A Look Back
I grew up in San Carlos and Santee, so Mission Trails Regional Park was practically my backyard. Before the visitor’s center opened in 1995, not many people utilized the park– it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. I remember just my family and the old lady collecting crawfish with a piece of hotdog on a fishing pole. My dad, my brother, and I would walk down to the San Diego River after a major stormand watch as the river swelled, unleashing a torrent of water past the old dam, which is pretty impressive, if you get a chance.
This month, I headed down to the park to get training for the upcoming bioassessment project. Before I describe the training, let me give you some background.
Some Background on our Monitoring Program
The monitoring program we have run for more than a decade has focused on chemical constituents. We measure nitrate and ammonia concentrations. We measure the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. We measure bacteria concentrations. Measuring stream pollutants is important data, and we use them to compare the stream to regulatory standards. But, this picture of the ecological health of the stream is incomplete. We can say if a stream has pollutant problems, but can’t really say what effects those pollutants have on the stream.
At Coastkeeper, we want to round out our monitoring program and add physical and biological integrity measurements to our picture of stream health. We can get a sense of overall watershed health by collecting and analyzing the insects that make the stream their home, as well as noting how intact the physical habitat of the stream is. I am super excited to be adding this component to our program.
Now to the Good Stuff–Bugs and Bioassessment Trainings
Back to the training. Last week we brought Jim Harrington from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to train our volunteer team leaders. Myself, three of our volunteers, and Shannon Quigley-Raymond, who is a partner of ours at the San Diego River Park, learned the ins and outs collecting insects, assessing their habitat, and running a bioassessment program. This training was hardcore–three full days of learning.
Local environmental consultants joined our training: staff from the San Diego, Los Angeles, and Riverside Water Quality Control Boards; and Fish and Wildlife staff members. This diverse group got me thinking about the value of volunteer-generated water quality data. Here we were getting the same training that the “professionals” get to conduct this work. And these professionals got trained because San Diego Coastkeeper brought the trainer down!
Just look at these photos and see how beautiful San Diego’s water are. These pictures of Mission Trails shows how lush and beautiful our rivers can be if weprotect them properly.
Join the Fun
If you like playing with bugs, getting muddy, and telling the story of our watersheds, keep your eye out for our bioassessment program announcements. We hope to get started in June, and we will need a bunch of help.
Like our monthly water quality monitoring program, this bioassessment work is funded with support from the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006 of the State of California.
While most of you were trying to stay dry and cozy during this past storm, several intrepid volunteers offered to brave the elements and help us figure out the source of urban runoff pollutants.
Urban runoff is the biggest threat to water quality in San Diego County, and we know that the problem gets worse when it rains. Rain washes pollutants from our urban environment and into our streams. What is unknown, however, is from where exactly these pollutants come. That sounds like a perfect job for San Diego Coastkeeper and its amazing volunteer base.
We divided up the Pueblo Watershed, the watershed for Chollas Creek, into sub-drainage basins. These are the colored areas displayed on the map. By analyzing the water coming out of these mini watersheds, we can hopefully determine the worst offenders for urban runoff. Once gathered, we will model this data to determine which of these basins has the highest pollutant concentrations, allowing us to better target our outreach and education efforts on the areas that disproportionately contribute to our urban runoff problem.
Sampling these areas was no small task, as we had to sample during the rain to catch the pollutants. We are deeply grateful to our amazing volunteers who ventured into the storm to conduct this sampling. They fought rain, wind, and traffic to help us collect this dataset. Hector Valtierra even sampled twice, spending seven soggy hours collecting data. Thank you, Hector!
It will take us a few weeks to analyze the data, but it looks interesting so far. There was a ton of bacteria in the water and nutrient levels look super high also. Trash was everywhere. We even unfortunately found a floating chihuahua. We’ll keep you updated as we work the data..
We thank the County Board of Supervisors and Union Bank for funding to support this project. In addition our thanks to Supervisor Greg Cox’s office for its involvement in getting this project started.
Interested in a volunteer’s perspective? Check out what Lynna Moy has to say about the day.
The autosampler is slowly, but surely, progressing. After securing the necessary money, and finding and purchasing parts, I have taken the first few steps towards completing the autosampler. To remind everyone, this autosampler will allow us to use the autosampler to monitor urban runoff during rains, as it happens (without having our volunteers stand in the rain for hours).
Currently, I am working on refining my home-built peristaltic pump. Peristaltic pumps use compression to push water. Skateboard wheels will compress a plastic tube to push water from the creek and into the sample bottles.
The pump frame has been built, and the skateboard wheels have been installed. The wheels, along with some tubing, will be doing the heavy lifting of the water. Once the pump is finished, and pumping, the next step will be to set up the valve array, which will distribute the samples into their respective containers.
