, descended upon two staples of summertime in San Diego: Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack and Comic Con International.


Both events took place adjacent to two significant bodies of water: San Dieguito Lagoon and San Diego Bay. Let’s not forget to mention the beautiful stretch of ocean that makes up the Del Mar coastline. I mean really, where else does the ‘Surf Meet the Turf’.

To pay homage to these local waterways, let’s take a look at what’s been happening lately around each:

While Opening Day revelers were playing the ponies (46,588 to be exact, the largest crowd ever recorded), the San Dieguito Lagoon Restoration carried on. The lagoon is nestled comfortably in the Fairgrounds’ backyard. My bet is that not too many attendees at the track knew about the immense project taking place just a stone’s throw away.

The lagoon’s restoration project has entered its final stages. As stated on the SDRP (San Dieguito River Park) website “the goal of the project is to preserve, improve and create a variety of impacts within the project site to maintain fish and wildlife to ensure the protection of endangered species.”

Check out a blog post from this past January by San Diego Coastkeeper Lab Coordinator, Travis Pritchard, outlining collaborative water sampling at the restoration site.

Just a day later, Comic Con kicked off its 42nd installment in SD’s Gaslamp. Masses of costumed guests packed the bay-front for the world’s largest pop-culture convention.

The Comic Con guests were most likely unfamiliar with some real-life superheroes currently working to protect San Diego Bay from harmful toxins. Coastkeeper Attorneys Gabe Solmer and Jill Witkowski have been working feverishly to get the Regional Water Quality Control Board to adopt a cleanup an abatement for pollutants in San Diego Bay.

This area, just south of the Convention Center, is in desperate need of some TLC. The Regional Board will hopefully finalize a game-plan for the “Shipyard Sediment Site” by the year’s end.

Big ups to San Diego’s own crusaders, Gabe and Jill, for playing such a crucial role in this process. For those of you who’d like to learn more about the bay’s sediment remediation, San Diego Coastkeeper will host its next ‘Signs of the Tide’ community forum on August 6. This installment is coincidentally titled “San Diego Bay’s Dirty Little Secret.”

For every major event that takes place in San Diego, chances are there’s a body of water not too far away that San Diego Coastkeeper is working to protect. Although our friends who attended Opening Day and Comic Con may not have known it, it’s groups like Coastkeeper, that stand up day-in and day-out, to keep this city clean and beautiful.

Us locals deserve it.

As do those just dropping by to say hello.

Keeping the Boat on Course

I can fully declare the Coastkeeper boating outreach program is officially in action. After months of arming ourselves with knowledge about environmental issues involving and impacting the boating community, recruiting a team of five volunteer boat captains, and learning how to find boaters to talk to on the water, our figurative anchors are away and we’re full steam ahead.  Pardon the nauti talk if you will (as in nautical of course).

kona-kai-marine-sLast week, we had what you might consider our first day of formal outreach on the water.  We had some great conversations with recreational boaters, talked to three underwater hull cleaners about the best management practices for reducing copper pollution and even talked with a suspected sewage pump out violater about how dangerous that habit really is.

It was one good day and the boating world, even in San Diego, is a big place.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, but we’ve got the right blend of legal advocacy, empowerment and education to keep the ship on course and an eye on the horizon.

If you are a member of the boating community and want to get involved with our program, please get in touch. We are always looking for more volunteer boat captains and business/organizations with which we can partner to improve environmental awareness in this important community.

Published in Urban Runoff

Clinic Reaches Milestone in Sediment Contamination Process

On March 11, our advocacy staff closed one chapter in a very long, contentious, and arduous book: cleaning up the toxic legacy of sediment contamination in San Diego Bay.  Though not one dredged scoop of toxic sediment has been removed, March 11 marked the end of the discovery period.

This year-long process allowed all the affected parties, those named by the Regional Water Quality Control Board for causing pollution and public watchdog groups San Diego Coastkeeper and the Environmental Health Coalition, to gather information to make their cases. The year was marked by an avalanche of information demanded of the environmental groups, including 841 written requests and more than a month of live witness depositions – three aimed at environmental staff and experts.  Staff ably rose to the challenge, completing the discovery and both defending and taking depositions. The information we gathered will be critical to gaining a protective and scientifically defensible cleanup of the Bay.  A briefing and public comment period will take place over the summer, with a final hearing currently scheduled for mid-October.