Power Outage Sewage Spill Victory Almost Here

Sewage_Spill_Sign_smallThe region-wide power outage last September caused massive sewage spills when two pump stations that lacked adequate backup power failed and discharged into local creeks. Our volunteer water monitors found evidence of the 3.5-million gallons of sewage pooled in Los Peñasquitos Creek slowly releasing into the fragile Peñasquitos lagoon.

After the discovery, San Diego Coastkeeper sprang into action. We alerted the city of San Diego and the Department of Fish and Game about the stagnant pool of polluted water. We offered our years of background data at that site to the city to help them with their cleanup.  We performed follow-up testing of the water in the creek and in the lagoon to monitor the cleanup and shared that data with the public, the Regional Water Control Board, the city’s stormwater department and the Peñasquitos Lagoon Foundation.  We gave public testimony at the San Diego City Council’s Committee on Natural Resources and Culture Committee about the effects of the spill and the need to prevent spills like this from ever happening again.

All of our hard work has paid off. I would like to commend the City of San Diego wastewater officials who put forward a plan to ensure nothing like this happens again. They are seeking to install generators on the pump stations that lack adequate backup power. (Read our press release responding to the wastewater official’s plan.) This backup power will ensure the pumps work properly during future power disruptions. The City Council now needs to step up provide them the tools and money they need to make this happen. I encourage the City Council to do what is right and help protect our fragile water resources against similar failures.

This also demonstrates the power that our community has when we work together to find and fix pollution problems. And this is a new emphasis for San Diego Coastkeeper. Around here we call it “watchdogging” to ensure our waters in San Diego County are protected. Sound exciting? Please join our efforts by volunteering to help us patrol for pollution or donating to be a part of the solution.

Published in Sick of Sewage

Is it safe to surf or swim in South San Diego? Attend our workshop to find out


(c) TRNERR.org

Have you ever been standing on the beach, looking at the waves and thought, should I go in? Did it rain yesterday? How do I know if I will get sick or not if I go surfing or swimming today? If you answered, you are certainly not alone. The quality of water along our shores and in our creeks remains a significant concern for recreational users. Parts of our county, like beaches in south county, are notorious for having consistent closures.

That is why the annual South San Diego Water Quality Workshop: When is it safe to swim, surf? was developed. Tijuana River National Estuary Research Reserve, the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observatory System, WiLDCOAST, Surfrider San Diego and San Diego Coastkeeper invite you to come out and hear some of the details about how our local agencies monitor water quality at our beaches, how decisions are made to close beaches or post advisories and ways you can help monitor in the watersheds in South San Diego.

The workshop is free but registration is encouraged. The workshop will be happening at the TRNERR Visitor Center on Wednesday October 12 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. And because we know you want more than just good information, we will also provide some snacks and raffles! Come out, meet some new people, learn a few things, and share some yummy food. For more information check out the event web page.

Objective: To provide recreational users and local decision-makers with information and practical tools to better understand water quality monitoring, the process that influences beaches closures and advisories, and how to safeguard human health
Kristen Goodrich, Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve
Paloma Aguirre, WiLDCOAST
Lisa Hazard, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Amanda Dillon, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Ewan Moffat, Department of Environmental Health, San Diego County
Ewan Moffat, Department of Environmental Health, San Diego County
Jen Kovecses, San Diego Coastkeeper
Dan Murphy, Surfrider San Diego
Published in Sick of Sewage

Eat Your Way to a Healthy Planet

I love cheeseburgers. Hodad’s, Rocky’s, Five Guys … they’re all my favorites.  But for next week, I’ve decided to drop the burgers and go vegetarian during San Diego Veg Week. I invite you to join me and several other staff members here at San Diego Coastkeeper as we go meatless from September 25-October 2.

Here are 5 ways that eating vegetarian can help protect the environment:

  1. It takes 12,009 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef.  That means you can  save more water by forgoing one pound of beef, or four hamburgers, than by not showering for a year.
  2. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or “CAFOs” are a major source of water pollution around the country.  Animal waste and feed cropland dump more pollutants into our waterways than all other human activities combined.
  3. Meat production is a major contributor to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico—7,000 square miles where dissolved oxygen in the water is too low to support marine life.
  4. Cow farts are a major source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.By passing on the burger, you can reduce your contribution to global climate change.
  5. Nearly half the water consumed in this country and 70 percent of the grain grown is used for livestock, mostly cattle.

