Clinic Reaches Milestone in Sediment Contamination Process

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

On March 11, our advocacy staff closed one chapter in a very long, contentious, and arduous book: cleaning up the toxic legacy of sediment contamination in San Diego Bay.  Though not one dredged scoop of toxic sediment has been removed, March 11 marked the end of the discovery period.

This year-long process allowed all the affected parties, those named by the Regional Water Quality Control Board for causing pollution and public watchdog groups San Diego Coastkeeper and the Environmental Health Coalition, to gather information to make their cases. The year was marked by an avalanche of information demanded of the environmental groups, including 841 written requests and more than a month of live witness depositions – three aimed at environmental staff and experts.  Staff ably rose to the challenge, completing the discovery and both defending and taking depositions. The information we gathered will be critical to gaining a protective and scientifically defensible cleanup of the Bay.  A briefing and public comment period will take place over the summer, with a final hearing currently scheduled for mid-October.




Do You Need a Permit to Clean Your Bottom?

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

The Unified Port of San Diegophoto_hullinspection is currently proposing that independent hull divers and companies employing hull divers be required to carry permits in order to conduct in-water hull cleaning.  The fuel stoking this fire is an abundant amount of dissolved copper polluting San Diego Bay.  Copper is used in hull paints as an anti-fouling agent, and when inexperienced divers clean the hull, paint chips containing copper particles slough off into the water.  This leads to copper accumulation in the bottom of the bay where all marine suffers, not just the little guys attaching themselves to boat bottoms. While the Port is gathering additional information on the permitting process, including further comment from the public, boaters can be proactive by taking precautionary measures when hiring hull divers.

Consider the Environment
·    Use only certified CPDA (California Professional Divers Association) divers to clean the hull of your boat.

Research Leads to Knowledge
·    Use non-toxic/non-copper paint alternatives the next time you paint the boat.

Knowledge is Power
·    Know what type of paint is on your hull and pass this along to your diver.  What type of paint is on your hull, how old is it, and when the last time the hull was cleaned?  This allows the diver to choose the correct brush & technique when cleaning.

Clean Your Bottom Frequently
·    Hull cleaning on a regular basis limits the amount of pressure needed to rid the fouling agents. Less pressure means less copper leaching into the bay.

Water Testing with the San Dieguito River Park

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

One of the great things about our Water Quality Monitoring Program is that we have an opportunity to help other groups investigate their efforts at improving water quality.

Our newest partner organization, San Dieguito River Park, recently restored the tidal wetland area of the San Dieguito lagoon. In order to minimize the impacts of urban runoff on the lagoon, they built a series of four treatment ponds to capture the stormwater runoff from the surrounding residential area. These wetland ponds will hopefully be able to filter out pollutants from the runoff water before it dumps into the fragile lagoon.

In December, we tested the water coming in and going out of the wetland, and the results were very interesting. These three graphs show a sampling of the data collected. It looks like the treatment ponds successfully filtered out the Nitrogen-based nutrients (Ammonia and Nitrate) and increased the level of Dissolved Oxygen. In marine ecosystems, nitrogen is often the limiting nutrient. When you increase the levels of nitrogen, algae and phytoplankton have a chance to grow like crazy, a process known as eutrophication. These algae blooms tend to block available light to the plants we want to be growing in the estuary. Also, when they die and start to decompose, significant amounts of dissolved oxygen gets used up, further stressing out the coastal organisms.




Keep in mind that this data represents one sample at each location for one day, so it’s not very representative yet of the full potential of these treatment ponds. I am excited to see the results over the coming years as the treatment wetland area matures.

Read more about the San Dieguito River Park. They have a ton of volunteer opportunities that you can check out. If you want the opportunity to get out and take samples for the water monitoring project get in touch with our volunteer coordinator. And as always, you can check out the water monitoring data on our watershed wiki.

The spark that lights the San Diego water quality monitoring fire

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Amanda, Chris and Taya test for pollution in water samples from throughout the region.

The third Saturday morning of the month is one of those times that I always look forward to on the calendar.  While I’m sure most of the world is pumped for some college football, turning on their favorite cartoon or gearing up for some fun weekend adventure, I’m firing up my Vespa and charging full throttle from PB, past Mission Bay, over the Ingraham Bridge, and past those “adult establishments” on Sports Arena Boulevard.

