Susan Cobb, one of San Diego Coastkeeper’s most dedicated Water Quality Monitors, spends her weekends collecting water samples from across San Diego for scientific analysis. Passionate volunteers like Susan are the reason we can catch sewage spills early and find and fix the sources of pollution making San Diego less fishable and swimmable. We sat down with Susan to find out why she loves water and what drives her to protect it.
Why do you volunteer as a Coastkeeper Water Quality Monitor?
I began volunteering when I was a teenager. My mom recycled everything (newspapers, cans, glass) and I spent a few hours every weekend at the local recycling center. When I moved to San Diego County many years later, I started volunteering everywhere I could. Finally, after helping with a few beach cleanups in North County I heard about San Diego Coastkeeper. When I read about their Water Quality Monitoring program and commitment to the waterways in San Diego, I knew I wanted to be involved. That was May of 2015 and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Besides the obvious fact that our environment is worth saving, when I joined San Diego Coastkeeper I met a room full of people that felt the same as I did. My first day as a Water Quality Monitor, I was paired up with Adrian and Steve Kwik. As we drove up the coast to the Los Penasquitos sites, I knew that I wanted to make a commitment to the Water Quality Monitoring program. Those two had been doing it for 8-9 years and I was so impressed with their attitude and longevity.
I love the outdoors. My family and I hike and camp as often as possible. We enjoy the beach and my husband’s hobby is ocean fishing. So, I consider this a perfect fit. I can spend about 5 hours once a month and know that I’m having a positive impact on this big beautiful rock we live on.
Why is it important to return every month?
I see quite a few others that make this a regular part of their schedules each month so I know that I’m not alone. For me, it’s important to come every month because I can. I put it on my calendar, and when other things come up, I work around the water quality monitoring schedule. I am proud to say that I’ve only missed a few since starting in May of 2015.
One thing I love about coming every month is the friendships I’m forming. All of the volunteers care about the environment, but also many are in education (teachers and students) or their jobs are directly related to the environment. Also, it’s not surprising that since I am here on a regular basis, I feel confident in my knowledge of the proper procedures; which I know is important. It’s important for team members to participate each month so we can help train those who are either new or only help occasionally. A strong base of volunteers is essential to the success of the water quality monitoring process to ensure consistency in the data collection itself; whether it be location or the procedure of collecting the data.
What should everyone in San Diego know about this program?
People in San Diego should know that local and state agencies don’t have the funding and/or man-power to monitor our water ways as they should. The data we collect and analyze is used to keep our local industries in check. Since we collect in compliance with scientific procedures (clean gloves, dirty gloves, double bagging, keeping samples on ice, etc) and the lab follows set procedures to ensure accuracy, the data can then be used to support environmental laws if and when the need arises.
Our waterways are the foundation of our life in Southern California. The diversity of our plants and animals cannot survive without a healthy foundation and they deserve protection. Human activity in the outdoors must also be protected. We all should have fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters. We should be able to enjoy seeing clean water and the wildlife it supports. Our environment is worth saving for ourselves and for our future.
How do you feel about the health of San Diego’s inland waters?
The health of San Diego’s inland waters fluctuates based on numerous factors. Water quality is not solely based on how industries treat our water, it also depends on how the general public, regular people like us, act in our daily life. Runoff from homes and roads, lawn fertilizers, oil from driveways, miscellaneous trash, and more can all have a negative impact on our watersheds. We all can make a difference. What we do matters when it comes to the health of our precious watersheds.
What do you do outside of Coastkeeper?
I’m a middle school science teacher. I encourage my students to participate in beach clean ups and any other causes they find worthy. I volunteer with Coastkeeper because I want them to know the importance of our waterways, and the environment in general. Leading by example is important.
What we all do can, and does, make a difference to others. We impact the world around us whether we realize it or not. I’ve shared with them some of the news that I learn from reading San Diego Coastkeeper’s newsletter. When the new law regarding microbeads passed, we did a mini-unit on plastics and their negative impact on the environment. One of the students this year mentioned how she thought that microbeads were part of the problem and that they should not be allowed. I let her know that the law had been passed and they were being phased out; which made her happy to say the least.
