I would like to share what is going on with the Los Penasquitos sewage spill from September 8. Since the spill, Coastkeeper conducted additional monitoring in the creek as well as in the lagoon. The last sampling we did out there was on Tuesday, Sept. 20, so these results are almost a week old. Additional sampling will be performed this week, now that the city has stopped their pumping (as of Friday, 2 p.m.).
As you can see the E. coli levels in the creek have dropped dramatically since the city started pumping the creek out. As of Tuesday, E. coli concentrations were still elevated downstream in the lagoon, flowing slowly to the tidal area of the lagoon.
Dissolved oxygen levels remain low for all sites. The oxygen concentrations in the normal sampling location in the creek are steadily rising but the lagoon site shows a decrease over time. This could be indicating that the sewage effects are slowly making its way down the lagoon, past the pumping area of the city. The red line in the chart above is the state standard of 5 mg/L, so all areas of the lagoon and creek still have some room for improvement.
Ammonia concentrations show a similar patter to Dissolved Oxygen. This further indicates that the negative effects of the sewage are slowly making its way down the stretch of the lagoon.
These results are alarming, but not unexpected. The sewage will flow downstream. Despite the city’s attempts to pump it down, it will affect the land that the creek flows into. In this case, the Los Penasquitos lagoon is classified as a State Park Preserve. According to its website, “This label, which is pinned to only the rarest and most fragile of the state owned lands, reflects the increasing concern of ecologists and wildlife managers for the progressive destruction of coastal wetlands, a habitat vital for the preservation of migratory waterfowl and certain species of fish and shellfish.” This habitat is extremely delicate, and this sewage spill further harms this ecosystem, which is already fairly stressed.
Fortunately, Coastkeeper continues its vigilance in monitoring, tracking, and responding to the spill.
To highlight San Diego Coastkeeper’s efforts in this spill thus far:
- Our monitors were the ones that discovered the effects of the spill. Without the efforts of our volunteer monitors, the effects of this spill would have been noticed days later, if at all.
- Our monitoring data was used to establish the baseline conditions of the creek. The city pumped down the creek until their monitoring showed that the creek had returned to baseline conditions. Since our volunteer monitors study such an extensive portion of the county, our data was the best the city had to compare to. It was our data that established those baseline conditions.
- We were the first ones to monitor the effects of the spill on the downstream lagoon. When we saw where the spill was and noticed the extremely fragile ecosystem immediately downstream, we performed follow-up testing in the creek. Governmental agencies have since asked for our data, since we have the earliest available monitoring data in the lagoon.
I will leave you with this video of one of the park rangers in the lagoon discussing the effects he has personally seen.
Way back in January, I talked about the treatment wetlands that San Dieguito River Park put in to capture and clean the storm water runoff before it enters the San Dieguito Lagoon. We have some more data to share with you, now that the wetlands have matured a bit.
Fecal Indicator Bacteria: Affecting your surf days
Once the wetlands somewhat established themselves, the wetlands dropped the concentrations of fecal indicator. Fecal indicator bacteria coming from urban runoff from the storm drain system is the reason why our beaches are closed or under advisories for most of the winter. If we can clean the water before it gets to the ocean, it means more safe winter surfing days.
Nutrients and Oxygen: Affecting the health of the lagoon
As you can see by the graphs showing nitrate and ammonia, the treatment wetlands continue to do an amazing job filtering out nitrogen based nutrients. 100% of the samples from the storm drain pipe have ammonia values well above the basin plan standards. In contrast, all of the water coming out of the treatment ponds has ammonia concentrations below the water quality standards. In a process known as eutrophication, high levels of nutrients cause algal blooms which can choke up the natural flow of the lagoon and cause a shift in plant communities that habitat the lagoon.
The treatment ponds also raise the levels of dissolved oxygen of the water entering the lagoon. Low levels of oxygen in the water will stress the fish and invertebrates that live in the lagoon, potentially causing them to suffocate.
All in all, it looks like the treatment wetlands that San Dieguito River Park installed work really, really well. Read more about the awesome work San Dieguito River Park does. I recoment going to the park and hiking the trails, they really are quite beautiful. For those of us who like to get our hands dirty, they have a lot of hands-on volunteer opportunities doing things like trail and habitat restoration. You can check out the rest of the San Dieguito River Park on our watersheds Wiki (the sites are SGT-040 and SGT-050). While you’re at the wiki, check out the water quality monitoring results at the other sampling locations we have throughout San Diego.
