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.
When should you start your environmental education? No matter what your age, the answer is always right now! At a recent Project SWELL workshop, San Diego area 6th graders discovered that you are never too young to learn the dynamics of our local watersheds.
Environmental education has many goals, including engaging students in learning about the environment and creating a generation of citizens empowered to make environmentally responsible decisions. Project SWELL’s environmental science curriculum is designed to present hands-on, inquiry-based activities to engage students in scientific exploration, with the hope that those students leave with a sense of increased environmental awareness and responsibility. In particular, the project aims to raise consciousness about one of our most precious resources—water.
In addition to the excitement of learning to build their very own watersheds, these newly-minted environmentalist were quick to recognize that watersheds in urban environments like San Diego face a multitude of threats from a variety of everyday occurrences. Walking our pets, driving our cars, building construction and a variety of other activities all leave their mark, often in the form of pollutants.
Pollutants, the traces of human life on earth– pet waste, leaky cars/oil, car soap, detergents, trash, sewage and much more– usually end up in our waterways. The 6th graders discussed what pollutants were and how they entered our waters, followed by the fun of exploring their own ideas for solutions.
With common-sense and achievable solutions, such as “don’t litter” and “clean up after your pet,” the students proved that all of us can change our habits to help our waters.
This group of young people made it clear that passing the torch of environmental consciousness is well worth it. Here is to a new generation of stewardship of our waterways.
We pride ourselves on our volunteers. Not only do they collect crucial information about our waters throughout San Diego County, but they are also poets, and they don’t even know it.
I took their comments from water monitoring data sheets and found myself with a beautiful poem that I’d like to share with you.
More trash than normal
Probably kids wading
Mountain lions sighted here last week
Our parking spot was on television
No sightings for us
Female mallard swimming in pond
A few pieces of trash
Willow seed pods floating in water
Carcass of coyote
(has been here for a while)
Inch of water flowing over walkway
Grass in stream
Thick brown-green algae on bottom of stream
Lots of brush was cleared out
Crawfish isn’t here today
Lots of sediment on bottom
Water clear but gross stuff on bottom
Craig has photos of fecal matter for your enjoyment
The Shipyards cleanup is finally about to start.
After decades of studies, plans, negotiations, expert reports, technical reports, legal posturing, and public hearings, we are poised to see contaminated dirt removed from San Diego Bay. This cleanup is a critical step towards healing our bay so that it can once again be safe to feed our families fish from the bay.
The cleanup is slated to start by September 17 so the dredging will continue through the fall and winter months, ending before the least tern nesting season, which starts April 1.
So how can you stay on top of the cleanup progress? What if you live or work near the shipyards and need to contact someone with a question or concern during the cleanup? Here’s how you can stay informed:
1. Attend a public meeting about the cleanup on Tuesday, September 10 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Barrio Station, 2175 Newton Ave, San Diego, 92113.
2. Fill out this survey. You can mail it back to the shipyards at: PO Box 420785, San Diego, CA 92142 or email it to email@example.com. The survey lets the shipyards know how you want to stay informed about the cleanup progress–by mail, e-mail, social media or public meetings.
3. Check out the cleanup webpage. It contains lots of good information about the cleanup, including information about the route trucks carrying the dredged dirt will take to the highway, and a contact page where you can leave a message or get on the mailing list or e-mail list. Information on the website is in both English and Spanish.
4. Call the cleanup hotline at (855) 817-4397. It contains a cleanup update message in both English and Spanish and allows you to leave a message.
It’s 8 am on the first sunny morning you have seen in a while. All you can think about is loading up your surfboard and beach towel in your car and head to that new surf spot all of your friends have been telling you about. But what if it rained overnight? You’ve heard about recent water pollution issues, maybe one of your friends got sick from surfing a few weeks ago. How do you know the water is safe to swim in? Well, the solution is no further away than your smartphone.
The new Swim Guide App designed by the Ontario Waterkeeper for the Waterkeeper Alliance is your guide to finding out which beaches are safe to swim. This app covers more than 400 beaches in California alone and 3000 beaches and swimming destinations nationwide and gives you up to date pollution ratings. Data for San Diego County comes from the County Department of Environmental Health each morning, and San Diego Coastkeeper updates the status of all beaches county-wide.
The Swim Guide also provides a historical and special status providing there are any unusual conditions at your particular location. This is an awesome way to check water quality before you head to a lake, beach, or river for a swim. If you are at a location and you see signs of pollution or debris, the app even allows you to report the problem to your local Waterkeeper. The app however, does more than just tell you about water quality.
With Swim Guide, you can discover new spots (beaches, parks, and lakes) based on your location, bookmark a place that looks interesting, and even get directions to that place. The interactive map gives you a visual representation of waters in the area. When I heard of this app, I immediately downloaded it, and did a bit of exploring. The coolest part about this new guide is the descriptions of the spots featuring history, culture, and suggestions for how to make the best of your trip here. As I was scrolling through locations near me, I found tons of spots that I had never even heard of. Who knew Leisure Lagoon at Mission Bay Park was an excellent spot for bbqing or tossing the Frisbee around? Or that the north side of San Dieguito River is great place to bring your dogs?
This app is extremely user friendly and even simpler to download. You can go to the App store and search swim guide or go to http://www.theswimguide.org/download.php to download or even use it from the web. Did I mention this app is completely free? That’s right all of this information at your fingertips and it does not even cost a penny. If you love to hit the beach or do a little exploring this app is a must!
This blog was published May 2, 2013. Click here for more up-to-date information on Safe Harbor laws in San Diego.
