Up Los Pen Creek without a Paddle

Since Saturday, when Coastkeeper water monitoring volunteers discovered where all that sewage ended up, we have been working hard on follow-up. Our lab staff gave our data and other observations to our Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Department of Fish and Game and State Parks. Yesterday, Coastkeeper staff provided testimony at the Regional Board hearing to pressure our agencies to investigate the incident swiftly and thoroughly.

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What Los Penasquitos Creek looked like upstream of the spill site on Saturday, Sept 10 2011. Note the clarity of the water

Our lab staff also continue to track the health of the creek – today, Travis Pritchard, our intrepid Lab Coordinator, went back to the creek to take additional samples. We will continue to monitor the water quality of the creek as clean-up proceeds and after to assess how well the creek is recovering. Tomorrow, we will be going into the lagoon, with our colleagues at State Parks and the Los Penasquitos Lagoon Foundation to follow the sewage plume downstream and measure where the spill potentially degraded the lagoon’s water quality.

We don’t have lab results yet from data’s field samples, but Travis took several photos (see below). The creek still smells of sewage and dead fish still floated on the surface. The water remained opaque and dark grey, distinctly different from what the creek looked like upstream of the spill area. Travis also ran into the crew cleaning up the mess in the creek, and chatted with them. Since Monday evening, crews have been pumping sewage out of the creek and back into the sewer system. The crew on the scene seemed to think that it would be several more days before the clean up would be complete. Stay tuned to this blog to learn more as our lab results come out!

 

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Los Penasquitos Creek where the sewage-laden water has ponded, Sept 15, 2011.

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Roselle St, where clean-up crews were actively pumping sewage out of the creek and back into the sewer system. Sept 15, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in Sick of Sewage

Innovation for Donations

In mid August, I received an interesting phone call. The caller ID’d himself as a resident of a beach side hot spot who had ample parking in his driveway. I have to admit, at this point I could not possibly imagine what this had to do with Coastkeeper. Was he calling to report pollution on his driveway? An injured animal victim to vehicles? To complain about those pesky tourists blocking the roads in his beach community?

Then he said the magic words: “I want to give Coastkeeper money.” He read about Coastkeeper’s work in the community that morning and decided to take action and help us raise some funds. This particularly generous individual developed a clever business model – he would offer up his six parking spots in exchange for donations to San Diego Coastkeeper. How awesome is that?!

This is a great example of charitable giving. It also proves that donations don’t have to come directly out of your bank account. There are all kinds of creative ways to raise some dough for your favorite nonprofit, from collecting funds from your prime parking spots, to hosting a dinner party with a tip jar for donations. Not all of us have six parking spots to offer, but what are some other fun ways you can raise money for a good cause? Brainstorm, take action and help us carry out all the hard work we do for San Diego’s waterways!

Honor Your Land this Labor Day

Pay tribute to the working men and women by respecting the land upon which you celebrate!  Despite the beach alcohol ban imposed in January 2008, the type of trash has changed, but not the amount.  Based on our beach cleanup data, we have identified a few items that lead to the most beach trash and thought up easy replacements for you AND THE BEACH to have a good time.

What not to bring:

  • Styrofoam: I know that cooler is super cheap, but Styrofoam is one of our top finds in our beach cleanups.  It breaks up into tiny little pieces and flies into storm drains, bushes, the ocean, etc.  It is not only unsightly and difficult to pick up, but it poses a threat to wildlife who mistake it for food.  San Diego does not recycle Styrofoam, and Styrofoam is estimated to take over 500 years to biodegrade.  Thus, every piece you ever use will be around for the next 5 generations of your own family!
  • Plastic bottles: It may seem easy and convenient to bring your Sprite and Coke in those small individual plastic bottles, but try to opt for metal cans that are more cost-effective recyclables.  Plastic is one of our Top Three Beach Trash items found in huge quantities at our cleanups and like Styrofoam, takes at least 500 years to biodegrade.
  • Cigarettes: San Diego Coastkeeper collected 42,525 cigarette butts off the beach in 2010 and it has been illegal to smoke on San Diego beaches since 2006!  If you must smoke, at least be responsible and get your butt in the trash can.
  • Plastic Bags: These are so lightweight they will be out of your sight and into the sea in no time.
  • Plastic-wrapped food: Try to avoid things that are heavily packaged in what will become trash!  You won’t want to deal with it during your celebration, nor will the other partiers when it flies into their mouths.

