Let's get dirty!
Well, that's what I did with 40 other informal environmental educators from San Diego who attended the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) workshop on November 22. This training provided clear and consistent, researched-based standards that engage students in science instruction that will prepare them to utilize critical thinking and creative problem-solving necessary to excel in the global society.
What? Well, that means we want our students to truly understand and appreciate environmental science through experiences, not just memorization.
Kim Bess from the San Diego County Office of Education helped us get hands-on with the new science standards that focus on helping students to be able to do science rather than memorize facts. The NGSS standards or performance expectations give us the opportunity, with programs like Project SWELL, to serve as a resource for teachers looking for curriculum that engage students in critical thinking, and learning scientific concepts by doing science.
The NGSS were just recently adopted by the State of California along with other six states, opening the door to use nature as the perfect case study for hands-on science.
Yahoo! That's what we say. We love nature and its ability to teach us to much.
Twenty-six states and their broad-based teams worked together with a 41-member writing team and partners throughout the country to develop the standards. The framework comprises eight Scientific and Engineering Practices (asking questions, analyzing and interpreting data, etc.), seven Crosscutting Concepts (Cause and effect, Systems, and systems models, and others), and 44 Disciplinary Core Ideas focus on Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences, and Engineering, Technology & Applications of Science.
What I love about the NGSS is that students will learn by doing and they will be able to build on and revise their knowledge and abilities from K-12. Now everything that they wonder about in nature can be an experience to learn science.
I had the honor of joining our water quality lab manager and state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the California League of Conservation Voters and Groundwork San Diego-Chollas Creek for a tour of District 80 and a conversation about how we can change the fate of Chollas Creek--one of our region's most polluted waterways.
As we toured the urban reaches of this 32-mile creek, conversation ranged from monitoring ecosystem health with volunteer testing and our new bioassessment program to invasive plant removal to homelessness. We talked about trail maintenance and the value of residents getting involved with restoration and upkeep of this valuable resource in the community.
Coastkeeper and Groundwork have a project underway to restore a section of the creek and demonstrate water quality improvements. The Assemblywoman and League of Conservation Voters listened intently our optimism for success and our concerns about the difficulty small nonprofits face to effectively work under state grant contracts. We parted ways with enthusiastic pledges to follow-up regularly and plans to continue the important work in District 80.
Bringing together the power of community, activists and legislators like the group we had, Chollas Creek has a lot going for it.
Executive Director. Water Warrior. I answer to both.
The past two months, I've been on the front lines advocating for what will best protect our wetlands, watersheds, ocean and the water quality of San Diego County. There are two events in particular I want to give you the inside scoop on.
The first involved Del Mar Fairgrounds and protecting the wetlands threatened by its expansive parking lots. On October 11, County Supervisor Dave Roberts, former supervisor Pam Slater Price and the San Dieguito Joint Powers Authority joined our team to urge the California Coastal Commission to protect the wetlands that surround overflow parking areas at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. I love the races as much as anyone else, but we just can't sacrifice the surrounding environmental habitats. There has to be a meeting of the minds on long term sustainability.
The Coastal Commission sent the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which manages that property, back to negotiate about what areas would remain protected from parking, paving and other high-impact use and what time each year these productive natural spaces would be subject to that pressure. Meanwhile, our Board President Jo Brooks appeared at the most recent Coastal Commission meeting to urge the Commissioners to require a "hands-off" approach because this is an important natural space that filters pollution and protects our waters better than any man-made construction can.
The results were mixed. The Coastal Commission did not grant our "hands-off" request and permits will be issued to allow the fairgrounds to use the wetlands for parking during additional horse races and activities. However, the Agricultural Association will end all activity, restore acres of wetland and study the feasibility of alternative parking that would allow economic activity to continue on the remaining East Lot area while still protecting the habitat that provides the stunning backdrop to those events. You can read more about our previous work to protect the wetlands at the Del Mar Fairgrounds here. Moving forward, we will continue to watch the health of our San Dieguito lagoon and Torrey Pines State Beach and advocate for protection from any threat we see.
Come November, things were still moving quickly in my water warrior world. I was asked to provide the Wetlands Advisory Board with insight on the new stormwater permit and what it offers to protect wetlands in San Diego.
There is a lot that is new and innovative about this permit, and I wanted the Board to understand how it can work for wetlands. This new way of managing stormwater promotes a watershed-based approach, replacing traditional approaches that would leave cities compliant, but potentially uncoordinated.
At this moment there are so many reasons to get involved; we have the opportunity to use a combination of structural and non-structured measures that target the highest-priority pollutants with the lowest-cost solutions. It combines the efforts of cities, businesses and public information campaigns to change residents' behaviors.