From here, I expect the pace to accelerate, as the pump will probably be the part that I need to fiddle with the most. After the valve array, the final step will involve powering and connecting all of the parts into a computer controlled system. I am planning on using two Arduino microprocessers working in conjunction as the brains of the system.
While working on the autosampler, I have learned a great deal about prototyping and design. In its current state, the autosampler is not much more than a prototype. I was surprised about all the fiddling and adjusting needs to happen in order to make this run perfectly. This project has been an enlightening experience: there are hundreds of things that will go wrong. But I will fix all of them.
Working on the autosampler in general, and the pump specifically, has given me the chance to explore new horizons. I have a project where I have creative freedom, will have an impact, and combines an appealing career path, robotics, and my work here at Coastkeeper. It’s a nice balance to my school work. I appreciate the hands on experience that I have gotten with engineering and design, something I probably would not have without Coastkeeper’s help.
The currently anticipated deployment date is in late August, early September. Ish. That said, when I was first talking about this project, I thought I could have it out by March. We’ll have to wait and see.
This is part 4 of a 5 part series of results from our water monitoring lab. This post was written by the folks over at Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter. If you haven’t read our watershed report, head over here and check it out. In this fourth part, we are going to take a look at the Tijuana River Valley.
The Tijuana River Valley has a decades-long history of water quality issues. Significant improvements in the arena of wastewater treatment in recent years have improved water quality on both sides of the border. However, storm water continues to bring substantial amounts of sediment and trash and other contaminants into the Valley from sources in both the United States and Mexico. The sediment and trash pollutants cause water quality impairments, threaten life and property from flooding, degrade valuable riparian and estuarine habitats and impact recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.
In 2008, the Surfrider Foundation, San Diego chapter started the No Border sewage Campaign. Through No Border Sewage, we have raised awareness, outreach and education of this incredibly overwhelming problem. Additionally, a network has formed of like-minded organizations. Through this network, consensus and collaboration has been built to address the conservation and restoration of the entire Tijuana River Watershed.
The Tijuna Watershed is 1,739 square-miles, with one quarter in the US and three quarters in Mexico. The city of Tijuana is on average about 300 feet higher than Imperial Beach. During the wet winter season, rain picks up pollutants as it washes across dirt roads, streets and urban canyons in the outskirts of Tijuana. In these canyons, tens of thousands live in ramshackle villages called Colonia’s. Population in Tijuana grows every day. In 1980, there were 500,000 people, and in 2013, it is projected there will be more than 2,500,000, much of whom are not hooked up to sewer lines. Population explosion is fueled by jobs at the maquiladora plants, which thrived after the US ratified the North American Free Trade Agreement. This explosive growth causes signifigant pollution. For example, rain from a December 17, 2008 storm caused the river to spew an estimated 3 billion gallons of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean in one 24-hour period.
Surfrider has been involved with the border sewage issue for over a decade, fighting to avoid the negative environmental impacts and public health risks of discharging any raw sewage and debris directly into the ocean. One of the main goals of Surfrider’s No Border Sewage Campaign is to eliminate border sewage, pollution, solid waste, chemicals and sediment that flows across the Tijuana River during rain events. These pollutants are emptied into the ocean during dry events and close the beaches in Imperial Beach for half the year.
Imperial Beach has a rich and thriving surf culture and has contributed greatly to the history and roots of surfing in San Diego. The Tijuana Sloughs (pronounced slew) is a world class big wave break that was a gold standard for heavy-water surfing in Southern California beginning in the late 1930s. The pioneer wave riders of the Sloughs include local IB Lifeguard legend, Alan “Dempsey” Holder, Peter Cole, Kimble Daun and Ron “Canoe” Drummond. Today the massive and imposing waves still break on a serious Northwest swell but go largely un-ridden because the Sloughs act as the unloading dock for the Tijuana River, receiving some of the most repulsive water this earth has wrought. The solution can be achieved if the U.S. works with Mexico rather than pointing blame at Mexico.
As part of our commitment to improve coastal water quality in the border region, Surfrider is committed to working with other environmental organizations to operate as a strong united front whenever possible. Volunteers from Surfrider Foundation Blue Water Task Force have been heavily involved in volunteer activities in the Tijuana River Valley. Through a key partnership with San Diego Coastkeeper, No Border Sewage volunteers have tracked source point pollution during dry and wet weather events. On a monthly basis, volunteers hike out to three different locations within the Tijuana River Valley and Estuary and take water samples that are backed by state-approved quality control standards. During the winter season, we collect samples from Dairy Mart Road Bridge, which is the first natural filter for the trash, sediment and sewage that flows across the border. Volunteers literally walk through piles of plastic, Styrofoam, tires and trash sometimes as high as 10 feet to get to the shore line and take the samples. The mud is largely comprised of sediment which also poses as a danger when walking through it. It is almost as if you are sinking in quicksand. Other sampling site sites include the Hollister Street Bridge and Saturn Road, which are next to Suzy’s Farm. These locations are heavily flooded during rain events due to the hydrology of the River Valley and lifeguard rescues are a common occurrence.
