Preventing San Diego’s Silent Spring: What can be done about water pollution?

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

On Wednesday February 6, I had a chance to speak at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in a lecture series on the anniversary of Rachel Carson’s landmark book Silent Spring. I had my first experience with Carson’s book in an Environmental Ethics course in college. Carson described Silent Spring as a cautionary fable which talks about what will happen if we don’t think about how we are impacting our environment. This book, with its new ideas and revolutionary environmental message, went a long way in launching the environmental movement and regulating the chemicals industry.

Take DDT for example. Back in the 50s, DDT was developed to protect children from disease-carrying insects like mosquitoes. It was so “safe” that people were literally stood in front of it and were physically fumigated, while children’s wallpaper was laced with Daffy Duck-n-DDT. However, it was learned that DDT is a bio-accumulating organism that could work its way up the food chain—posing significant risks to other species besides insects, like birds and eagles.

Although it was banned in 1972, over 1.2 billion pounds of DDT had made its way into our waterways— killing unintended victims of our ecosystem like the water flea. Even once it was replaced with Diazinon, when we use these pesticides on our plants, we encounter the problem of urban drool.

Urban drool occurs when chemicals run off our plants, streets and sidewalks, and into our storm drains. Since our storm drains go directly into our waterways without any processing, chemicals like Diazinon (and other “ safe and organic” alternatives from chrysanthemums) act as poisonous toxins to aquatic organisms.

So how can we stop urban drool from contaminating our waterways?

  • Only use what you need.
  • Adjust your timing and water distribution on your sprinkler system.
  • Sweep up grass clippings, don’t throw them down the storm drains.
  • When you wash your car, wash it on your lawn or take it to a professional car wash that will capture the water that runs off your car and send it to the storm sewer.
  • If you can’t teach your dog to pick up after itself, pick up after it yourself!
  • Support local businesses and buy organic plants!
  • Don’t fertizile your lawn before it rains, so it can fully soak in before any runoff might occur.
  • Soak up any oil spots on your driveway or street with cat litter.

San Luis Rey Watershed

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

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.

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Photo Credit Shannon Switzer, girlchasesglobe.com

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.

Oncorhynchus_mykissLike 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.

 

Pueblo Watershed

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

This is part 3 of a 5 part 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 third part, we are going to take a look at the Pueblo watershed.

The Pueblo Watershed is San Diego County’s smallest, and most urbanized, watershed. This roughly 60 square mile watershed drains into San Diego Bay. The Pueblo Watershed runs through the heart of the City of San Diego and it’s boundaries overlap with portions of the Lemon Grove, La Mesa, and National City. The main creek running through the watershed is Chollas Creek, which has two main forks that run through the most densely populated part of the City. As a result, we have altered and lost much of it’s native habitat. Chollas Creek is straightened, channelized, or driven underground in various places.

Prior to development, the watershed supported a coastal scub habitat that was home to plant and animal species that were tolerant to the long dry seasons we have in San Diego. Much of this habitat has been developed away, transforming to heavy and light industry, parking lots ans strip malls, and houses with irrigated landscapes. Chollas creek itself was straightened, channelized, or driven underground in various places through pipes and culverts.

The extensive hydromodification of the creek has resulted in the loss of almost all of the natural habitat associated with the creek. In fact, the creek is so altered that nearby residents often don’t know there is a river flowing through their neighborhood. Now, only the tributary canyons offer some habitat for animals like the threatened Cactus Wren.Pueblo_Trash_Credit__NASSCO

In general, our monitoring program found the creek has high levels of ammonia, phosphorus, fecal bacteria and trash. These pollutants are signatures of dense urban development. During the rainy season, these pollutants are carried from inland sources into the creek and out to the bay. The nutrients contribute to an excess of of algae growing in the creek and the trash contributes to our marine debris problem. For an good visual of how nutrients can affect water quality, check out this youtube video I made last year. Look at what a difference of a few drops of fertilizer can do water quality.

Fortunately there are a number of organizations trying to reverse this declining trend. Groundwork San Diego, Chollas Creek; The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation; and San Diego Canyonlands are working to restore the watershed’s natural hydrology and habitat. See what they are working on here . The Environmental Health Coalition is working hard on environmental justice issues in the area which will help abate some of the problems the area’s residents face by living so close to industrial and transportation centers.

Local municipalities are a part of the solution, as well.The city of San Diego has developed the Chollas Creek Enhancement Plan to guide it’s and other organizations efforts for repairing the creek. The local cities have also developed an urban runoff management plan for watersheds draining into San Diego Bay that sets up the programs for reducing the urban pollution.

There is a lot of work to be done in this watershed. It’s going to take many years of effort, but I have a vision of a vibrant creek supporting native habitat with parks and trails right in the middle of our city.

