Two Hours: Tell Governor Brown We Need Water Quality Results Faster

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

surf-divaThis last legislative session was good for California’s waters. Our elected officials passed a package of bills to initiate regulation on the use of our overtapped groundwater resources, — a long time in the making. They also passed a bill that makes California the first state to ban single-use plastic bags, an issue San Diego Coastkeeper has passionately pushed for many years. The statewide California Coastkeeper Alliance represented the environmental voice at the capital, working tirelessly to educate legislators and advocate for strong bills.

But there’s one-little-known bill that they passed for which I am super thrilled–SB1395. Officially known as “Public beaches: inspection for contaminants,” this new law has the potential to change the way we monitor beaches for public health. We unofficially call it: rapid water quality information to keep us safe at beaches.

Currently, state law mandates that public health officers monitor our beaches for fecal indicator bacteria and issue an advisory when the beach has a high bacteria count. We use these date to update our Swim Guide beach closure map.


There is one (major) problem with this testing program. The county uses the same tests we use at Coastkeeper in our lab. This test requires the county to culture out the bacteria, a process that takes 18-48 hours. This time difference between sampling and results means water quality warnings actually say: “This beach should have been closed yesterday; today we should keep it closed.” And because the county needs two clean tests to reopen a beach, it could be closed for three days.

About a year ago, we discussed this health issue with County Supervisor Greg Cox, and we told him about a new way to quantify the amount of bacteria in the water. Instead of the culturing process, we can measure the amount of fecal indicator bacteria DNA present in a water sample. This quicker method is called quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). We can have results in two to four hours as opposed to 24 hours. This means we can close the beach the same day as the sampling happens AND reopen beaches a whole day earlier than we can now.

LabSamples 9Mphoto 3Supervisor Cox’s 2013 State of the County speech pleasantly surprised us when he directed county staff to do a one-year pilot study to look into the feasibility of using qPCR to monitor our beaches. On the heels of that study, Supervisor Cox worked with State Senator Marty Block to introduce a bill allowing public health officers to choose to use this new testing method. This is the bill that was passed recently and waits for the Governor’s signature.

We give thanks to Supervisor Cox, Senator Block and our partners at the California Coastkeeper Alliance for their efforts in helping to protect our state’s beaches and the health of all beach users. Now, it’s up to Governor Brown to sign this bill and make it a reality for the state.

Please join us in urging Governor Brown to sign this bill. You can contact him at this link.


San Diego Bay: What’s new in the massive cleanup?

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

fisherman san diego bayFor three decades, toxins sat in the sediment at the bottom of San Diego Bay, a legacy of poor practices at the shipyards of yesteryear.

What was once a thriving ecosystem went dead.

Even after the Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered a cleanup, San Diego Coastkeeper and its allies spent years advocating for a plan that would protect both the environment and the communities through which the toxic waste would be hauled. Finally, in 2013, the cleanup began with the dredging of the southernmost of two sites.

Legal battles among the responsible parties has prevented cleanup of the northern site. On July 22, 2014, the San Diego City Council approved funds for a portion of the cleanup so that it could begin.

Thank you City of San Diego. We’re pleased to see the City following through on its obligations to clean San Diego Bay, and we hope that remediation activities will now begin. We attended the council meeting when the council approved the funds so that we could give them our “attaboy.” We wanted to let them know that we are watching and urge that no further obstacle stand in the way of a complete cleanup, as ordered by the Regional Board.

Our bay provides sustenance, recreation and industry. It deserves nothing less.

Bioassessment: The bugs tell the story

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

bugsA 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. 

bioassessmentAt 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.

water quality tests

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!

Photographic Evidence

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.

Coastkeeper’s 2013 Water Quality Monitoring Results

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

2013 water quality monitoring results



Watershed Average Score Score Range
Los Penasquitos Watershed 81 Good
San Diego Watershed 81 Good
San Luis Rey Watershed 79 Fair
San Dieguito Watershed 72 Fair
Carlsbad Watershed 64 Marginal
Sweetwater Watershed 64 Marginal
Pueblo Watershed 59 Marginal
Otay Watershed 49 Marginal
Tijuana Watershed 14 Poor

Four Ways to Stay Informed about the San Diego Bay Shipyards Cleanup

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

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.

TSD-Clean-Bay-Project-Maphe 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  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.


Mission Bay Revealed

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper
san diego beachIn 1892, the women of ZLAC Rowing Club first set oar to water and later moved to the club’s current location on Mission Bay. In 1995 San Diego Coastkeeper set about protecting our region’s waters. On Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the groups joined to present a two hour exploration of the theme, “Is Mission Bay Gross.” Four area experts reviewed Mission Bay’s ecological history, its current water quality, the City’s plans for maintaining and improving the health of the Bay and ways community members can get involved in finding and fixing problems.
• Rob Hutsel, executive director of San Diego River Park Foundation, discussed Mission Bay’s history (complete with some great old pictures & maps) and how it was transformed into one of the biggest recreational assets in San Diego. He revealed historical changes of the course of water flowing to the Bay from the San Diego River, and the Bay’s water circulation patterns throughout the year. His presentation to come.
• Dr. John Griffith, department head of microbiology of Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, compared Mission Bay’s water quality status with similar water bodies in the region. A water quality expert, he reviewed who does the testing, what kinds of tests are done, and what connects government water quality standards and human health. His presentation to come.
• Ruth Kolb, program manager at City of San Diego Transportation and Stormwater Department, discussed how Mission Bay got its bad reputation and how the City of San Diego has acted to improve the Bay’s water quality. See her presentation here.
• Mallory Watson, Community Engagement Coordinator at San Diego Coastkeeper, shared her expertise about current problems Coastkeeper sees affecting Mission Bay’s water quality and how community members can become involved in identifying and reporting problems and improving the water quality. See her presentation here.
At the end of the evening, we concluded that Mission Bay has come a long way from gross to great. Like with all water bodies that might suffer pollution, we suggest you check the Swim Guide for the most recent closure information before diving in. But the many swimming, boating and park recreational opportunities throughout the park are unique, fantastic and we’d say that today, Mission Bay is a Gem.
Join us at future informative events and volunteer opportunities by visiting the San Diego Coastkeeper calendar.

