Conversations at the Gym: Try Sustainable Gardening

landscaping-gymI love my community.

I live near a locally owned grocery story; I walk to work; I ride my bike to the beach, and I live just outside of the marine layer. I also just joined my community gym with its hometown feel and members who smile and say “hi” every morning. We trade the shiny leggings and fitted tanks for old tees and over-sized shorts. Some of my gym friends have grey hair and holes in their socks. And others might be their grandchildren. And we meet every morning (not too early, though, as we’re not the uber, time-crunched businesspeople) around an aging set of weights and those cute community bulletins that remind me of display cases in my elementary school hallways.

To my chagrin, a few weeks ago as I was running on the treadmill (it had been raining that week), I noticed the gardeners walking around with chemical tanks on their backs spraying to kill those pesky little bugs that nature lets crawl on vegetation. My disappointment in this pest-management decision quickly turned to worry as I realized the landscapers had squeezed the pesticide bath in between rainstorms.

Didn’t my community gym know that rain will wash the chemicals into our storm drains, which empty into our ocean?

pesticide-gardenI contacted the general manager to alert him to my concerns. When he responded to my email, he outlined a list of steps he had already taken to address the issues. His pest management company put the gym on an “IPM (Integrated Pest Management) program that limits pesticide use and replaces most pesticides with monitoring, baiting and inspection.” The company is also designing a new program for the gym and will implement it while keeping the GM informed on the changes.

Our staff scientist and lawyer inform me that an IPM isn’t the complete answer, but it’s a better step in the right direction.

It also leaves a couple of questions unanswered:

1) What are the postponement plans if they had scheduled to apply pesticides and rain is forecast in the upcoming three days?

2) How does their pesticide plan coincide with their irrigation plan?

3) How will they decide future landscaping decisions to maximize native plants and minimize need for pesticides and water?

I offered for the GM to run his new plans by me for some additional feedback, which he said he would. While my story doesn’t have an ending yet, it’s a reminder to me that humans—including me—only know what we know. And if we just take a few minutes to talk with one another, big change can happen.

And I’m curious what you think: Is an IPM enough?

Published in Urban Runoff

Its A Skipper’s Life For Me

It has been seven months since I started at Coastkeeper, and it’s cool to look back and think how excited I was to start working for such an amazing organization. Back then, I think the part of my job that I was most excited about was having access to the Coastkeeper boat, and 19’ Boston Whaler, called Clean Sweep. Being new to boating in San Diego myself, I was stoked to meet our only volunteer boat captain, Kevin Straw, and have him show me around San Diego Bay and learn about all the great work  Coastkeeper had done before I arrived. I had visions of scoping out pollution incidents , taking pictures and video, testing water quality samples in our lab, working with our legal team to start a lawsuit against the vile polluters, testifying in court, and bringing justice to our local environment and community.


 I also saw us using our boat to talk to the San Diego boating community  about how they can help to keep our bays and ocean clean. San Diego could become the leader in eco-friendly boating practices. Boaters in San Diego are after all enjoying the clean water we all help to protect. We could cruise through marinas, yacht clubs, regattas, and anchorages talking about how people can properly pump out sewage, pump gas without polluting, scrape their hulls without shedding copper, and reporting pollution incidents themselves. We could come to be so well known in the boating community, the Port of San Diego and the San Diego Lifeguards would throw a water parade for us while boat owners rained cash donations instead of confetti upon Clean Sweep as it passed.


Ah to dream. . .

The reality is though, we’re getting closer. We have recruited two new volunteer boat captains bringing us to a total of three, we’re talking to boat owners about being eco-friendly, we’ve tested potential pollution water samples, commented on the new hull cleaning practices from the Port, and created an outreach plan for boaters in San Diego. We’re making progress, but we need your help.

If you have a Captain’s License, or 5 years of boating experience, we want you to become a volunteer Clean Sweep skipper. We’ve got ambitious plans, and the more we can get on the water, the faster we’ll finish our course.



The Conversion Process


“Brother, have you seen the light?”

I’m not an evangelist by trade, but I often imagine sharing this question with fellow watermen in the surfing tribe. The question is not religious, but does inquire if a waterman (or waterwoman) has reached the level of consciousness where he sees the connection between the land and sea; where he works and where he plays; where man has conquered his surroundings and where the assault is still underway; where his dwelling is and where his soul longs to be.

Some may never see it, but I am hopeful most will come to understand the ocean playground they enjoy is not immune from the actions of an urban society. And more hopeful that this epiphany will spur a waterman to doing something to protect and preserve the ocean resource that provides so much for him; a resource that is part of his identity.   

I saw the light in the spring of 1993. I was surfing Dog Beach at the San Diego River outlet a couple of days after it rained. It was my first and most memorable lesson in polluted runoff and “dose – response health effects” as they are called in epidemiology. I barely made it back to my apartment after work that night before falling to gastro-intestinal ruin for two days. Unfortunately, this is often the conversion process for many watermen following a session in waves of suspicious microbial quality.

For the brothers (and sisters) who have seen the light, you cannot go back to sleep. For your sake and the ocean’s, it is time to share the good word of pollution prevention. You can start with these eight easy steps to prevent pollution in your own life.

Published in Urban Runoff

Won’t you be my neighbor… who waters less?



Photo credit Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood / PBS

Last Saturday morning, I was heading out for a run, when I noticed my neighbor was watering his lawn. It was 11 a.m., and some of his sprinklers had overshot his lawn and water was flowing directly into the storm drain.  The fact that my neighbor was watering during drought restrictions was bad enough, but with the water running straight into the storm drain, I knew there could be some serious water quality impacts, like increased pesticides, fertilizers or sediment ending up in our waters.