I always smile as I swing a hard left into the Einstein’s Bros. Bagels on the corner of Midway and Rosecrans because I know my friend Debbie is waiting with the two giant bags of bagels she donates every month to the volunteers in our Water Quality Monitoring program.  They are always super fresh, tasty and chocked full of carbs to fuel our volunteer’s adventures through San Diego’s major watersheds.

I stuff a few bagel bites (the cinnamon are my favorite) in my mouth, hop back on the Vespa and fly down to Liberty Station where another tasty treat awaits. Starbucks of Liberty Station on Truxtun Road is always on board to support the cause, and Elaina and crew always have a carrier or two of coffee ready and fresh from the press for our volunteers.  I grab an americano for the road, the caffeine kicks in and I get prepped for our amazing team of volunteers to arrive.  

I know how much the coffee and bagels help me get fired up for the day, and I know our volunteers feel the same way.  The San Diego Coastkeeper team knows how important it is to monitor San Diego water quality for pollution, and it’s great to have community businesses that feel the same way.

Thanks so much to Starbucks and Einstein Bros!

Thanksgiving dinner: it clogs your arteries and blocks sewer pipes

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

I’m Canadian. Among the many subtle (and not so subtle) differences between home and here is Thanksgiving. We do celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada but with a few differences: it is earlier in the year, it is always on a Monday and there is no “Black Tuesday.” But the essentials are the same – families come together around the table to celebrate a harvest feast that includes most of the same cornucopia of yummy and very rich, fatty dishes Americans eat (buttery mashed potatoes, candied yams, turkey, all covered in gravy). But one thing we don’t really do for the most part in Canada is the phenomenon that is the deep fried turkey. My co-worker was telling me that her family will put a turkey deep fryer out on their driveway, fry their bird and then slowly neighbors will make their way over to fry their bird one after the other. It takes about 3- 5 gallons of oil to deep fry a turkey, so this strategy is a great one – friends and neighbors make good use of the oil and have a good time while doing it.

Thanksgiving is a great time wherever you celebrate it but, as all the fat from those rich dishes start to course through your veins and you sluggishly push away from the table to loosen the top button of your pants, consider for a moment what happens to all the fat you did not eat? Which leads me to this question – what to do with all that fat still on your plates or sitting in your deep fryer?

Few people know or realize that the fat leftover from our cooking and eating has a direct link to keeping our oceans and beaches clean and safe. This is because the fat we send down our drain when we are cleaning up after dinner (any dinner, not just Thanksgiving) is a contributor to one of the most common causes of sewage spills in the United States. Nationally, approximately 80 percent of the sewage spills that happen are due to what people in the wastewater industry refer to as F.O.G. – Fats, oils, and grease. F.O.G. that goes down our drains can stick to the sides of the pipes and just like fat in our arteries, it can build up. Overtime, F.O.G. can build to enormous quantities in our sewage pipes and can lead to sewage spills.

Here in San Diego, we regularly have sewage spills because of F.O.G. Over the past year in San Diego County, 17 sewage spills were caused by F.O.G., releasing over 15,000 gallons of sewage, 6,215 of which reached surface waters in our area. Coastkeeper has been working for almost fifteen years to keep sewage out of the water in San Diego so we understand that preventing these types of spills is an important part of maintaining the health of our oceans.

So, the answer to my question is – don’t pour the F.O.G. in your sinks or toilets. Also, flushing grease down a drain with soapy, hot water only moves the problem further down the system, it doesn’t eliminate it. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Follow these simple guidelines put out by the City of San Diego.
  • For small amounts of F.O.G., scrape out or use paper towels to wipe your pans, and then place the F.O.G. or soiled paper towels in the garbage.
  • Pour excess fat into used milk or frozen juice cartons, let harden and then place it in your garbage.
  • For larger amounts of F.O.G. (like after deep frying that turkey), City of San Diego residents can recycle their cooking oil and grease at the Miramar Landfill Recycling Center. A cooking oil recycling bin is available to for disposal of up to 30 gallons of cooking oil and grease. There is no charge for the service.
  • I Love a Clean San Diego refers people to the closest place to recycle cooking oil all over the county.
  • Or maybe you can consider doing what the City of San Francisco did and put that cooking fat to work fueling your car!

Tijuana River Pollution Quiz

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Pop quiz time.