Your Ticket to Preventing Urban Runoff

I sit at my desk a lot.  Considering I have a job that works to protect our coastline and outdoor environment, I still spend lots of time at a desk.  And as I sit here, I often wonder despite the work of our amazing staff, the thousands of hours of service our volunteers provide, the work of all the other organizations trying to protect our waterways, and the increasing knowledge that our community has about pollution problems, how much pollution is building up right now?

How much oil is dripping from cars in San Diego and how much excess fertilizer is being applied to lawns, farms, nurseries and golf courses? How many dogs are pooping without it being picked up, how many cars are being washed and leaking junk into the gutter and how many construction sites are letting loose dirt erode into our creeks and rivers?  It’s kinda mind boggling when you think about it.  All that pollution just building up and waiting for rain or urban runoff to pick it up and take it to the ocean I love to surf and sail in.

Urban runoff and the pollution it picks up is the biggest threat to water quality in San Diego.  But now we’re going to turn the tides, and use what I consider our biggest asset to combat our biggest threat:  Our incredible volunteer base.

Announcing our newest volunteer program: Pollution Patrollers

We’ll be training volunteers to identify true pollution incidents and violations of Best Management Practices (all the things businesses and residents should be doing to reduce urban runoff) and using the power of our Environmental Law & Policy Clinic to report and follow up on getting them cleaned up.

Pollution Patrollers is a twofold program:

  • The county and all the cities have a legal obligation to ensure those BMP’s are being met, and we’re going to audit them.  We need your help to be a part of organized patrols to gauge whether or not this is happening.
  • You can also use this training to identify true pollution problems in your daily life.  If you’re driving around town, riding your bike, out on your boat, or taking a walk, you’ll be able to document and report those incidents to us, and we’ll help you make sure the cities follow up.

The training is June 14 from 6-8pm in La Jolla, and I’d be stoked to see you there.  Shoot me an email (email: dylan@sdcoastkeeper.org, subject line: Pollution Patrollers) to become part of this exciting program.

Published in Urban Runoff

Swimming Pools to Tide Pools: Your Neighborhood and ASBS Pollution

This is the second 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.

I’m the new kid on the block when it comes to San Diego Coastkeeper’s marine conservation program, and I’m on a mission to soak up (no pun intended) all the details I can about our local preservation efforts in San Diego. One major nugget of wisdom I’ve learned in my hunt for knowledge is that ASBS are an integral part of San Diego’s (and California’s) marine conservation efforts. Let me impart on you some of my newly aquired insights, dear reader.

Both the La Jolla and the San Diego-Scripps ASBS are in the Los Penasquitos watershed. This highly urban water system stretches as far inland as State Route 67, and all water in that zone eventually flows to the coastline where both ASBS are located. Trash, pollution, chemicals and general muck that accumulate inland will sooner or later wash into the ocean through these coastal areas. Streams, gullies, pipes and holes in seawalls discharge inland water into the ocean, carrying with it  all the bacteria, copper and metals, oil and grease, pesticides and nutrients accumulated eastward.

In the La Jolla ASBS, most of these pollutants come from the flow of natural water bodies, stormwater runoff and sewers. Of the 196 discharges, seventeen different municipal storm drain outlets have been identified in the ASBS, and some pipes on the bluffs and gullies empty into the tide pools, which are teeming with fragile marine life.

In the San Diego-Scripps ASBS there are 92 discharges, and a lot of the pollutants come from landscaping and pipe drainage from (gasp!) private residences. Residential sources of pollution are a result of failing to pick up after pets, letting a car leak fluid onto a driveway, allowing chemicals to enter a storm drain through hosing or dumping and more.

Ever think about where lawn fertilizer, pet waste, leaking automobile fluids and pesticides end up? If it goes into a storm drain, that means it flows directly into the ocean, untreated. Sometimes this means flowing straight into an ASBS. Storm drains dump all the dog poop, motor oil and chemicals that build up on our streets and sidewalks offshore, which is why we strongly recommend staying out of the water for 3 days (72 hours) after it rains. Surfing, swimming, or snorkeling in pollution = reckless, hazardous and certainly not the best underwater view.

The City of San Diego, UCSD, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and San Diego Coastkeeper have joined forces to reach our goal of zero discharge in both ASBS. We are committed to educating the public, implementing changes and securing a clean future for not just La Jolla, but all of San Diego’s coastline. You can help protect our ASBS by making simple water-friendly choices from installing rain barrels to participating in guerilla seedballing. Stay tuned to this blog series – we will explore some of the most cutting edge techniques to help champion the clean oceans movement. Some topics to look forward to include:

Low Impact Development: Learn about methods for construction and landscaping that minimize the impact on nature and help protect water quality.