Outside of work, I love to be outdoors. My husband, daughter and I take a yearly camping trip, most often to Sequoia National Park. We have also been to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and others. Locally, we enjoy our local coastline, Anza Borrego and Palomar Mountain. I’ve also done summer traveling with some work friends to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.
And perhaps — your favorite San Diego beer and why?
My favorite beer is called Headbasher IPA. It’s made by a Carlsbad Brewery by the name of Arcana. We belong to Arcana’s ‘Mug-Club’ and I can’t say enough positive things about it. The owner and staff are amazing people and the two dart boards, along with the variety of food trucks, just can’t be beat. They have a nice selection of brews and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. If you’re in North County and are thirsty for a great brew, stop into Arcana and tell them I sent you.
OK, maybe it’s a bit extreme to say that we can’t live without them, but it’s not an overstatement to say that our work would not be possible without the support of our donors and volunteers. From time to time, we will share conversations with people who, like you, make generous investments of their time and resources to ensure fishable, swimmable and drinkable water in San Diego, today and for generations to come.
David Welborn is a past member of San Diego Coastkeeper’s Board of Directors, including one year as Chairman. He and his wife, Ann, have invested in Coastkeeper’s work through targeted grants and general support. David joined me recently for a chat in our Liberty Station office.
Tracie Barham: David, I know you’ve had a long history with San Diego Coastkeeper, can you tell me why you first got involved?
David Welborn: I have almost always lived near the coast, and when I’m near the water I feel like I’m in a sacred place. Our water is such a valuable asset, I felt it was important for me to help protect it. After all, without water there is no life.
Tracie: I couldn’t agree more, David. We are so lucky to live in this paradise. Tell me, what about Coastkeeper’s approach excites you the most?
David: As former teachers, Coastkeeper’s youth education programs have a special appeal to both Ann and I. Also, your water quality monitoring program has multiple impacts on the community. It’s not just the data that informs all of your work, but the valuable experience gained by our future scientists as volunteers. Lastly, we are glad that Coastkeeper holds polluters accountable through litigation, when necessary.
Tracie: I’ll admit, as Coastkeeper’s new Executive Director, the fact that our programs are so interconnected is really inspiring to me. What do you wish more people knew about San Diego Coastkeeper?
David: I think people would be very impressed if they knew how much Coastkeeper is able to achieve with such a small budget. Your small staff (aided by many volunteers) is able to do so much for our community and the environment thanks to their passion and intelligence.
Tracie: Thank you, David. I agree, we are small but mighty! Okay, last question, what outdoor activities do you and Ann like to do when you’re not busy serving your community as Board members and donors?
David: Not surprisingly, many of our favorite things to do are on the water! We like to go outrigger canoeing in the Bay, kayak surfing, and stand-up paddleboarding.
Tracie: Nice, I’ll see you in the water! Thank you for all that you do for the environment and our community.
Wow, what a year Coastkeeper has had.
Our water defines our life in San Diego, and ever since two gutsy water lovers took a leap of faith twenty years ago, San Diego Coastkeeper has defined it, too.
I’m honored — and beyond thrilled — that I get to join you as the organization’s executive director and work alongside this talented team.
While our fishable, swimmable, drinkable water is faced with a number of serious threats, no one else besides San Diego Coastkeeper’s dedicated members, volunteers and staff are more prepared to face them head on. I’m privileged to lead a team that, in its 20th anniversary year, achieved some of the biggest victories in San Diego Coastkeeper history.
Check out San Diego Coastkeeper’s 2015 Annual Report infographic for the biggest highlights. You may want to sit down, my jaw was hanging open the whole time (197,000 pieces of trash removed!). It goes without saying that these results set a high bar, and it is my hope to raise that bar in 2016 by implementing our 2016 – 2018 strategic plan approved earlier this year.
I look forward to meeting you all (please have a beer with me at Ocean Commotion on April 30 while we salute Program Director Travis Pritchard for his leadership as the interim executive director) and walking with you side-by-side in the journey to a more fishable, swimmable, drinkable San Diego County.
Since I joined San Diego Coastkeeper in 2009, protecting the health of our waters has meant I could pour every ounce of my professional effort into a cause that is deeply, personally meaningful to me and critically important for our region. And every day I work alongside a dedicated staff and board of directors that approaches the mission of fishable, swimmable, drinkable water with intelligence, humor and fearlessness.