Los Peñasquitos

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

This is part 2 of a 5 part 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 second part, we are going to take a look at the Los Peñasuitos lagoon.

Water Quality Data Supports Restoration of Los Peñasquitos

Los_Pen_historicThe Los Peñasquitos watershed comprise two separate and distinct drainages: the Los Peñasquitos Creek watershed, which drains into the Los Peñasquitos lagoon and the Mission Bay watershed, which drains into Mission Bay. The combined watershed lies almost entirely west of Interstate 15, and comprises a rough triangle between parts of Del Mar, Mission Bay and Poway.

For the 2009 – 2010 dataset, Los Peñasquitos watershed received a score of “Good” on our water quality index. This does not mean, however, that the watershed is healthy. Our scoring system is not comprehensive, it only looks at what we measure in the water monitoring program. Factors other than chemistry play a part in watershed health. Let’s take a look at the problem’s Los Peñasquitos faces.

The story of Los Peñasquitos’s water quality problems is a story of rapid development. Take a look at these two aerial satellite shots. The top is from 1994, and the bottom is from 2010:

From 1973 to 2000, runoff into the creek increased by 200% , or about four percent per year. This water picks up pollutants such as nutrients from fertilizer and metals from road surfaces as it flows across the developed areas. In this watershed, dry weather urban runoff (overwatering, for example) increases the total nitrogen, total phosphorus and fecal indicator bacteria problems in the creeks.

Excessive sediments in the creek are a major problem for the Los Peñasquitos Lagoon. The deposition and build up of sediments into the lagoon alters the natural exchange of freshwater and seawater. This has led to the destruction of sensitive saltmarsh habitat. As a result of this habitat degradation, invasive plants and animals are replacing the sensitive native flora and fauna of the lagoon.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board has just finished up the cleanup plan for this sedimentation. Pre-1970’s levels of sedimentation will increase the amount of saltwater marsh habitat. It won’t be a quick process, however. the sediment reduction is scheduled to happen in the next 10 years.

This watershed highlights the need to consider water quality issues on a watershed basis. The increasingly rapid sedimentation of the lagoon is driven in a large part by land use decisions. The vast majority of our urban runoff pollution comes from upland areas. Water quality improvements will happen if we take a holistic, watershed view of water protection. Read more about how Jill and our brilliant student attorneys are starting this process with the new stormwater permits.

Maintaining High Quality Data

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

This is part 1 of a 5 part 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 first part, we are going to examine the high quality nature of the data generated by the water monitoring program.
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Last month we trained our 700th water monitoring volunteer. I am proud of the work that our many water monitoring volunteers do. Their dedication and skill is admirable to us in the lab and to the rest of the organization.

I am most proud of the high quality data our volunteers are able to produce. The data they generate can stand up on it’s own with any other laboratory.  Ensuring high quality data is important to monitoring programs because high quality data tells a better story than questionable data. If you cannot be sure about the accuracy of a dataset, you cannot use it to identify and fix problems.

How do water monitoring volunteers collect good data?

The first step in ensuring high quality data is to have sampling methods that reduce the chance for errors. Any of the field samplers will tell you that the methods we use are a little bit over the top. We use a method developed by the EPA called Clean Hands/Dirty Hands. This method was developed for measuring very, very small amounts of metals in the water. Since the concentrations are so small, even a little bit of contamination can really mess things up. Even though it can be a bit of a pain, it seriously reduces the amount of sample contamination


We also have a pretty stringent Quality Assurance Project Plan , that describes all the field and laboratory process we go through to make sure only good data is kept, and poor quality data is discarded. This plan has been read over and approved by California Department of Water Resources, San Diego County Water Authority, and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. Among other things, randomly assigned sites have duplicate samples taken, randomly assigned samples are run in the lab twice, and clean distilled water is tested. If these duplicate or blank results show some funny business, we will look hard at the data and throw out possibly questionable data.

Our volunteers generate professional quality research data and should feel proud of the work they do. I know I am.

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Pueblo Watershed

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

This is part 3 of a 5 part 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 third part, we are going to take a look at the Pueblo watershed.


The Pueblo Watershed is San Diego County’s smallest, and most urbanized, watershed. The roughly 60 square mile watershed drains into San Diego Bay. The Pueblo Watershed runs through the heart of the City of San Diego and it’s boundaries overlap with portions of the Lemon Grove, La Mesa, and National City. The main creek running through the watershed is Chollas Creek, which has two main forks that run through the most densely populated part of the City. As a result, we have altered and lost much of it’s native habitat. Chollas Creek is straightened, channelized, or driven underground in various places.