Lastly, we discussed how special studies can provide us more information about wetlands and alternative compliance solutions might protect important areas, especially those under threat. All of this is happening now, and early involvement by Board members and the members of the resident, scientific, environmental and business communities is critical. It's the only way to find effective, cost-conscious decisions.
Plans are in the works to continue the conversation in early 2014. While this life of Executive Director/Water Warrior is constantly in motion, I couldn't do it without your support. Thank you, and please stay tuned.
San Diego's proposed plastic bag reduction ordinance has made it through two Rules and Economic Means Committee meetings and several feedback sessions with stakeholders.
As currently drafted, the ordinance will ban single-use plastic bags in stores selling grocery items and mandate a 10-cent fee on paper bags. For now, retail is exempt from the ban, and no reporting is necessary by impacted stores.
Coastkeeper would like to see the retail exclusion removed from the ordinance and a reporting requirement added so that stores are held accountable. We teamed with Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter to ask for these improvements to the ordinance's drafters and elected officials, who ultimately decide its fate.
The ban won't head to a vote by the full city council for up to a year, pending an environmental review, which gives Coastkeeper time to work with our partners to strengthen the draft and support the development of complementary ordinances in surrounding cities.
We’re always in a drought. Seriously, people, I grew up here. There’s never been a time when it wasn’t important to conserve water. We watered our yards after 6 p.m., turned the faucet off when washing dishes or brushing our teeth and took brief showers. Some of that was mandated; some was common sense. And that’s what we need today: common sense.
Recently, the Fresno Bee reported state water officials saying that 2014 may be a real challenge for water supply in our state. “January through May 2013 were California’s driest in about 90 years of recordkeeping. Dwindling reservoirs should be a wake-up call to Californians.”
At the same time, 10News reported last week that the San Diego County Water Authority says that no water restrictions are needed in 2014 because San Diego should have sufficient water supply in 2014. Read CWA’s press release.
Despite the headline, the 10News story quotes the County Water Authority Board Chair saying, "We are in better shape than we were two years into the last drought, but we still need to practice smart water use no matter the weather."
Now, this is common sense. THIS is what should have been the headline. Or how about the new rebates offered to residents and HOAs through the County’s WaterSmart program. In 2009, we had water use restrictions, and residents responded by conserving. Not a little, but 20 percent. And in 2009-2011, we reduced our use by 14 percent. There's no reason to turn back from that. Here in San Diego, we use about 140 gallons of water per day per person. That compares to less than 50 gallons/day/person in Australia, where they have similar weather patterns and living standards. How can we say that almost triple their use is acceptable when we are draining the Colorado River, named 2013's #1 Most Endangered River.
Maybe San Diego reservoirs can handle the demand of 2014, but if we already know that 2015-2016 could be problematic, then how can we take the short-sighted view that we have enough water? Today, when we have enough water, when our residents have embraced water conservation, is the time for consistent messaging. We take almost half our water from the Colorado River and 20 percent from the San Joaquin Bay-Delta in Northern California. The Water Authority has taken a long-term view, committing to 30 years of water supply from the Carlsbad Desalination Plant and the City of San Diego is moving ahead with a decades-long commitment to build our water purification capacity (a.k.a., potable reuse or wastewater recycling). We must continue on the path of long-term security and diversification.
Groups like San Diego Coastkeeper that watchdog our water issues, agencies charged with providing our residents with sustainable, reliable water supplies and the news professionals who so often interpret information and shape residents’ thinking about complex issues, must give facts and offer commentary. That commentary must discuss and reinforce practices that will see us not just one year into the future, but five, ten and twenty years from now. So, when the County Water Authority says that we’re okay for a year, let’s look beyond the next 365 days and talk about the true value and cost of our water supply, and how we can conserve this year, and the next, to keep those balanced.
Photo credit Peter McBride
I have the honor of working with dozens of interns every year, who come to San Diego Coastkeeper to learn about what we do and dig in to help us make the magic happen. I say it's an honor because I enjoy watching these young folks learn as they realize the gamut of environmental careers available to them in San Diego and across the nation. Every so often, a former intern will share his/her story with us and remind me how important these internships are for Coastkeeper's work and also our future workforce. This story below is from Aydin Muzaini, whose internship at Coastkeeper directly influenced his employer's choice to hire him.
Hi Travis -
I wanted to thank you and Mallory again for inviting me to help at the lab for the last two years. I was picked to do similar work on a project here at University of Miami, called the Net Zero Dorm Project, and I am doing much of the same sampling and testing as in San Diego.