Which of these ammonia test results are from the Tijuana River?
Which of these phosphate test results are from the Tijuana River?

If you guessed the dark blue ones, you are correct! Give yourself an A.

These test tubes are some of the results from last weekend’s volunteer water quality monitoring event. The ammonia, nitrate, and phosphate levels in the Tijuana River were literally off the charts high. When it rains (which it recently had), the treatment facilities get overwhelmed and raw sewage flows into the river and out to the ocean. Our water quality tests show those trends in the water quality.

Check out Jen’s blog on July’s Tijuana River Valley sewage spill to learn more about efforts underway to fix this problem.  

You can check out the results of our water monitoring efforts at the watershed wiki. And don’t forget to check the current beach status before you head out into the water.

Bearded Pirate and Old Friend Joins the Ranks of Coastkeeper

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper


Captain Scott Schaad and First Mate (and Staff Accountant) Victor Vasquez on patrol for pollution

Scott Schaad still owes me 10 margaritas at Fred’s in Old Town. Granted it was a ridiculous bet years ago, but I’m still holding him to it. And as crazy as it seems, I forgot that I actually had free drinks waiting for me at one of my favorite Taco Tuesday spots. That was until I had the true pleasure of welcoming our newest Volunteer Boat Captain Scott Schaad to the Coastkeeper family last week.  

You see, Scott and I use to be co-trip leaders for Aztec Adventures, SDSU’s outdoor recreation program. Back in our undergrad days, Scott and I had the oh-so-terrible job of taking fellow students down to Baja’s beautiful and pristine coastline for weekend kayaking and surf trips. On one of these adventures, Scott and I were taking some students kayaking through a pristine coastline just south of Ensanda; a place I can only hope San Diego’s entire coastline looks like again someday. After a long day of paddling, Scott and I attempted to cook a delicious dinner and dessert for our eagerly awaiting group of students. Unfortunately, our dessert concoction turned out to be what could only be considered an ill-conceived sugar, butter and pumpkin flavored soup with overtones of burnt toast.

While the dessert was a complete disaster, Scott didn’t want to waste the valuable calories, so he bet me ten margaritas that I couldn’t eat the whole thing.  Of course I did, and to date, I haven’t redeemed my bounty.  

After those college adventures, Scott and I got busy with that whole pesky “real life” thing and kinda lost touch. Luckily, the winds of fate changed, and our other Volunteer Boat Captain and Programs Director at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center, Kevin, mentioned he knew a guy who would be interested in volunteering to help out with pollution patrols on our boat. That guy turned out to be my old friend Scotty Schaad, who is now working as the Lead Wakeboarding Instructor for the Aquatic Center.

We at Coastkeeper couldn’t be more stoked to welcome Scotty on board. With Kevin and Scott at the helm, our boat program is poised to take off.  I’ve had the chance to get to know both guys, and they both have a true passion for helping to protect our ocean ecosystems.


Captain Straw keeping a wary eye for violations of the Clean Water Act.

Our Coastkeeper staff has big plans to make the most of having these champions of the environment on board. Our toxic waterways crew has been out on the boat discussing ways to supplement the water quality data on our wiki with our boat program, and our education and outreach team is working with Scott and Kevin to reach out to the boating community to promote eco-friendly boating.

The best part of the whole story, for me, may be reconnecting with an old friend.  It’s always a great feeling to have such a good person in the mix, and even though I’m extremely grateful to Scott (and Kevin, of course!) for donating his time and energy . . . I’m still going to cash in on those margaritas.

The Treasure Hunt for Beach Monitoring and Notification

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

advisory“Arrgghh, whar be thy treasure?”

Ever since the elimination of state funding for beach water monitoring and public notification (AB411) in September 2008, the County of San Diego has been on a treasure hunt to find replacement funding for the Department of Environmental Health’s (DEH) Ocean Recreational Water Program.  So far, they have done pretty well in securing other funds from the state. (And Coastkeeper is assisting DEH by posting the beach status on its website. However, these have been short term funds and the most recent will expire Jan. 1, 2011.  

The County of San Diego is now holding its breath and hoping the State Water Resources Control Board will adopt a resolution to fund beach monitoring and notification programs for the county health departments. Not surprisingly, considering the state budget, this is another short term funding source.