The extensive hydromodification of the creek has resulted in the loss of almost all of the natural habitat associated with the creek. In fact, the creek is so altered that nearby residents often don’t know there is a river flowing in their neighborhood. Only the tributary canyons offer some habitat for animals like the threatened Cactus Wren.Pueblo_Trash_Credit__NASSCO

In general, our monitoring program found the creek has high levels of ammonia, phosphorus, and trash. During the rainy season, these pollutants are carried from inland sources into the creek and out to the bay. The nutrients contribute to an excess of of algae growing in the creek and the trash contributes to our marine debris problem.


Fortunately there are a number of organizations trying to reverse this declining trend. Groundwork San Diego, Chollas Creek; The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation; and San Diego Canyonlands are working to restore the watershed’s natural hydrology and habitat.  The Environmental Health Coalition is working hard on environmental justice issues in the area which will help abate some of the problems the area’s residents face by living so close to industrial and transportation centers.

The Shipyard Cleanup Needs a Clear Communication Plan

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

For years, shipyards dumped pollutants into the sediments of San Diego’s waters.

Since the approval of the cleanup plan, they’ve been good about listening to our feedback on how to cleanup the problem, but they haven’t been good about listening to yours.

The Remedial Action Plan, adopted back in March, set forth a strong cleanup order to get metal discharges and other pollutant wastes out of the sediment. The plan outlined how the shipyards were to dredge without harming water quality, and to make sure no more pollutants end up in our water. It has specific goals for these shipyards to reach. And the shipyards have done a good job at incorporating our feedback on how to reach those goals.

But why aren’t they incorporating your feedback?

The Shipyard Sediment Site Group needs a new communication plan. The current one isn’t cutting it. Right now, their plan is to essentially to direct people over to the Water Board’s site, which is full of lengthy PDFs that do nothing but confuse the average citizen.

In their current Community Relations Plan, the group acknowledges, “the community needs to have access to information and have the opportunity to understand how the remedial action may affect them.” Acknowledging that is great, but making sure it happens is the only thing that matters.

The Shipyard Sediment Site Group needs its own website, one that’s constantly updated with information on everything the group is doing. Simply sending out newsletters doesn’t get the job done. The “Potential Community Relations Tools and Materials” in the current Community Relations Plan lists advertisements, information displays, blogs, comment databases, presentations, briefing packets, and a website to name a few. Where are they?

The Shipyard Sediment Site Group is starting to make progress, and Coastkeeper is appreciative that they’ve been responsive to our feedback. But without a strong community relations plan, the public, who are the real stakeholders, has no way of giving their input in this case. The public needs to be able to see the changes that are happening, and comment on them. This is a two-way street.

What do you think the Shipyard Sediment Site Group can do to better increase community input?

We Want You: Help Us Start a Community Advisory Council

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Do you or someone you know have concerns about clean water in your community? Make your voice heard and get the tools and support to make the changes you deserve.

San Diego Coastkeeper is forming a Community Advisory Council to connect us with local communities. We want to learn about water problems in San Diego’s communities faces–and then solve them.

What is Coastkeeper Doing?

As you know, we’re a local organization led by motivated and passionate staff and volunteers who protect and restore fishable, swimmable and drinkable water in San Diego County. We want to help communities find and fix local, water-related problems.

Be a voice for your community.

Coastkeeper needs San Diego County residents to serve as founding members of the advisory council. The goal? To identify water-related problems in your community and find solutions for those problems.

Positive change starts with individual actions. As a founding member of the council, you will have the opportunity to share your community’s concerns with Coastkeeper and other concerned residents from the county. The 2012-2013 council will help design council leadership and goals, meeting format and frequency and other key communications.

You will become an integral part of the San Diego Coastkeeper team by representing your community and participating in decision-making processes. All council members receive a complimentary membership to San Diego Coastkeeper.

Interested in joining?

Submit an application by August 31, 2012. Individuals selected for the 2012-2013 Community Advisory Council will be notified via phone or email by October 1, 2012. For more information, contract our community engagement coordinator at 619-758-7743 ext. 131 or at mallory@sdcoastkeeper.org.

 

 

Go Jump Off A Boat: It’s Swimmable Day in San Diego

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Snorkeling for lures.

That’s how I describe my childhood.

I grew up near the McKenzie River in Walterville, Ore. That’s just upstream from Eugene/Springfield area. Every summer my brother and I rode our bicycles to the “beach” on the river a mile from our house. (Yes, I did just call it the beach. You see, in Oregon, going to the beach means playing at the sandy swimming hole on the river). We’d lock our bikes to a tree and head upstream for about a half mile with our snorkels and fins. Just before the little trail hit private property, we’d balance our way out on a fallen tree from which we’d launch into the river. We snorkeled left and right, deep fishing holes and shallow ones too, collecting every treasure we could find.