The Clean Water Act is the primary tool we use to protect and restore fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters. At its heart, the Clean Water Act focuses on the quality of our waters, and it allows states to issue permits allowing people to add pollution into our waters, but only in certain circumstances. The Clean Water Act’s bottom line is this—we can’t issue a permit if it would allow pollution that would make that water so dirty that it interferes with the water’s “beneficial uses” like swimming, fishing, or habitat for fish and other aquatic life. Even if the individual pollution permit would not alone cause the water quality problem, if it contributes to a water quality problem, that’s not allowed.
In order to make sure we are issuing water pollution permits that ultimately protect our waters, we have to look at the health of the waters. And water pollution permits contain a provision that basically says, “when you add pollution to the waters, you cannot cause or contribute to a water quality problem in the water body you are adding pollution to.” Sounds reasonable, right?
Apparently for San Diego County and our local municipalities, prohibiting them from contributing to existing pollution problems or creating new ones is asking too much. The county and our local cities have asked our Regional Water Quality Control board for a “safe harbor” excusing them from being accountable for local water quality, even though our storm sewer systems are the primary cause of most of our local pollution problems.
Why would they ask for this? According to San Diego County Counsel James O’Day, the county needs protection from environmental groups who would “hold the county hostage” by bringing lawsuits against them. Even the City of San Diego’s estmeed Mayor Filner asked the Regional Board to provide “protection” for the City against environmental protection law suits. Ironic, since last weekend San Diego City Councilmember David Alvarez thanked the environmental groups that sued the City of San Diego on sewage issues because it helped move the city forward toward creating a local, secure, reliable, safe water supply.
In response to pleas by lawyers and politicians, the Regional Board added a “safe harbor” or “alternative compliance option” to the stormwater permit. This “alternative compliance” provision protects cities or the county from being held accountable for pollution that causes or contributes to water quality problems, as long as they have done some modeling that shows that they might not cause or contribute to water quality problems if they do certain things, and then they plan to do those things. They get this “protection” from the moment their plan is approved, and it continues indefinitely–even if the pollution actually causes or contributes to a water quality problem–as long as they keep trying to do better.
This flies in the face of the very heart of the Clean Water Act–focusing on the health of our waters and not allowing pollution that would cause or contribute to water quality problems. At the Regional Board hearing on April 10 and 11, I compared this new safe harbor provision to mud on a cake. The heart of our stormwater permit–the cake–is still good, and we’ve all worked very hard to make it together. But this safe harbor is mud that basically ruins the permit for us. Take this safe harbor away, and we like the new stormwater permit.
Last week, San Diego Coastkeeper and Think Blue San Diego hosted their second set of professional development workshop for the 2012-2013 academic year. During the two-day event over 20 elementary school teachers from San Diego Unified School District were trained to use Project SWELL in their classrooms effectively.
Thanks to our three fantastic professional development instructors, countless students will be exposed to the hands-on lessons that center around the preservation and betterment of our local waters.
Project SWELL was developed through a ground-breaking partnership between San Diego Coastkeeper, Think Blue (the City of San Diego) and the San Diego Unified School District. Project SWELL is a school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the San Diego region’s waterways. Project SWELL helps teachers empower students about water quality issues and helps them to understand how to improve the condition of San Diego waterways.
Each SWELL unit of study (grades K-2 and 4- 6) consists of five or six age-appropriate, standards-based lessons that build student understanding of San Diego’s aquatic environments and emphasize the actions that students can take to improve them.
More information about Project SWELL can be found on our website: www.projectswell.org.
This is the last part in the 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 final entry in our series, we take a look at the San Luis Rey Watershed.
The San Luis Rey Watershed splashes down from its headwaters in the Palomar and Hot Springs Mountains before hitting the ocean at the shores in Oceanside. The San Luis Rey watershed lies in the northern reaches of San Diego County. The watershed stretches across 560 square miles, making it the third largest in San Diego County. The San Luis Rey Watershed may be big, but its human population is one of the smallest. Unlike many of its southern neighbors, the San Luis Rey Watershed contains very little urban landscape. Vacant/open space takes up half the watershed, while agricultural (cattle grazing, nurseries, citrus and avocado groves) and residential each account for about 15 percent of the watershed. Local jurisdictions occurring within the watershed include the cities of Oceanside, Vista, and Escondido, and the counties of San Diego and Riverside. The territories of six federally recognized Tribal Indian Reservations also overlap with this watershed.
Our water quality index scored this watershed as “Fair.” Pollution sources in this watershed include residential and commercial activity, but this watershed also contains a significant amount of agricultural activity, a source of pollution that is more challenging for regulators and local governments to abate. Excess nutrients (nitrate and ammonia) are driving this low index score. I suspect that past and current agricultural fertilizers are contributing to this pollution.
Like many other rivers in southern California, the San Luis Rey River suffers from habitat degradation. Historically, this river was home to abundant Steelhead Trout. Like it’s salmon cousin, steelheads are born in freshwater streams and migrate out to sea. The steelhead return to their place of birth to spawn future generations. Dams and hydromodification have blocked these fish from their ancestral home.
We partner with the Golden State Flycasters to monitor the San Luis Rey River. Coastkeeper provides equipment and analysis, and the Golden State Flycasters do the rest. In addition to supporting flyfishing throught the county, the flycasters are working hard to protect and restore habitat that sustains healthy fish populations.
Thanks for following along as we explored watershed health in the five part Watershed Report series. We hope you’ll continue to pay attention to the health of our waters and explore volunteer and advocacy opportunities with San Diego Coastkeeper.
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.