What to bring:

  • Reusable Cooler: This will be a good way to haul out trash once the beverages are gone!
  • Tupperware: Pack sandwiches and pasta salad and other homemade goodies in Tupperware, then you can just stack and wash them later.
  • Reusable water bottle: Buy your water/beverages in bulk and then you can refill your bottle throughout the day.
  • Reusable bag: Pack it in, pack it out!
  • Trash bags: If you are going to create trash, be prepared and have a place to stash it.  It is likely someone didn’t bring their own bag and they trekked in tons of plastic bags.  Ask around, make friends and you could reuse a plastic bag from another beach go-er. You can always reuse an empty chip bag for a trash bag; get creative!
  • Finger Food and Napkins: Plastic utensils are not recyclable; what a waste of our precious non-renewable resources! Bring food that doesn’t require silverware.  If you’re dead-set on coleslaw, bring chop sticks.  You can always bring silverware from home  and toss it back in the cooler with the Tupperware at the end of the day.  Just make sure to have friends over the next day to help with the dishes.

Thank you for taking the time and care to reduce the amount of trash we create on our Labor Day!  It is a time to respect our history, our progress, and yes, to party with friends.  It is not too much to ask to plan ahead and take responsibility for the trash you create at your own celebration.

What’s So Great About San Diego Anyway?

 

This is the tenth of a 10-part blog series examining the nature of ASBS, the threats they face and the actions we can take to protect these biological hotspots for future San Diegans.

Like most of those who reside in San Diego, I love it here and I am proud to be a San Diegan. After a recent 2 year stint in Boston, MA (Yikes! It was freezing), this native Californian could not be happier to be back. So what does it mean to be from San Diego? What is so great about it? Why would you ever leave such a glorious region of an even more glorious state? These are all questions I faced when I left 2 years ago, and not just questions I asked myself, but questions I was faced with upon arriving in Bean Town.

First of all, there are no waves in Boston. Yes, Boston is a port city, the largest city in Massachusetts and surrounded by water; however, there is very little beach action in the immediate area (with the exception of Revere ‘beach’ which is actually just a waveless inlet).  The water quality around the port (as it is near almost any port) is poor and downright gross. It led me to inquire how I could become involved in improving water quality in my new surroundings of New England. It did not take long for me to realize that the number of networks and organizations working toward improved water quality as well as environmental advocacy were limited (but still existed), unlike those I had become accustomed to being around in California. Bummer.

Whenever I was asked what there is to do in San Diego, my eyes always lit up and I rambled a millions miles a second – snorkeling around the cove in La Jolla, kayaking around Mission Bay, surfing Windansea, scuba diving around Scripps Institution of Oceanography, hiking the Torrey Pines State Reserve, stand up paddle boarding in Encinitas, sailing around San Diego Bay, The Del Mar Fair, I could go on forever. But it occurred to me I had lived in San Diego for 5 years prior to my move and hadn’t done more than three of those things. I was horrified. Needless to say, I was desperate to get back into the water and ready to dedicate myself to improving what I consider to be San Diego’s most valuable asset – its water.

San Diego Coastkeeper gives people the resources and opportunity to get involved with protecting our oceans, beaches and waterways in a way that is pretty unique. Opportunities to volunteer come in so many shapes and sizes and the best part is the flexible schedules and option to choose the events that are right for you.Wastewater discharge, marine debris and stormwater runoff are major threats to San Diego’s marine environment. I am stoked that I get to work with a network of dedicated and intelligent individuals, who work day in and day out to preserve our underwater playgrounds offshore by spreading the word on low impact development, organizing and supplying the tools for beach cleanups and conducting water quality monitoring.

The successes of San Diego Coastkeeper’s campaigns are incredible, like San Diego’s underwater state parks or marine protected areas (MPA’s) in south La Jolla and in North County at Swamis. I don’t know what to say other than these places are epic. The protected ecosystems are allowing biodiversity to flourish and creating healthy fishstocks to improve productivity. Stand up paddle boarding above Swami’s reef might be one of the most spectacular ways to see it all from above. San Diego’s Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS) along the La Jolla Shores and Scripps Institution of Oceanography are two of the coolest places to snorkel and see giant sea bass, leopard sharks and abalone.

It’s up to us as residents of San Diego to take pride in our environment and take ownership in maintaining, preserving and improving our surroundings. Giving my time to a cause that protects coastal and inland waters where I live, work and play is something that I believe in whole-heartedly.

What inspires you?

Saving the ocean one raindrop at a time

This is the seventh of a 10-part blog series examining the nature of our local water supply and how to increase the reliability of our supplies now and into the future.