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This is not Oregon. This is from a recent hike in the Narrows in Zion National Park in Utah. My early childhood playing in the McKenzie River led me to lifelong pursuits of playing in Swimmable waters.

Occasionally we’d see sunken beer cans and one time we found a wallet with a wedding ring in it. And we’d always see lures. New ones too, that some unexpecting fisherman just bought from the tackle store up the road, only to snag it on a boulder or branch caught underwater.

We’d carefully collect the lures and when we had enough, we’d have a garage sale and sell them back to the same fisherman heading down our street to the best fishing holes in town. What a business model!

It’s because of memories like these that I’m proud to celebrate the Clean Water Act’s 40th anniversary–this federal law helps organizations across the nation keep America’s waters fishable, swimmable and drinkable.

Today, the Waterkeeper Alliance joins to celebrate swimmable waters. Today, I will swim in the ocean.

Here at San Diego Coastkeeper, we work tirelessly to protect and restore fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego. We want you to create your own memories about swimming at La Jolla Cove or surfing in Imperial Beach that you can carry with you wherever you live. Because these are the moments that matter in life and will be the stories that we share over a cup of coffee or during a long walk on the beach.

Today, we want you to take a break from signing letters, advocating for water efficiency and worrying about storm water permits so that you can enjoy Swimmable waters.

Go jump off a boat. Kayak into the sunset. Shred a wave. Train for a tri. Today we celebrate the Clean Water Act and San Diego’s swimmable waters.

The Swim Guide

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Hopefully you all have seen our new and improved beach status webpage and smartphone app. If not, check it out at our Beach Status webpage. It has never been easier to check for beach closures and advisories.

So, how does it work?

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The San Diego County Department of Environmental health is in charge of issuing beach closures and advisories. Every morning, the county sends a team of samplers to take water samples from our beaches. Each beach is tested once a week. They are looking for the quantity of fecal indicator bacteria (Nerd Alert – They are specifically looking at E. coli and enterococci species). These species of bacteria do not necessarily pose a direct human health risk. They are, however, strongly correlated with human health risk. So while enterococcus may not get you sick, high level

s of enterococcus usually means there are elevated levels of pathogens like viruses and the type of bacteria that give you, um, “intestinal distress”. So why not measure viruses and other microbes that actually make you sick? Well, the indicator bacteria are easier, faster and much less expensive to measure. With the same dollars, the county is able to cover more area and have results quickly posted. (Fun Fact! – the county uses the same exact tests to measure beach water as our volunteers use to measure inland water as part of our water monitoring program).

How does this information make it to our website?

Every morning, the county looks at all the beach water quality data and decides whether or not the beach meets EPA guidelines for safe swimming. They also take into account other factors that would make ocean water unsafe for swimming.

This is a good time to talk about the levels of beach warnings the county issues. The county has three different levels of warnings. We all know what open means, the beach is safe for swimming. They can also issue a contact advisory, meaning water contact should be avoided. They use this level of warning when the bacteria sampling comes up high or a rain event has washed down urban runoff pollutants into the water. They usually don’t put up a sign for contact advisories, so without checking our swim guide, a swimmer usually doesn’t know about these ones. They also issue straight closures. These are issues after a known sewage spill or when the Tijuana River is running into Imperial Beach. In this case they will close the beach off, hang signs saying it’s dangerous to swim, and have lifeguards kick people out of the water.  In order to open the beach back up, the county has to have several days worth of testing that shows indicator bacteria within safe health standards. For example, if it rains more than 0.2 inches, they know that all our beaches are going to be impacted by urban runoff and probably unsafe for swimming so they will issue a contact advisory.

How does the Swim Guide fit in?

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The county does all of the testing and issuing of closures, but they don’t really have the resources to get the word out.There is a number you can call and listen to a recording, but honestly maps are way cooler. So several years ago, we at San Diego Coastkeeper partnered with the County Department of Environmental Health to help them spread the word. Every morning they send me an email with which beaches are open and which are closed.  I translate that to a handy, easy to read, map so that information is more accessible to you, the beach user.  San Diego Coastkeeper does not decide which beaches are open or closed. We just pass along information from the county.

The Swim Guide was developed by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and we thought it was super cool. All of the different coastal waterkeepers in California got together and brought it to our beaches. SO if you get the phone app, it will work for beaches all over the state. Each county has slightly different procedures, but the meaning is the same. Wherever you are in California (or Lake Ontario) the Swim Guide App will be able to make sure you are swimming in safe beaches.

Go to our Beach Status webpage to see current beach conditions and download links for smart phone apps. Pretty soon we’ll have a way of embedding the map in your webpage. So if you are a community group, surf shop, or beachside coffee shop, you can help ensure folks have the most up to the date safe swimming information.