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!
This is the eighth 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.
Over the past several weeks, our ASBS blog series discussed projects put into the ground by the University of California, San Diego at Scripps Institution of Oceanography to help improve and protect water quality in the two ASBS near La Jolla. The UCSD/SIO projects are large low impact development projects engineered by professionals to clean urban runoff before it enters the ocean. In looking at them, I have been awed by their size, complexity and their reliance on ecology to do the dirty work. But at the end of the day, I can’t put one in my backyard. Or can I?
If you are at the SIO ecology embankments and you amble north of Scripps pier, you will see something that is seemingly mundane but is secretly quite remarkable – a rain barrel attached to a small garden box, not much bigger than five feet by three. The rain barrel/garden is part of a wider pilot project of the City of San Diego studying how this design can capture, slow down and disperse cleaner runoff than when it entered. The rain barrel captures water that runs off the roof and then discharges excess water into the attached garden box. Like the ecology embankments, this garden holds special soil that grabs on to pollutants and releases cleaner water. It takes time for the water from the rain barrel to pass through the complex soil matrix, which means that excess water leaves the garden after the storm has passed. By slowing down how much runoff enters the urban environment, this garden box reduces another problem caused by storm water – erosion. Rain barrels and rain gardens are simple and growing in popularity. Rain barrels and gardens come in all shapes and sizes, with many resources available online to help you put them in the ground in your yard. So it turns out those even small spaces like your yard, sidewalks, or medians in your local business district can also host a mini version of what UCSD/SIO installed at La Jolla Shores. That means we don’t have to rely only on big projects like what UCSD/SIO did; everyone in La Jolla can play a part in keeping the coast off La Jolla clean and healthy.
World Oceans Day, on June 8, is a day to celebrate the Big Blue and all it provides, from food and fun to fresh air and jobs. San Diego Coastkeeper is offering a couple of ways to celebrate our ocean (and our MPAs!):
- UCSD, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Coastkeeper are celebrating the new stormwater treatment installations at Scripps Institution of Oceanography on World Oceans Day (June 8). The event highlights ocean pollution prevention in La Jolla and includes guest speakers and a tour of the installations. Please email me if you’d like to attend.
- World Oceans Day party at Hennessey’s Tavern La Jolla (June 8) – join us for food and drink specials, games, live music and good times
- Go Blue Day at PETCO Park (June 9) – the Padres are going blue for World Oceans Day! Don’t forget to buy your tickets!
Now for MPA status:
- We are waiting to hear the South Coast MPA implementation date from the Fish & Game Commission, but it’s likely to take place this fall.
- Work continues to plan protections for California’s far north coast, with the community’s landmark unified plan currently under review by the California Fish and Game Commission.
- The central part of our coast is already dotted with undersea parks, which scientists are currently studying to monitor the recovery of local sea life. The experiences from the Central Coast will help the South Coast in implementing and monitoring our MPAs.
We are back and ready for MPA action. Our big win in December gave us some amazing new conservation sites at Swamis, south La Jolla and Imperial Beach. Here’s the current status:
While we won the battle, the war is not over
• In January, recreational fishing groups filed a lawsuit against the California Fish & Game Commission for alleged violations in the process of South Coast MPA adoption. Let’s stand behind the Fish & Game Commission’s decision and continue to spread the good word about marine conservation!
• According to last week’s Fish & Game Commission meetings, South Coast MPAs are likely to be implemented in fall of 2011.
Cooking with Coastkeeper
Join San Diego Coastkeeper in our Sustainable Seafood Cooking Class. We are teaming up with Chef Jenn Felmley and Sea Rocket Bistro to bring you 3 nights of awesome hands-on lessons about sustainable seafood. Come with an appetite to learn (and an even bigger appetite to eat!). Tickets are now 2 for the price of 1 and can be purchased here.
Meanwhile, along the California coast…
• In May, the North Central Coast celebrated the first anniversary of their network of MPAs stretching from Mendocino to San Mateo County.
• Next up, the North Coast study region is working to develop its own system of underwater state parks.
Thank you for your help to protect California’s marine ecosystems. We look forward to keeping you updated on San Diego’s new MPAs, and watch out for new and exciting opportunities to get involved in marine conservation!