I ran back home to grab my phone to report the drought violation (619) 533-7485) to the water department and report the stormwater violation to the stormwater hotline (619) 235-1000). On my way back to my neighbor’s house to get his house number, I saw my neighbor in his garage, putting away his surfboard. I’m not a fan of confrontation, so I was a little scared to say something to him. But I figured that, as a fellow surfer, he was probably as worried about water quality as I am and would want to know what he could do to help out.

So I called to him and asked him if it was his place. I asked if he had heard about the drought watering restrictions, which prohibit lawn watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. He hadn’t heard about it and said he would talk to his landlord about it. I walked him around the front of the house and pointed out the water heading straight into the storm drain. I explained how the water runs—untreated—into the ocean, carrying with it bacteria, pesticides, copper, nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and other pollutants that harm our waterways.

My neighbor was very receptive to what I was saying, and it felt great to be able to share my knowledge and passion for clean water.  So, as scary as it may seem to talk with your neighbors about things they’re doing that could harm water quality, whether it’s washing their car or watering their lawns at the wrong time, failing to fix vehicle leaks or other harmful practices, the conversation will be worth the effort.

But if you’re still a little shy, how about leaving your neighbor a note?  The City of San Diego put together a great form you can print, fill out and leave with your neighbors.

Published in Urban Runoff

Copper brake pads: fish and people don’t have to live in conflict

Off the top of your head, you could probably list the major problems with cars – greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels, miles of pavement, etc. Add one more to the list: copper in brake pads. It’s something we overlook; each time we stop our cars, trace amounts of copper dust are shaved off the brake pads and left on the streets. That copper dust is carried through our stormwater channels down to our beaches and creeks. Copper is toxic to marine wildlife, indeed copper in boat hull paint is used precisely because it kills fouling organisms.

As today’s UT story points out, a California bill is nearing the Governor’s desk – SB 346 which will address this threat.  This bill, authored by San Diego Senator Christine Kehoe, will phase out the copper in brake pads starting in 2021 and virtually eliminate the metal by 2025.  Coastkeeper has worked for years on reducing copper and applauds the change. We’ve also joined with Sustainable Conservation’s Brake Pad Partnership to craft the bill’s language to make sure vehicle safety is preserved.

One more example that fish and people don’t have to be in conflict.

The problem of trash in our ocean starts inland

Marine debris in the Pacific Ocean is increasing at a startling rate! Studies of have shown that millions of birds, fish, marine mammals and other wildlife are impacted every year from ingesting or getting entangled in plastics and other debris.

It is not solely the cities and counties on the coastline that contribute to the accumulation of trash in the ocean, but also inland communities.  This means actions taken by residents in neighborhoods such as Uptown, Escondido and El Cajon and throughout San Diego can impact the quality of our coastal waters. In fact, up to 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-based sources before it is blown, swept or washed out to sea.

As a North Park resident myself, I know not everyone makes the connection between our everyday choices and the health of our ocean. But the growing plague of trash in our ocean beckons us to leave a smaller footprint at our house, at work and when we’re playing.

Have you ever noticed that our neighborhoods seem clean after it rains? While the natural cycle of rainstorms brings life to our gardens, it also washes scattered debris from around the neighborhood directly into nearby creeks and streams. This is what we call urban runoff. Urban runoff from rainwater and landscape watering transports litter and toxins from our yards, driveways and streets down stormdrains and into our bays and ocean without any treatment.  Yes, cigarette butts, Styrofoam containers, plastic bottle caps and other debris from inland neighborhoods end up in San Diego Bay, Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

Many residents from across the county and Coastkeeper volunteers are really making a difference. Last year in San Diego, volunteers helped remove more than 680,400 pounds of trash from our local beaches and inland waterways. That’s a lot of debris that could have found its way into the infamous Eastern Pacific Gyre, where trash from many cities is accumulating in one of the most remote places on the planet, the open ocean.

San Diego Coastkeeper’s volunteers also do water quality monitoring on surface water across the county. These local community members volunteer their time to collect monthly water samples that we assess in our lab for a variety of pollutants such as pesticides, bacteria, copper and more. Data from our regular monitoring efforts show that many creeks and streams are highly impacted by urban runoff due to urbanization. Not only is this a problem for natural habitat in our neighborhood ecosystem, but these creeks and streams empty into lagoons, bays and the ocean.

The good news is that we have many options to help improve the situation.

  • Attend a cleanup in your neighborhood or along the coast.
  • Plan your own neighborhood cleanup and get your supplies from us.
  • Advocate for improved local policy about commonly littered items such as plastic bags, bottles and Styrofoam take-out-containers. Coastkeeper works hard to communicate the environmental and health impacts of single-use plastics, and you should too. Your phone calls and letters to your elected officials help encourage the adoption of more sustainable practices.
  • Vote with your pocketbook. Patronize stores and restaurants that have eliminated wasteful single-use plastics, such as Styrofoam containers. There are plenty such places to choose from in Uptown!
  • Make lifestyle changes. If each resident in Uptown used reusable shopping bags at least a couple times each week, this would save thousands of plastic and paper bags from entering our landfill. Or bring your own reusable container to restaurants for leftovers. We don’t all have to be No Impact Man, but we can all make more sustainable choices to improve our future.
  • Use alternative ways of transportation such as biking and walking to take advantage of Uptown’s design as a pedestrian-oriented retail center and residential development. If we each park our car for just one day a week, we’ll collectively lessen the number of cars on the road and release less brake dust, improving the health of our oceans.
  • And of course, the next time you see a piece of trash on the ground, pick it up and help stop debris before it reaches the ocean.

Small changes can make a big difference, especially if we all do this together.

Published in Urban Runoff