World Oceans Day: Celebrate a healthy ocean with Coastkeeper in our ASBS.

Beach Cleanups: Wonder what type of trash flows into the ASBS? This blog post will highlight data trends gathered from beach cleanups in La Jolla.

Water-Conscious Gardening: Have a beautiful yard and protect sea critters at the same time! We’ll share with you different gardening techniques that will help keep our ASBS pollution-free.

Intrigued? I know I am.

Published in Marine Conservation

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.



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.

Bearded Pirate and Old Friend Joins the Ranks of Coastkeeper


Captain Scott Schaad and First Mate (and Staff Accountant) Victor Vasquez on patrol for pollution

Scott Schaad still owes me 10 margaritas at Fred’s in Old Town. Granted it was a ridiculous bet years ago, but I’m still holding him to it. And as crazy as it seems, I forgot that I actually had free drinks waiting for me at one of my favorite Taco Tuesday spots. That was until I had the true pleasure of welcoming our newest Volunteer Boat Captain Scott Schaad to the Coastkeeper family last week.  

You see, Scott and I use to be co-trip leaders for Aztec Adventures, SDSU’s outdoor recreation program. Back in our undergrad days, Scott and I had the oh-so-terrible job of taking fellow students down to Baja’s beautiful and pristine coastline for weekend kayaking and surf trips. On one of these adventures, Scott and I were taking some students kayaking through a pristine coastline just south of Ensanda; a place I can only hope San Diego’s entire coastline looks like again someday. After a long day of paddling, Scott and I attempted to cook a delicious dinner and dessert for our eagerly awaiting group of students. Unfortunately, our dessert concoction turned out to be what could only be considered an ill-conceived sugar, butter and pumpkin flavored soup with overtones of burnt toast.

While the dessert was a complete disaster, Scott didn’t want to waste the valuable calories, so he bet me ten margaritas that I couldn’t eat the whole thing.  Of course I did, and to date, I haven’t redeemed my bounty.  

After those college adventures, Scott and I got busy with that whole pesky “real life” thing and kinda lost touch. Luckily, the winds of fate changed, and our other Volunteer Boat Captain and Programs Director at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center, Kevin, mentioned he knew a guy who would be interested in volunteering to help out with pollution patrols on our boat. That guy turned out to be my old friend Scotty Schaad, who is now working as the Lead Wakeboarding Instructor for the Aquatic Center.

We at Coastkeeper couldn’t be more stoked to welcome Scotty on board. With Kevin and Scott at the helm, our boat program is poised to take off.  I’ve had the chance to get to know both guys, and they both have a true passion for helping to protect our ocean ecosystems.


Captain Straw keeping a wary eye for violations of the Clean Water Act.

Our Coastkeeper staff has big plans to make the most of having these champions of the environment on board. Our toxic waterways crew has been out on the boat discussing ways to supplement the water quality data on our wiki with our boat program, and our education and outreach team is working with Scott and Kevin to reach out to the boating community to promote eco-friendly boating.

The best part of the whole story, for me, may be reconnecting with an old friend.  It’s always a great feeling to have such a good person in the mix, and even though I’m extremely grateful to Scott (and Kevin, of course!) for donating his time and energy . . . I’m still going to cash in on those margaritas.

Phytoplankton – Canary in the coal mine

highlight_planktonSeveral weeks ago, CNN did a story about the toxic effects of oil and dispersants in the Gulf. Researchers from the University of South Florida used the same toxicity test that San Diego Coastkeeper uses to monitor the health of our local waterways. The QwikLite test method uses a type of naturally occurring plankton to indicate how healthy the water is. The particular species we use is bioluminescent; it glows much like the organisms that cause the red tides we are all familiar with. Like a canary in a coal mine, this plankton is very sensitive to contaminants in the water. When the phytoplankton gets stressed or dies, the amount of light emitted is reduced, and we are able to estimate how toxic the water is to these organisms.

In the Gulf, the researchers found that the dispersants used were very toxic to the plankton. As a primary producer in the food web, this is really important to understand, as the consequences to the ecosystem are profound. As the base of the marine food chain, the plight of the plankton is felt all the way up to our dinner plates. The millions of gallons of oil aren’t going away just because it isn’t washing up on the shore.

The same principal works in San Diego. Our inland waterways drain into the ocean. They often carry with them toxic pollutants such as oil, pesticides and heavy metals.  Our monitoring efforts hopefully will be able to identify when these pollutants reach toxic levels. To get involved with our monitoring efforts please contact our volunteer coordinator.