The watershed that drains to the La Jolla ASBS includes beautiful stately homes, dramatic gardens and the quaint streets of the Village. It seems hard to imagine that such an attractive area can be a source of pollution.

And yet it is.

The watershed of the La Jolla ASBS, like any urban watershed, suffers from an abundance of hard surfaces (streets, roof tops, parking lots), aerial deposition of pollutants, over-irrigation of lawns and uncollected pet waste.  This means that beneath all the beauty of La Jolla, the same basic water quality problems occur: urban runoff pollution. And it showed in water quality data in runoff from the area and at the coast – monitoring found that concentrations of pollutants like copper, fecal indicator bacteria, dioxins/furans, total PAHs, and turbidity were high enough to be of concern.

To meet the challenge of eliminating discharges to the ASBS, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, the City of San Diego Storm Water and San Diego Coastkeeper came up with a plan to protect the ocean and its special treasures. Recently [http://localhost/sdcoastkeeper/blog/marine-conservation/item/134-celebrating-low-impact-development-on-world-oceans-day.html], Coastkeeper and UCSD staff had the pleasure of introducing the jewel in the crown of that plan – two ‘ecology embankments’.  On either side of the Robert Payne Center there are two large, newly installed landscaped areas. But don’t be deceived, these are no ordinary gardens.  Beneath the dirt and plants lie a special mixture of soil, plants, and beneficial micro-organisms.  Urban runoff drains from the surrounding residential and university properties into these areas and gets treated by this special garden.  As runoff flows down towards the ocean, it will first get filtered and then pass through the special soil mixture that contains important minerals (dolomite, gypsum and perlite) that remove pollutants. Dolomite and gypsum absorb pollutants like metals and phosphorus. Perlite, a volcanic mineral, keeps air and moisture in the soil. This in turn helps beneficial micro-organisms thrive and be ready to filter phosphorus, metals and petroleum pollutants flowing through the soil mixture. The complex soil mixture slows down the runoff, reduces slope erosion and allows for the soil matrix to do its job – absorbing and transforming pollution that may harm organisms dependent on the ASBS.  Water comes out on the beach side cleaner.  But wait there is more – the ecology embankment cleverly relies on native and climate-appropriate plants to help do its work.  The plants help keep the soil alive and healthy below ground and above ground they provide habitat for other local creatures.  The perfect combination of form and function.
Like planets that orbit around a sun, the ecology embankments are surrounded by other smaller but still innovative projects that also help to protect water quality in the ASBS.  There are bioswales that collect runoff from parking lots; permeable pavement areas that infiltrate runoff from residential areas near SIO, and a rain barrel connected to a rain garden that collects and filters runoff from SIO buildings.  These rely on the same principles: slowing the flow, letting it soak in and be treated, relying on plants and soils to do the work.  All with the same goal – of keeping a special place beautiful.

To meet the challenge of eliminating discharges to the ASBS, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, the City of San Diego Storm Water and San Diego Coastkeeper came up with a plan to protect the ocean and its special treasures. Recently, Coastkeeper and UCSD staff had the pleasure of introducing the jewel in the crown of that plan – four ‘ecology embankments.’ If you are wandering near the Shores, you will notice that there are two large, newly installed landscaped areas.

But don’t be deceived, these are no ordinary gardens.

Beneath the dirt and plants lie a special mixture of soil, plants and beneficial micro-organisms.  Urban runoff drains from the surrounding residential and university properties into these areas and gets treated by this special garden.  As runoff flows towards the ocean, it will first get filtered and then pass through the special soil mixture that contains important minerals (dolomite, gypsum and perlite) that remove pollutants. Dolomite and gypsum absorb pollutants like metals and phosphorus. Perlite, a volcanic mineral, keeps air and moisture in the soil. This in turn helps beneficial micro-organisms thrive and be ready to filter phosphorus, metals and petroleum pollutants flowing through the soil mixture. The complex soil mixture slows down the runoff, reduces slope erosion and allows for the soil matrix to do its job – absorbing and transforming pollution that may harm organisms dependent on the ASBS.

Water comes out on the beach side cleaner.  But wait there is more – the ecology embankment cleverly relies on native and climate-appropriate plants to help do its work.  The plants help keep the soil alive and healthy below ground and above ground they provide habitat for other local creatures.  The perfect combination of form and function.