Dredging, Drying, Trucking, and Testing: The Ins and Outs of the San Diego Bay Cleanup

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Water quality in San Diego Bay may start improving as early as September 15 of this year, when removal of the bay’s toxic sediment, the ground beneath the water, is scheduled to begin. The cleanup is slated to remove 159,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from a 63-acre site near the NASSCO and BAE Systems shipyards just south of the Coronado Bridge. Those responsible for discharging the pollutants, including landowners and their tenants, are responsible for funding the cleanup.

During the cleanup, toxic sediment will be dredged from the bay bottom using a clamshell bucket specifically designed to minimize the spread of contaminates. Sediment will be dropped onto nearby barges and transported to shore, where it will be dried and mixed with a chemical compound to promote solidification. Sediment will then be tested to determine pollutant concentration (this may also be done while the sediment is still under water, a process known as in situ sampling) and will finally be transported by truck to the appropriate landfill disposal facility.

Water quality will be monitored both during and after the cleanup to determine its success. Monitoring stations will be located 250 and 500 feet from the dredge area, and a reference station will be located at 1000 feet to provide baseline measurements. A double-layered silt curtain will also be placed around the dredge area to prevent contaminated sediment from traveling into open water, which would compromise water quality.

Measures are also in place, and further plans are being developed, to reduce the cleanup’s impact on neighborhoods adjacent to the project site. Once dry, toxic sediment may become airborne and endanger air quality. To protect air quality, the permits require dried sediment to be controlled while it is stockpiled on shore or being transported. Also, cleanup operations are scheduled to run 24 hours per day and 6 to 7 days per week*, so requirements are being designed to protect residents from the noise and air pollution associated with ongoing truck traffic.

San Diego Coastkeeper has been actively involved in determining the ins and outs of the cleanup since it was ordered by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board in 2012. Waterkeeper Jill Witkowski collaborated with other stakeholders to create a cleanup implementation plan and Coastkeeper’s work in setting the terms of the cleanup’s waste discharge permit was recently lauded by the Regional Board. Coastkeeper also submitted comments to the San Diego Unified Port District regarding the cleanup’s coastal development permits, which were issued yesterday. The final permit that must be granted before the cleanup can begin is a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers. This permit is necessary when a project will add any material to or remove any material from waters of the United States. If all of the required permits are issued, the long-awaited cleanup of San Diego Bay will get underway this fall. Great news for those of us who love the bay!

* Dredging is scheduled to occur between September 15 and March 31 of each of three years to avoid the nesting season of the endangered California Least Tern, which lives within the project site.

Coastkeeper Makes Waves at the Water Board: San Diego Bay Cleanup on Horizon

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper


Yesterday was a big day for San Diego Bay. The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a waste discharge permit for cleanup at the shipyard sites just south of the Coronado Bridge. This permit allows the cleanup to move forward and imposes requirements that will protect water quality while toxic sediment, the ground beneath the water, is removed from the bay.

The Regional Board called upon all dischargers listed in the Cleanup and Abatement Order to get involved in cleaning up San Diego Bay. Waterkeeper Jill Witkowski has collaborated with representatives from NASSCO and BAE Systems since the Order was issued in March 2012 and yesterday defended the work that those corporations have done to move the cleanup forward. The power of that collaboration was clear when NASSCO and BAE Systems supported all of the permit revisions that Coastkeeper proposed, which were accepted by the Regional Board.

Regional Board Vice Chair Gary Strawn thanked Coastkeeper publicly for the thoughtful, detailed comments that we submitted on the draft waste discharge permit. He appreciated our sharp eye in making sure that the permit was robust and followed the Order as well as the implementation plan developed by cleanup stakeholders.

The next step for the cleanup is to receive a coastal development permit from the Port of San Diego. Coastkeeper’s involvement in the cleanup will continue when our legal team attends the Port’s July 16 hearing on the issue. If you want to make sure San Diego Bay gets clean, join us at the hearing and say so!


Coastkeeper is Making Sure San Diego Bay Gets Clean

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Here is an update on the San Diego Bay Cleanup from student attorney Courtney Cole.
To learn more about our legal clinic, click here.

Toxic chemicals released during ship building and repair have accumulated in the sediment below San Diego Bay for decades, threatening aquatic life, aquatic-dependent wildlife, and human health. Last March, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board issued an order requiring those responsible for the discharge to remove the contaminated sediment and restore water quality in San Diego Bay.

San Diego Coastkeeper recently submitted comments on the cleanup’s Waste Discharge Requirements, regulations designed to protect water quality while sediment is being dredged. Our primary concern is that dischargers are required to conduct the cleanup in the manner most protective of water quality and the communities surrounding the project site. Also, protocol should be presented as clearly and specifically as possible to ensure that it is followed.

San Diego Coastkeeper has been committed to seeing contaminated sediment removed from San Diego Bay for over twenty years. Our involvement in the cleanup will continue when Coastkeeper’s legal team, with Waterkeeper Jill Witkowski at the helm, attends the Regional Water Quality Control Board hearing on July 10 to voice our concerns. If you want to make sure San Diego Bay gets clean, join us at the hearing and say so!

Download Our Swim Guide App

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

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.swimguide

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 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!