What’s A Little Rain When You Have A Mystery to Solve?

Despite the stormy Friday morning weather, my water quality partner and I were excited to get to the bottom of a still unsolved mystery—the sources of urban runoff. Because rain is actually Day In The Life of a Water Monitorhelpful in solving this mystery (due to the fact that you can often follow runoff back to the source), we welcomed the unusually intense weather.

When we arrived, the group divided the test area into mini-watersheds and we were assigned to collect water samples along the south bound of Chollas Creek. While the weather was helpful for data, it presented its own challenges.  The collection efforts were marked by several strong gusts that pushed and pulled at me, at times nearly causing me to almost lose my balance. At another point I couldn’t see where I was going because my hair was flying in every direction, enveloping my entire face.

With dogged determination, we set out to get all the water samples we needed. Powering through the chaotic weather, climbing fences and walking through a windy swirl of muddy hills, steep pathways and graffiti-ed bridge underpasses, we were going to get this done!

Beside the waterway the evidence of some of the potential perpetrators of the pollution lay taunting us. Spray paint bottles were scattered lifelessly, as were many plastic cups and paper plates. What really captured my attention was a toilet seat cover lodged mid-creek. I still wonder how that ended up there—lots of explanations exist, but, in the end, there is no valid justification. It is amazing what discoveries can be found along the creek.

More challenges to our collection efforts continued to impact our efforts—it was very challenging to keep our paperwork dry! We had other difficulties when the readings on our instrument took longer than expected due to the many particles in the water.  An eyeball analysis of the samples we collected made it clear that the water was a far cry from clean and crystal clear.

While the rain and everything its presence brought into Chollas Creek  damped (pun intended) our efforts, this Southern Californian was happy to see at least a little of the much-needed rain we have craved for so long.

This whole experience was a wonderful adventure.  Despite my thorough soaking and muddy boots, I felt accomplished. Accomplished enough to say that I will certainly do it again!

Are you interested in learning more about what happens to those samples and how they help us learn actionable information? Check out this blog post. Want to have your own happy adventure? Check out our volunteer opportunities.

Published in Urban Runoff

Weather Doesn’t Dampen Resolve to Get Answers

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 Testing Water Samplesin 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.

Published in Urban Runoff

Volunteers Gather San Dieguito Watershed Data

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Photo credit Tony Cagala

Once again, our dedicated volunteers have collected water quality data on August 20. In our efforts to help others understand the data we collect, we going to explore indepth the San Dieguito Watershed in Del Mar and Solana Beach area.

Overall, we’ve found that relative to the rest of San Diego’s watersheds, San Dieguito Watershed is in relatively good condition. The watershed shows some problems typical of urbanization, such as slightly elevated concentrations of some nutrients. But this is expected because of irrigation of land or overwatering of lawns. Because our sites are downstream of agricultural land and golf courses, this could explain the nutrient levels being a little elevated. These levels are only slightly elevated and mostly do not exceed the standards set in the San Diego region basin plan.

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Photo credit Tony Cagala

One particularly interesting data point for this month is that one site (on the Del Dios Highway next to the fruit stand) had low levels of dissolved oxygen. The dissolved oxygen levels were 4.60 mg/L and the basin plan standard is at least 5.0 mg/l. This low level of oxygen in the water can stress aquatic organisms. On a good note, we’ve found low levels of fecal indicator bacteria.

In comparison to other watersheds in San Diego, San Dieguito Watershed is in good shape. We want to keep it that way by monitoring the sites and keeping our waste at a minimum. If you would like to be a part of it, sign up to be a volunteer for the September Water Quality Monitoring and training. No need to be a chemist to participate, bring your fun and learning sides together to explore your community and meet new friends.

How can we keep our watersheds healthy? Share your thoughts!

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Photo credit Tony Cagala