Like planets that orbit around a sun, the ecology embankments are surrounded by other smaller but still innovative projects that also help to protect water quality in the ASBS.  There are bioswales that collect runoff from parking lots; permeable pavement areas that infiltrate runoff from residential areas near Scripps, and a rain barrel connected to a rain garden that collects and filters runoff from Scripps’ buildings.  These rely on the same principles: slowing the flow, letting it soak in and be treated, relying on plants and soils to do the work.  All with the same goal – of keeping a special place beautiful.

Published in Marine Conservation

Wastewater Recycling: Creating Water So Pure We Can Drink It

Wastewater recycling, reclaimed water, and Indirect Potable Reuse (or IPR) are all ways of treating wastewater and reusing it rather than treating it and dumping it into the ocean.

San Diego reuses wastewater for irrigation, in its purple pipe system.  Purple pipe is so-named because it requires two sets of plumbing, one for drinking water (potable use) and a second (purple) set for reclaimed water for irrigation.  It’s easy enough to install when constructing a new building, but otherwise it’s a major retrofit, and either way it’s not cheap.  But during a bad drought in 1989, purple pipe was touted as the only way we would

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Photo Credit Lighthawk / Matthew Meier Photography

make it through with enough potable water for showers and drinking.  The City Council even passed an aggressive ordinance to force anyone who could reasonably use reclaimed water for irrigation or industrial uses to do so.  But the drought ended, and since then the ordinance has been largely forgotten and essentially unenforced.  In fact, according to a Sign On San Diego article, San Diego only uses 15 percent of its two reclaimed water plants’ capacity.

 

Now, the city is taking another look at wastewater recycling for drinking water.  (Check out how purple pipe and IPR compare – spoiler, IPR wins.)  Mayor Jerry Sanders supports a new demonstration project to test the safety of IPR for drinking water – a definite improvement on his previous stance of ceremonially vetoing the “toilet to tap” project.  The latest test builds on the successful use of wastewater recycling in:

  • Singapore, where they use reservoir augmentation, the very same process proposed for San Diego, and bottle and sell the stuff under the brand name NEWater

  • And closer to home, Orange County, where they use wastewater recycling for groundwater replenishment

The demonstration project will last a year and is required by the California Department of Public Health to prove the project adequately protects the public health.  Tours of the facility are open to the public so you can see the high level of treatment the water receives.

The Advanced Water Purification process, which consists of microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and treatment with hydrogen peroxide and ultraviolet light, actually removes more contaminants from the water supply than do the processes used to clean raw imported water.  IPR water has been found to contain lower levels of all but six of the 232 tested pollutants, and those six were all still below levels that cause health concerns (check out page 108 of this report for details). The tested pollutants include pharmaceuticals and endocrine disrupters, which are a common concern about IPR water.

In the words of Ronald Coss, the technical manager of the Water Reuse Study that made the above finding, “the human health risk from consuming [IPR water] directly is negligible, especially when compared to current drinking water standards and with other water supplies available to San Diego.  Augmenting San Diego’s raw water supply with [IPR water] would result in an improvement to water quality over current water supplies.” 

Being Green is Good for San Diego Business

 

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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.

San Diego Showdown: IPR vs. Purple Pipes

This is the fourth of a 5-part blog series examining the nature of our local water supply and how to increase the reliability of our supplies now and into the future.

Today’s match-up features two contenders, both aimed at solving San Diego’s water crisis.  

In the first corner, the “purple pipe system” is looking to continue its reign in San Diego.  San Diego currently reuses a small fraction of its sewage for irrigation.  This recycled water is distributed through a separate purple pipe system.  Because the water is non-potable, it is not fit for human consumption.

In the second corner, the up-and-coming “Indirect Potable Reuse” (IPR) is looking to solve San Diego’s water problems.  In scientific terms, IPR is a process to treat wastewater and sewage using advanced technology to produce potable water fit for human consumption.  Essentially, we would be drinking purified sewage.  Right now, you are probably cringing at the thought of drinking recycled wastewater; I know I did.  But then I did some research, and I found out that the water produced from IPR is actually superior to our existing water supply.  How is this possible? 

First, advanced water technology removes any remaining solids through microfiltration.  Next, reverse osmosis is used to eliminate viruses, bacteria, pharmaceuticals, and other microbes.  The water is then disinfected by UV light and hydrogen peroxide.  Finally, it is added to groundwater or surface water reservoirs where it is further purified by natural processes.  Once drawn from the groundwater or reservoir, the recycled water goes through the standard water purification process all drinking water undergoes to meet EPA standards.  Once this IPR-produced water is fit for consumption, it is distributed through the existing drinking water infrastructure.  Now that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Round 1:  Costs

The cost of producing one acre-foot of water with IPR ranges from $1,200-$1,800.  The purple pipe system ranges from $1,600-$2,600 per acre-foot.  