I started volunteering with the San Diego Coastkeeper in 2011 collecting, testing and logging in water samples at the San Dieguito lagoon. With the direction of San Dieguito River Park Rangers Natalie Borchardt and Dante Lee, we collected monthly water samples from two different locations at the lagoon, where we made notes of the overall conditions. Later in the year I began working in your lab, testing water samples collected from the many sites across the county that other volunteers brought in. This experience taught me a lot. I learned how to take water samples, work with chemicals and conduct tests for bacteria. I use this same knowledge today at my position working with the Net Zero Dorm Project at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. I was immediately offered a position to work on this project as a transfer student to UM solely because of my hands-on experience from working with you at the Coastkeeper lab. What I do now at the UM Net Zero Dorm Project is very similar to Coastkeeper. The general work involves retrieving water samples from a treated wastewater tank and an underground cistern on a daily basis. I then submit these samples to the lab team for microbio testing. The status of the overall project, the shifts in bacteria levels, and the efficiency of the system are discussed weekly at the project team meetings.
Best to everyone,
Best to you, too, Aydin. Thanks for all your help and congratulations on your job.
CLEAN WATER MAKES ME THINK...
Stormwater management. Deferred maintenance. Debt service. Not what you had in mind?
Well, wake up, San Diego. How City Hall deals with these seemingly mundane concerns will make or break our City's success in the next decade. And every one of us plays a role—with our actions and our pocketbooks.
Stormwater is the otherwise innocent flow of water that comes out of gardens, off of cars and from the streets, carrying with it metal dust, bacteria, soaps and other pollutants-- directly into our water. It's the number one water pollution problem in San Diego. Nearly every waterway in the City of San Diego is listed on the federal "303(d)" list for excess amounts of some pollutant and a significant number of creeks, rivers and larger water bodies throughout the county are, as well.
A recent report from the City of San Diego Office of the Independent Budget Analyst underscores the need for careful financial planning to deal with our runoff, and its place among the many challenges (transportation, roads, safety) that we face to keep our motto as America's Finest City.
We have a new stormwater permit that carries with it heavy penalties to the City for polluting our water over the limits and this has to become a call to action. We need to invest and we need to do so now. The report points out that we have delayed critical infrastructure improvements for way too long – and regulations currently in place mean that if we continue to kick the can down the road, fees will be harsh and damaging– as much as $37,500 per day ($10,000 from the new permit and $27,500 from the federal EPA).
So what does that mean to us?
(photo credit girlchasesglobe.com)
Some would have us believe that faced with this investment, the case for pollution prevention is hopeless. Over the course of five years, we must invest $641 million dollars in stormwater management; over 18 years, it's more than $2 billion. This includes routine maintenance, a backlog of maintenance and new construction needs that built up in past years, flood management and improvements to meet compliance requirements.
Ratepayers won't stand for it, say some.
Bologna, say I.
The City is tasked with managing the day-to-day business of running a city of over a million people and thousands of businesses. But "the City" is us. Every time one of us turns on a hose, drives a vehicle, or sweeps dust into a gutter, the City prevents that from polluting the streams, lakes and ocean that lie downstream of the storm drain. And we pay them for that. Guess how much? We pay a whopping 95 cents per month per household. And that only covers about 15 percent of the demand placed on the General Fund. The Independent Budget Analyst's report looked at whether ratepayer fees could keep up with growing demands. And we can.
This is where we need to step up. In five years our household contribution might rise to $11.14/month. On the commercial/industrial side, rates rise from $0.065/hundred cubic feet today to $0.76/hundred cubic feet in 2019. These are not insignificant rate increases. I'm not suggesting that they won't be felt. Nor do I believe that an ever-rising debt burden to our City is something that we should take on casually.
But let's stop and consider what this represents.
We have an innovation economy that thrives on clean water for its processes and a beautiful city with outdoor recreation and healthy communities to attract top-notch employees. The maritime economy supports 46,000 jobs and looks to the City as a partner that must carry its weight to keep San Diego Bay healthy. Visitors from around the world choose our town for professional and social conventions, adventure and luxury vacations, picture-perfect weddings and as their go-to year-after-year escape. What about your Saturday trips to Mission Bay with the kids, morning fishing ritual and sunset walks? Those are in peril if we don't recognize the role that we play and the stand the City must take.
But, what about the roads? That's right! What about the roads? And the libraries, parks, schools, and first responders? This is not just about storm drains. This is about addressing all the needs that our City has.
We're the eighth largest City in the nation and our needs are complex and constant. A mayor, city council and staff that can address these needs in a methodical, responsible way should earn the respect and support of our community.
An important factor to note is that the analysis about stormwater costs assumes zero growth in households. While this may be appropriately conservative, it is nonetheless inconsistent with the 2050 Regional Growth forecast by SANDAG (June 2010), which predicts double-digit population growth in our region over the 18-year period that this analysis takes place, 18% even by 2020. Here's an easy-to-read account by Voice of San Diego. So both the ratepayer base—and the demand on our infrastructure—will grow. We can't kick the can any more; we must deal with this now and the assessment needs to be holistic. In fact, managing the City's water offers a perfect example of that. The question of stormwater, wastewater and drinking water should be examined together, a point of view that is gaining traction with planners and must continue to be the trend. When we look at stormwater, we should see a resource that can be captured and used to reduce other costs and demands. With innovative management like that, we'll free up resources for other City needs.