Joining San Diego Coastkeeper fulfilled my dream that meaningful work can be fun, and learning happens over a lifetime.
I can’t help but be exceedingly proud of all we have accomplished together.
- Successfully advocated for Pure Water recycling in the City of San Diego
- Won faster beach water quality testing
- Achieved a new watershed-based permit that allows cities and agencies to collaborate to reduce pollution
- Launched STEM “Water Kits” for elementary school kids all over the county
- Expanded the state’s largest volunteer water quality monitoring program
- Built partnerships with a wide range of community, industry and business groups
Now, after six and a half years with San Diego Coastkeeper, I’m ready for the next adventure—but I’m not going far! I’ll join San Diego Grantmakers as the senior director of collaborative philanthropy, a new position responsible for driving the organization’s member and cross-sector collaborations to address critical community issues. I will be with Coastkeeper until October 2, and you’re encouraged to help find our next leader by sharing our executive director job description.
As we celebrate San Diego Coastkeeper’s 20th anniversary, the path forward is clear. Our board approved a strategic plan that guides our continued success (don’t miss the big ‘reveal’ at the Seaside Soiree!). And our incredible staff continues to grow and to outdo itself in expertise and innovation. Twenty years of clean water accomplishments and the dynamic team we have in place provide an incredible foundation from which the next executive director will springboard to another two decades of clean water work.
It has been my absolute pleasure and privilege to lead San Diego Coastkeeper and what comes next promises to be even better.
For fishable, swimmable, drinkable water,
San Diego Coastkeeper® seeks an education specialist to support the implementation and promotion of Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership), a hands-on K-6 science and pollution prevention curriculum in San Diego Unified School District. Project SWELL is implemented in partnership with the City of San Diego, Think Blue and San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). The student population represents more than 15 ethnic groups and more than 60 languages and dialects. This position requires travel to SDUSD schools and will report to the San Diego Coastkeeper Education Coordinator.
Please apply by August 20, 2015 at noon. Find the full job description and application instructions here.
San Diego Coastkeeper is part of the Waterkeeper Alliance, the fastest growing environmental movement in the world, protecting and restoring fishable, swimmable, drinkable water. Waterkeeper Alliance requires each of its member organizations to have a Waterkeeper, a full-time advocate, who speaks on behalf of the water. Matt O’Malley is San Diego Coastkeeper’s Waterkeeper. We like him, and you will, too. Meet Matt.
How long have you’ve been a Waterkeeper for San Diego Coastkeeper?
Since January 2014. I’ve been involved with public-interest environmental and land-use law now for going on 13 years.
What encouraged you to enter this line of work?
I have a passion and a dedication for protecting and restoring our shared environment and improving the living conditions of all living things. As a Waterkeeper, I get to work on doing that every day.
Can you explain how beach pollution affects the waters?
Pollution of all kinds (trash, toxic substances such as metals and chemicals, fertilizer, just to name a few) enter into our waters and kill or injury many types of organisms, from invertebrates to fish to birds to even smaller living things. Those same pollutants often impact human health and the environment, too. Basically, they turn a healthy functioning waterbody into something that is no longer healthy or functioning.
How can young people get involved with keeping our water clean?
Volunteer! It’s never too early to start contributing to your community and doing what you can. Participate in beach cleanups and water cleanups when that’s available, but also start getting involved in the decisions your community representatives make. Go to meetings for the public and get informed. Information is key to a better society, and once you have that information you can begin to push for positive changes.
What are your responsibilities as a Waterkeeper?
I am responsible for being the voice for the waters of San Diego. I’m an attorney, and I’m often tasked with advocating for policies and laws that are protective of the environment. When that fails, I’m also responsible for enforcing the laws (like the Clean Water Act) against polluters. The waters and critters in the water need a voice, too!
When you take Coastkeeper’s boat, Clean Sweep, out on the water, what do you see?
There’s the good: dolphins, whales, sea turtles, sharks, sea lions, seals, fish and all kinds of beauty in coastal San Diego waters. And then there’s the bad: trash, sediment and pollutants. Then there are lots of pollutants you can’t see because they’re microscopic or dissolved in the water and the sediment under the water.
Have you noticed an increase or decrease when it comes to polluted waters?