Purple pipe recycled water cannot be added to the existing drinking water infrastructure, so it requires a separate pipe system which costs about $2 million per mile to build.  It also requires homes and businesses to be plumbed with two sets of pipes—one for recycled water and one for potable water.  This is beginning to sound expensive!  

Although the purification process of IPR sounds expensive, the City of San Diego estimates that implementing IPR would be cheaper than expanding the purple pipe system.  This is because IPR negates the need for a separate water infrastructure and would maximize the use of the available recycled water supply.  

IPR – 1; Purple Pipes – 0

Round 2:  Energy

The energy intensity of the IPR process is higher than that of the recycled water in purple pipes.  Compared to non-potable recycled water, IPR generates a higher carbon footprint.  However, IPR uses significantly less energy than other potential water sources in San Diego, such as desalination or imported water.

IPR – 1; Purple Pipes – 1

Round 3:  Environmental Impact

By using recycled wastewater, IPR reduces the amount of waste flowing to the Point Loma Treatment Plant.  In doing so, IPR reduces the amount of potentially harmful pollutants being released into the ocean from the Point Loma Plant’s effluent.    

Purple pipe recycled water does have some red flags.  Particularly, the use of non-potable recycled water can lead to the accumulation of byproducts over time in the irrigated soil.

IPR – 2; Purple Pipes – 1

Round 4:  Water Quality/Safety

Studies show that water produced through IPR treatment processes contains fewer contaminants than our existing treated imported water supply.  Further, a study performed by the National Research Council concluded that there were no significant health risks as a result of IPR.  
Because the water in the purple pipes is not treated to the point that it is drinkable, it contains pathogens and harmful chemicals. Simply stated, the consequences of ingesting non-potable recycled water can be severe.      

IPR – 3; Purple Pipes – 1

After four hard fought rounds, IPR has dominated the ring, proving that it would be a strong, viable addition to San Diego’s arsenal for fighting the water crisis.  

Still think “from toilet to tap” sounds less than appetizing, or has your mind changed?  Tell us what you think!  

Hello From San Diego Coastkeeper’s New Executive Director

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Photo Credit 9MPhoto.com

It is truly a privilege and honor to join San Diego Coastkeeper. It is where I want to be, and I can’t wait to meet you.

As I see it, Coastkeeper represents a movement led by dedicated and talented people, their desire to protect our waters and the need for change. We have many challenges ahead of us.

I recently read an article by Al Gore in which he said, “(We) are in a struggle for the soul of America . . . (There is a need) of perceiving important and complex realities clearly enough to promote and protect the sustainable well-being of the many. What hangs in the balance is the future of civilization as we know it.”

Needless to say, business as usual is not an option.

San Diego Coastkeeper has and will continue to be an agent of change. No doubt we will have those Avatar moments when it seems like we are “going up against gunships with bows and arrows.” However, our power to make change comes from you, the people that are Coastkeeper. With you, San Diego Coastkeeper has accomplished great things through the years. Powered by the fuel of innovation, creativity and collaboration, we will continue to push the envelope.

Now is the time to charge ahead on our path as environmental leaders. Please volunteer, sign up for our newsletter, change a habit, contact your representatives or donate now.

Our work is rewarding, meaningful and yes, fun! We can and will make great things happen.

I look forward to meeting all of you–let’s charge on!

Gale Filter, your new executive director (read more about my background.)

 

San Diego Coastkeeper Water Quality Monitoring Embarks on Bioassessment

During the June water monitoring event, we hired Nautilus Environmental to perform some bioassessment investigations at a few of our sampling sites. Bioassessments measure the physical habitat of streams and collect and identify the aquatic insects that live there. By identifying the insect communities that live in a stream, we get a sense of how healthy the ecosystem is. If insects that are sensitive to pollution are not found, we can say that the ecosystem is stressed. The physical habitat measurements tell us the non-chemical story of the stream. Habitat degradation, sedimentation and stream bed characteristics are all quantified.

Our monthly water monitoring program looks at the chemical constituents found in the county’s creeks and streams. These numbers, however, only tell a partial story. When combined with the bioassessment studies we get a more holistic view of the stream health and a clearer picture of how the constituents we monitor affect the streams.

Our water monitoring lab intern, Matt Pawinski, accompanied the field techs at Nautilus Environmental and put together a video describing the process. Watch it here.