Water Testing with the San Dieguito River Park


One of the great things about our Water Quality Monitoring Program is that we have an opportunity to help other groups investigate their efforts at improving water quality.

Our newest partner organization, San Dieguito River Park, recently restored the tidal wetland area of the San Dieguito lagoon. In order to minimize the impacts of urban runoff on the lagoon, they built a series of four treatment ponds to capture the stormwater runoff from the surrounding residential area. These wetland ponds will hopefully be able to filter out pollutants from the runoff water before it dumps into the fragile lagoon.

In December, we tested the water coming in and going out of the wetland, and the results were very interesting. These three graphs show a sampling of the data collected. It looks like the treatment ponds successfully filtered out the Nitrogen-based nutrients (Ammonia and Nitrate) and increased the level of Dissolved Oxygen. In marine ecosystems, nitrogen is often the limiting nutrient. When you increase the levels of nitrogen, algae and phytoplankton have a chance to grow like crazy, a process known as eutrophication. These algae blooms tend to block available light to the plants we want to be growing in the estuary. Also, when they die and start to decompose, significant amounts of dissolved oxygen gets used up, further stressing out the coastal organisms.




Keep in mind that this data represents one sample at each location for one day, so it’s not very representative yet of the full potential of these treatment ponds. I am excited to see the results over the coming years as the treatment wetland area matures.

Read more about the San Dieguito River Park. They have a ton of volunteer opportunities that you can check out. If you want the opportunity to get out and take samples for the water monitoring project get in touch with our volunteer coordinator. And as always, you can check out the water monitoring data on our watershed wiki.

Reconnecting to healthy waters: an uphill battle



I remember the first time I saw water flowing uphill – no, this was not an optical illusion like Magnetic Hill. it was in fact one of the many conduits of the State Water Project, snaking its way hundreds of miles from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Southern California. I had been driving dusty roads out of Bakersfield west towards the coast after a backpacking trip. Of course, I had read about the massive canals and pipes that pushed melted snowpack from the Sierra mountains to Southern California; I had seen the figures of how much energy (average net use, 5.1 Billion kWh) it takes to pump that water over those mountains, among other things.

But I had to actually see the size of the pipes and how far uphill they had to move water, defying gravity every step of the way, before I could really fathom how crazy, fantastic and scary the California water supply really is.

With these concrete behemoths at the back of my mind, I was not that surprised to read that globally, water security and freshwater biodiversity are critically threatened. A recent report in Nature co-led by Peter McIntyre and Charles Vörösmarty analyzed simultaneously the effects of multiple stressors like pollution, dam building, agricultural runoff, wetland loss and introduced species on the health of the world’s freshwater systems. While some aspects of what they determined are not surprising (wherever there are too many people, watersheds get degraded; in developing nations, access to safe water is tenuous at best) – one finding was particularly striking to me: that even in highly developed nations like the U.S., water security and biodiversity were deemed to be highly threatened. It is only reliance on massive technological solutions – like California’s water infrastructure – that holds our water security in place. To people reading the thoughts and insights about water on Blog Action Day, the conclusions drawn by McIntyre and Vörösmarty will likely hit home – we need to rethink how we manage water.

Consider this – that for everything it gives (drinking water on demand, emerald lawns, swimming pools, playing fields; generally, our high quality of life), California’s vast water infrastructure takes away as well. Our reliance on imported water helps us to disconnect from problems in our local waters – polluted runoff, channelization, habitat destruction – we don’t think too much about our local creeks and rivers because we don’t have to.

At San Diego Coastkeeper, we are working to turn the tide on that disconnect. By doing things like training local residents to go out into their watersheds and monitor water quality and getting people out into their creeks and beaches to clean them up we are working to help people understand the true value of water.

My “brief” debrief on our legislative summit


Summit kickoff breakfast, including an overview of the state of water in San Diego. Photo credit www.JDheinPhotography.com

Now that I’ve had 24 hours to decompress from Coastkeeper’s Inaugural Legislative Summit on the “State of Water in San Diego,” it’s time to do a brief (for me!) debrief of the event. First, a huge thanks to our Co-Chairs Senator Kehoe and Assemblymember Fletcher, our many sponsors, elected officials and 100 environmental, business, labor, community and academic leaders who filled the UCSD Faculty Club to discuss the critical issues of the San Diego region’s water future.

I am happy to report that the event was a tremendous success – not only because of the good information shared about water supply options for the region, but more importantly because of the sense from a broad array of stakeholders in the room that we need to work collaboratively to solve our water issues in a way that will also strengthen our economy, provide needed green-collar jobs and enhance local communities.

Also critical was the event’s solution-oriented focus – brainstorming about possible legislation or regulatory approaches to address the region’s water issues. While much work is still needed to flesh out these ideas, many kernels of solutions germinated from our discussions.

First, it was clear from our very first panel on water supply options that agencies are using different cost numbers based on different assumptions, which makes informed decision-making impossible. Legislators discussed directing a statewide independent cost-analysis for various water supply options, such as conservation and efficiency, harvesting, potable and non-potable reclamation, desalination and additional water transfers. Such an assessment is needed so we all – decision-makers and the public alike – have consistent numbers. In fact, this may have been the most important outcome of the summit, as we simply cannot make the best management decisions if we can’t agree on the underlying numbers or assumptions.


Members of San Diego’s state delegation sign a resolution to make San DIego the nation’s Clean Water Capital.

Additional ideas centered around an increased local focus on conservation and Low Impact Development projects and pursuing water pricing strategies to incentivize conservation – and disincentivize waste – among consumers (through tiered rate structure) and at the water agency level (through decoupling of water utility revenues from quantity of water delivered so more money is made when less water is used).

Overall, while exhausting for the organizers (us!), it was also energizing to see so many people representing diverse constituencies coming together to delve into an issue that is so critical for our region’s residents and businesses, and for the long-term health and sustainability of San Diego. This is just the beginning of a dialogue, and Coastkeeper remains committed to leading these discussions to develop real solutions for our region.  

I will blog more about the summit and its outcomes as a legislative and regulatory agenda are refined and as Coastkeeper continues to develop its vision for water policy in the region. Until then, remember what Michelangelo said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Let’s aim for a truly water independent and secure region!



Some of our event sponsors with Assemblymember Fletcher. Photo credit www.JDheinPhotography.com



Our Legislative Summit co-hosts Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher and Senator Christine Kehoe. Photo credit www.JDheinPhotography.com

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