During the summer season, volunteers hike out to three locations within the Tijuana Estuary that are further west than the winter season locations. The first stop is the Visitor Center Bridge. On any given day, you see a variety of birds, and if you are lucky a glimpse of an endangered clapper rail foraging in the pickle weed. Peregrine falcons, Snowy Egrets and Blue Herons also frequent overhead as you collect your water samples. From there, we hike out to the Grove Avenue Bridge and the Oneonta Slough River mouth. The river mouth is about a four mile hike and is breathtaking. The smell of saltwater, breathtaking views of the iconic Bullring and Lighthouse to the south in Mexico and the beautiful downtown San Diego skyline to the north make this trip a memorable one each and every time. The trail that leads to the Slough River mouth is named after Dr. Mike McCoy, who spearheaded the 10-year effort to save the estuary from a proposed marina created by dredging the Tijuana Estuary. He recognized the importance of preserving it and its wildlife as one of the last intact salt marsh ecosystems in Southern California.
This is part 3 of a 5 part series of results from our water monitoring lab. If you haven’t read our watershed report, head over here and check it out. In this third part, we are going to take a look at the Pueblo watershed.
The Pueblo Watershed is San Diego County’s smallest, and most urbanized, watershed. This roughly 60 square mile watershed drains into San Diego Bay. The Pueblo Watershed runs through the heart of the City of San Diego and it’s boundaries overlap with portions of the Lemon Grove, La Mesa, and National City. The main creek running through the watershed is Chollas Creek, which has two main forks that run through the most densely populated part of the City. As a result, we have altered and lost much of it’s native habitat. Chollas Creek is straightened, channelized, or driven underground in various places.
Prior to development, the watershed supported a coastal scub habitat that was home to plant and animal species that were tolerant to the long dry seasons we have in San Diego. Much of this habitat has been developed away, transforming to heavy and light industry, parking lots ans strip malls, and houses with irrigated landscapes. Chollas creek itself was straightened, channelized, or driven underground in various places through pipes and culverts.
The extensive hydromodification of the creek has resulted in the loss of almost all of the natural habitat associated with the creek. In fact, the creek is so altered that nearby residents often don’t know there is a river flowing through their neighborhood. Now, only the tributary canyons offer some habitat for animals like the threatened Cactus Wren.
In general, our monitoring program found the creek has high levels of ammonia, phosphorus, fecal bacteria and trash. These pollutants are signatures of dense urban development. During the rainy season, these pollutants are carried from inland sources into the creek and out to the bay. The nutrients contribute to an excess of of algae growing in the creek and the trash contributes to our marine debris problem. For an good visual of how nutrients can affect water quality, check out this youtube video I made last year. Look at what a difference of a few drops of fertilizer can do water quality.
Fortunately there are a number of organizations trying to reverse this declining trend. Groundwork San Diego, Chollas Creek; The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation; and San Diego Canyonlands are working to restore the watershed’s natural hydrology and habitat. See what they are working on here . The Environmental Health Coalition is working hard on environmental justice issues in the area which will help abate some of the problems the area’s residents face by living so close to industrial and transportation centers.
Local municipalities are a part of the solution, as well.The city of San Diego has developed the Chollas Creek Enhancement Plan to guide it’s and other organizations efforts for repairing the creek. The local cities have also developed an urban runoff management plan for watersheds draining into San Diego Bay that sets up the programs for reducing the urban pollution.
There is a lot of work to be done in this watershed. It’s going to take many years of effort, but I have a vision of a vibrant creek supporting native habitat with parks and trails right in the middle of our city.
This is part 1 of a 5 part series of results from our water monitoring lab. If you haven’t read our watershed report, head over here and check it out. In this first part, we are going to examine the high quality nature of the data generated by the water monitoring program.
Last month we trained our 700th water monitoring volunteer. I am proud of the work that our many water monitoring volunteers do. Their dedication and skill is admirable to us in the lab and to the rest of the organization.
I am most proud of the high quality data our volunteers are able to produce. The data they generate can stand up on it’s own with any other laboratory. Ensuring high quality data is important to monitoring programs because high quality data tells a better story than questionable data. If you cannot be sure about the accuracy of a dataset, you cannot use it to identify and fix problems.