Overall in the last 30+ years I’ve noticed our waters are healthier than they were when I was a kid growing up along the Hudson River in the 1970s. But, there are also waters that are getting worse, and across America a significant portion of waters are impaired (meaning, they are unhealthy), that still need a lot of work. We’ve got a long way to go!
Have you ever volunteered for a cause like this before your position as Waterkeeper?
Yes. I volunteer for several environmental groups, and I serve on the board of directors of a few. I even volunteered with San Diego Coastkeeper before I was hired. Volunteering is a great way to meet like-minded people and help the environment, animals, and your community.
How much of your time, would you say, is devoted to this subject?
My whole life! But on a weekly basis, I probably work 50-60 hours. My passion for this makes it more than a job – it’s a way of life for me to want to protect and restore our waters for today and for future generations.
We’ve been fighting to protect and restore fishable, swimmable, drinkable water for twenty years now. Here’s a quick look at where we started, where we went and where we’re headed.
It all started in 1995 with a staff of two on a mission to combat the chronic pollution of San Diego Bay that transformed a once-thriving ecosystem into a highly toxic waterbody. We negotiated the cleanup of 143,000 cubic yards of contaminated San Diego Bay sediment and helped reduce sewage spills in the City of San Diego by 90 percent and countywide beach advisories by 77 percent.
Since then, we have grown to a staff of seven and protect hundreds of miles of coastline, creeks, rivers and bays. Today, we lead solutions to water issues throughout the county for the communities and wildlife that depend on clean water and healthy habitats.
Over the past 20 years, thousands of volunteers have worked with us to contribute to environmental protection in San Diego County. We have completed more than 200 beach cleanups completed and prevented over a million pounds of trash from reaching the ocean. We have also trained more than 1,000 citizen scientists to monitor water quality and collect data each month at sites throughout San Diego County.
We successfully advocated to establish state-level protections for 15% of Southern California ocean water in marine protected areas. For the past three years, Coastkeeper has worked with Surfrider Foundation and WiLDCOAST to monitor the recreational use of these “Yosemites in the sea.” We also worked with UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering to develop a mobile app to record data.
Our Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership), developed in partnership with the City of San Diego and San Diego Unified School District, provides K-6 teachers with free hands-on environmental science lessons and materials. All teachers in San Diego County have access to this free program and we welcome requests to visit classrooms and informal educational programs.
San Diego County imports 85 percent of its water and San Diego Coastkeeper fought hard to get the City of San Diego to implement water conservation requirements to encourage sustainable use of our limited water resources. In 2014, we celebrated victory in a 15 year effort to convince the city to implement a wastewater recycling program. Once completed, this program will reduce and eliminate treated sewage discharges to the ocean and will generate one-third of the water the City of San Diego currently uses with fresh, local water supply.
Approved in June 2015, San Diego Coastkeeper’s new strategic plan identifies: strengthening water quality regulations, prioritizing conservation and other environmentally-preferred water supply sources and educating and activating residents as its priorities through 2018. With a growing population and serious four-year drought, San Diego Coastkeeper is particularly focused on: increasing water conservation among the general public through education and community engagement; working with policy makers to pass laws and regulations that mandate water conservation; and, reducing imported water by securing a sustainable local water supply.
Will you join us? We need your help. Here’s 10 ways you can make a difference right now.
Do you feel like making a difference today? We can help. Partner with San Diego Coastkeeper and maximize your impact on fishable, swimmable, drinkable water. Here are ten things you can do right now.
- 20th Anniversary Shirts
In 2015, San Diego Coastkeeper celebrates 20 years of fishable, swimmable, drinkable water in San Diego County. Now you can wear your support with our stylish 20th anniversary shirts. Get yours now with a donation of $35.
- Become a Member
Your investment will help continue the fight to protect fishable, swimmable, drinkable water in San Diego County. You can give the gift of clean water with a one-time donation or recurring donation. Give Here.
- Become an Admiral
When you join the Admiral’s Circle, you can enjoy exclusive membership benefits such as a special invitation to our annual Seaside Soiree, quarterly briefings with San Diego Coastkeeper staff and board, and an invitation to come abroad our patrol boat, Clean Sweep. Join Today.