San Diego Coastkeeper, Surfrider Foundation, and WiLDCOAST met with County of San Diego officials last spring to address this issue. While we have worked with County staff to streamline and improve the cost-effectiveness of its monitoring program and have supported past emergency funding requests to keep the program going, it was with the caveat that the County develop a long term, sustainable and local funding source for beach monitoring and public notification. We want the County to stop the state treasure hunt and own up to funding this program. Everyone agrees the county beaches are integral to the status of the county as a Southern California icon of ocean recreation. Everyone agrees that millions of visitors and residents alike enjoy these beaches and that the beach-related recreation and tourism generate millions of dollars for the San Diego County economy. So why are we asking taxpayers in Eureka, Frenso, Bakersfield, Modesto and El Centro to pay for our beach water monitoring and notification program?   

And, sorry, but I do not buy the argument that the County cannot afford $300,000 a year for a well-funded beach water monitoring and notification program. Acknowledging how serious our current budget crisis is, all elected officials, including County Supervisors, love to point out the beauty and value of our coastal resources. It is time for them to put some money where their mouths are.  

How about looking for that treasure locally? Property owners in San Diego County pay an annual property tax assessment for vector surveillance by DEH, i.e., controlling mosquitoes, rats, and mice. While we appreciate the importance of vector control in monitoring and notifying the public of exposure and risk of disease, it is similarly critical to ensure people who enjoy our beaches are not taking an involuntary risk (by not having information on water quality).  How many tax payers would like some of this assessment to go toward beach water monitoring and notification? I know I would.   

To be fair, it is a matter of political will that rests with the County Board of Supervisors.  Supervisors Cox and Slater-Price have demonstrated the most leadership on these issues.  Maybe the remaining three supervisors need to hear from their constituents – the surfing, swimming, tide pooling, beach visiting, and kayaking voters like you.       

So, if you live in central San Diego, east county or north county, please go ahead and call them.

Dianne Jacob, District Two:  (619) 531-5522
Ron Roberts, District Four: (619) 531-5544
Bill Horn, District Five: (619)-531-5555

“Onward, to the treasure!”

Phytoplankton – Canary in the coal mine

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

highlight_planktonSeveral weeks ago, CNN did a story about the toxic effects of oil and dispersants in the Gulf. Researchers from the University of South Florida used the same toxicity test that San Diego Coastkeeper uses to monitor the health of our local waterways. The QwikLite test method uses a type of naturally occurring plankton to indicate how healthy the water is. The particular species we use is bioluminescent; it glows much like the organisms that cause the red tides we are all familiar with. Like a canary in a coal mine, this plankton is very sensitive to contaminants in the water. When the phytoplankton gets stressed or dies, the amount of light emitted is reduced, and we are able to estimate how toxic the water is to these organisms.

In the Gulf, the researchers found that the dispersants used were very toxic to the plankton. As a primary producer in the food web, this is really important to understand, as the consequences to the ecosystem are profound. As the base of the marine food chain, the plight of the plankton is felt all the way up to our dinner plates. The millions of gallons of oil aren’t going away just because it isn’t washing up on the shore.

The same principal works in San Diego. Our inland waterways drain into the ocean. They often carry with them toxic pollutants such as oil, pesticides and heavy metals.  Our monitoring efforts hopefully will be able to identify when these pollutants reach toxic levels. To get involved with our monitoring efforts please contact our volunteer coordinator.

Copper brake pads: fish and people don’t have to live in conflict

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Off the top of your head, you could probably list the major problems with cars – greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels, miles of pavement, etc. Add one more to the list: copper in brake pads. It’s something we overlook; each time we stop our cars, trace amounts of copper dust are shaved off the brake pads and left on the streets. That copper dust is carried through our stormwater channels down to our beaches and creeks. Copper is toxic to marine wildlife, indeed copper in boat hull paint is used precisely because it kills fouling organisms.

As today’s UT story points out, a California bill is nearing the Governor’s desk – SB 346 which will address this threat.  This bill, authored by San Diego Senator Christine Kehoe, will phase out the copper in brake pads starting in 2021 and virtually eliminate the metal by 2025.  Coastkeeper has worked for years on reducing copper and applauds the change. We’ve also joined with Sustainable Conservation’s Brake Pad Partnership to craft the bill’s language to make sure vehicle safety is preserved.

One more example that fish and people don’t have to be in conflict.