How do water monitoring volunteers collect good data?
The first step in ensuring high quality data is to have sampling methods that reduce the chance for errors. Any of the field samplers will tell you that the methods we use are a little bit over the top. We use a method developed by the EPA called Clean Hands/Dirty Hands. This method was developed for measuring very, very small amounts of metals in the water. Since the concentrations are so small, even a little bit of contamination can really mess things up. Even though it can be a bit of a pain, it seriously reduces the amount of sample contamination
We also have a pretty stringent Quality Assurance Project Plan , that describes all the field and laboratory process we go through to make sure only good data is kept, and poor quality data is discarded. This plan has been read over and approved by California Department of Water Resources, San Diego County Water Authority, and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. Among other things, randomly assigned sites have duplicate samples taken, randomly assigned samples are run in the lab twice, and clean distilled water is tested. If these duplicate or blank results show some funny business, we will look hard at the data and throw out possibly questionable data.
Our volunteers generate professional quality research data and should feel proud of the work they do. I know I am.
This is part 3 of a 5 part series of results from our water monitoring lab. If you haven’t read our watershed report, head over here and check it out. In this third part, we are going to take a look at the Pueblo watershed.
The Pueblo Watershed is San Diego County’s smallest, and most urbanized, watershed. The roughly 60 square mile watershed drains into San Diego Bay. The Pueblo Watershed runs through the heart of the City of San Diego and it’s boundaries overlap with portions of the Lemon Grove, La Mesa, and National City. The main creek running through the watershed is Chollas Creek, which has two main forks that run through the most densely populated part of the City. As a result, we have altered and lost much of it’s native habitat. Chollas Creek is straightened, channelized, or driven underground in various places.
The extensive hydromodification of the creek has resulted in the loss of almost all of the natural habitat associated with the creek. In fact, the creek is so altered that nearby residents often don’t know there is a river flowing in their neighborhood. Only the tributary canyons offer some habitat for animals like the threatened Cactus Wren.
In general, our monitoring program found the creek has high levels of ammonia, phosphorus, and trash. During the rainy season, these pollutants are carried from inland sources into the creek and out to the bay. The nutrients contribute to an excess of of algae growing in the creek and the trash contributes to our marine debris problem.
Fortunately there are a number of organizations trying to reverse this declining trend. Groundwork San Diego, Chollas Creek; The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation; and San Diego Canyonlands are working to restore the watershed’s natural hydrology and habitat. The Environmental Health Coalition is working hard on environmental justice issues in the area which will help abate some of the problems the area’s residents face by living so close to industrial and transportation centers.
Preliminary results are in for our May 19 water quality monitoring event. Water quality in May was overall pretty good. The map on the right shows the “winners” and “losers” for the month. The sites marked in green rated “excellent” in terms of water quality.
Since an “excellent” score requires there to be no measured water quality problems, it’s fairly hard to get. It’s a rare occurance for the county to have six sites ranked as “excellent,” so we are pretty proud of our waters this month.
Only one site rated “poor” and it’s marked in red. The Chollas Creek site had problems with fecal indicator bacteria and nutrients.
Thank you to our awesome water monitoring volunteers this month. You folks rocked it.
If you want to get involved, our next training is July 21, 2012. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get you signed up.
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.
Did you see the tons of stories on the sewage spill that released 1.9 million gallons of sewage into the Los Penasquitos Lagoon? One thing all of these stores have in common is mentioning the beach closures that resulted. None of them mention the effects of the spill on the inland water systems.
Our volunteer water monitoring team went out on Saturday for our monthly routine water quality sampling. What they found at one of our sites is truly sickening. The samplers describe first being hit with the smell of sewage and then noticing the normally clear water was a strange shade of grey. Dead fish were floating on the surface and washed up on the bank.
Compare this with the results I got several months ago from the Tijuana River.
As far as I know, San Diego Coastkeeper’s volunteer water monitors were the first ones to notice the effects of the sewage spill. We collected evidence and made reports to the Water Quality Control Board and to the Department of Fish and Game.
Volunteers discovered the effects of the spill, volunteers collected samples and volunteers analyzed the samples in the laboratory. It is a community effort that found and documented the spill. This speaks to the strengths of our volunteer program and our role as the watchdog for the people of San Diego. In a time of shrinking government budgets and limited resources, we are the additional eyes and ears for the environment. Our mission is to “protect the region’s inland and coastal waters for the communities and wildlife that depend on them by blending education, community empowerment and advocacy.”
This is a perfect example empowering the community to protect our waterways.