- Attend an Event
Whether it is cleaning up your local beach on a beautiful day or attending one of our educational forums, San Diego Coastkeeper provides a range of fun events that everyone can enjoy. Check our calendar.
San Diego Coastkeeper depends on community members like you to amplify meaningful impacts on the health of San Diegoʼs waters. We canʼt do it without you. We have a range of fun volunteer opportunities from beach cleanups to water quality monitoring. Check them out here.
Amazon just got better. When you shop for all your needs on Amazon, remember to go to smile.amazon.com instead and designate San Diego Coastkeeper to receive 0.5% of your purchase every time you shop, at no additional cost to you! Sign In Here.
- Ralphs Rewards Card
Now, you can shop for groceries and donate to San Diego Coastkeeper. Thanks to Ralphs Community Contribution Program, every time you use your Ralphs Rewards card, a portion of your purchase will automatically be donated to San Diego Coastkeeper. So go on, shop at Ralphs today – and don’t forget your reusable bags! Enroll Here.
Want to wear locally sourced, 100% organic cotton apparel? PuraKai clothing is ocean friendly and when you purchase the San Diego Coastkeeper shirt, $5 will be donated to San Diego Coastkeeper.
- Art House United
These handmade bracelets are made from 100% reclaimed leather. You can rock the San Diego Coastkeeper leather bracelet and 50% of your purchase will be donated to San Diego Coastkeeper, or you can wear any reclaimed leather bracelet and 10% of your purchase will be donated to San Diego Coastkeeper. Now that’s stylish.
- Sand Cloud
Sand Cloud is dedicated to protecting our waters with unique beach towels and beach apparel. When you purchase items from Sand Cloud, a portion of your purchase is donated to San Diego Coastkeeper. We know that in San Diego, you can never have too many beach towels, so go on and support towels that give back.
The 18th annual Seaside Soiree is coming up! This year’s event runs from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. with VIP Entertainment and Boat Rides starting at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28 at the Bali Hai. Here are just a few reasons why you should be stoked for the Seaside Soiree!
- You have an excuse to drink Bali Hai’s famous mai tais. This year’s Seaside Soiree will take place at the Bali Hai on Shelter Island, so if you’ve been dying to try one of Bali Hai’s World Famous Mai Tais, now is your chance! Trust me, you won’t need the summer sun to get an afterglow from these punchy drinks.
- You can shake hands with Bobby. Someone must have mentioned the Koch brothers, because Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. will give a keynote address to guests at the event! I mean, who wouldn’t want to say they’ve rubbed elbows with a Kennedy?
- Although it’s not summer, you can still wear your Hawaiian shirt. Didn’t get a chance to wear your Hawaiian shirt this summer? Worry not, this event is at the Bali Hai, so tropical patterns are totally appropriate. Besides, we all know that environmentalists love nature-themed prints.
- Because 20 years of fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters is worth celebrating. It’s been twenty years since two gutsy water lovers took action to stop the toxic dumping that was slowly killing San Diego Bay. We are celebrating San Diego’s new water recycling program after a 15-year battle, twelve years of volunteer water quality data collection, free environmental STEM education lessons, and beach water quality testing that can deliver water quality results to your phone in hours rather than days…and many more accomplishments to come!
- Did we mention Bali Hai’s mai tais? Do I even have to explain?
- You can shamelessly stuff your face with delicious food. Good news: grazing is completely allowed at this event with our roaming buffet. You’ll get to gorge on some mouth-watering Polynesian food while socializing with water conservation hot shots.
- You might even win something. Wouldn’t it be great if you came home with something awesome? Bring your competitive spirit and winning strategy to try your luck for some great prizes at our opportunity drawing and auction.
- Water is kind of a big deal. In case you haven’t noticed, California is in a bit of a drought. This event raises money to support San Diego Coastkeeper’s work on water quality and water supply issues in San Diego County. Since we all need fishable, swimmable, and drinkable water, it’s a cause worth supporting.
- You can enjoy a gorgeous San Diego sunset by the water. At this evening event, you’ll have the chance to watch the sunset over San Diego Bay while mingling at the edge of the beautiful waters you’re helping protect.
- It’s going to be a blast. Bobby Kennedy, potent mai tais, yummy food, and a beautiful sunset. Need I say more?