SO WHAT, THEN?
The Office of the Independent Budget Analyst did a wise thing in its report. It looked to other California cities for best practices. And it found that other cities have higher stormwater fees. They have voter-approved bonds and taxes. And they have voter-approved fees for refuse collection and sewage infrastructure.
The City of San Diego has hard choices to make when considering its budget. Stormwater management is one of many things we have to address. Choices made in the past mean that we haven't kept up with needed repairs. But we can't just throw our hands in the air because it costs money to keep up with our urbanized community and let the infrastructure crumble around us. We are not a community of residents, businesses and cities to sit around and do nothing. We value our lakes, our rivers, our beaches, our ocean. They give us back an exceptional quality of life and a vibrant economy of innovation and maritime industry. That is why we must work—and work hard—to get these decisions right.
So don't let the City decision-makers stall or claim that we can't afford to protect our water from pollution. Can we make changes that reduce the cost? Yes, and we should. Eliminate it, or the need for it? No. So, demand from council members and the mayor that stormwater management stands high on their list of priorities. When you are asked to vote for a bond to fund deferred maintenance, vote yes. It's the "I Love My Life In San Diego" bond, the "My Business Needs This" fee, and the "We're in it Together" charge.
Every business and every worker in San Diego needs a clean, realiable water supply to thrive. That's why we take our corporate sponsorships very seriously. If you're looking to integrate your brand into an environmental event or find a local cause to rally with, we've got creative ideas, myriad opportunities and responsive followers. Learn more about sponsoring San Diego Coastkeeper.
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We heart our volunteers, who keep us motivated and expand our capacity to protect and restore fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters in San Diego County. Let us know how you'd like to volunteer.
Expand your scholastic experience or challenge your professional side with an internship in the environmental field. From water quality monitoring and beach cleanups to communciations and development, we have internships available for all skill sets.
Until October 30, Jack Johnson will double up to $2,500 donated to San Diego Coastkeeper. Double your donation today.
It was a challenge, but we narrowed our list of accomplishments to these ten jaw-dropping environmental victories in San Diego County. We've got more wins on the horizon, so make sure you become a member to be a part of our successes.
Click on the image to download our new informational brochure.
San Diego County will grow. We have a newly renovated downtown airport. We'll soon have an expanded bayfront convention center. And the 22nd District Agricultural Association is working to maintain the world-class Del Mar Fairgrounds. As we renovate and grow to meet the demands of our residents and economy, we must look at how existing natural resources—if we consider them assets and let them perform their natural function—can help us do that sustainably.
I testified at the October 11, 2013 California Coastal Commission hearing about just that matter. The dirt lots and golf driving range surrounding the Del Mar Fairgrounds that house overflow parking for the Fair and the Races are in fact home to acres of wetlands. Despite being graded, compacted and parked on year after year, they survive and offer the invaluable service of a natural filter to cleanse water before it heads into the San Dieguito River, the estuary and Pacific Ocean that all lie in a stone's throw of the property.
Thanks to an historic agreement between the Coastal Commission and the District Agricultural Association (DAA), the DAA will set aside one of those lots (the "South Overflow Lot") and invest funds to restore that area to its natural abundance. The permit application they submitted to the Coastal Commission includes beautiful plans to do that and the DAA should be commended.
The issue at hand at this hearing was their plan to move all the event and parking activity previously undertaken on the South Overflow Lot to the adjacent "East Overflow Lot." Along with the San Dieguito Joint Powers Authority and County Supervisor Dave Roberts, I asked the Coastal Commission to approve the permit with an amendment that would set aside the lower third of the East Overflow Lot and allow it to return to its natural wetland state.
I enjoy cotton candy at the fair and 4 o'clock Fridays at the racetrack as much as the next person. But when we build a massive facility upon and adjacent to sensitive waterways, we have a responsibility. And in this case, we have a tremendous opportunity at hand. Rather than pave over a wetland and then engineer mechanical fixes or set aside properties in other areas to somehow "make up for" destroying these, why not let nature's water filter do its job?
Most of the Coastal Commissioners seem to have been moved to a similar question. They voted (9-2) to continue the matter to their November meeting. Commission Chair Shallenberger urged the parties to work hard to come to an agreement and appear before the Commissioners again soon.
Thanks to leadership from Supervisor Roberts and the San Dieguito Joint Powers Authority--and with a District Agricultural Association that has an opportunity to be a leader in how it uses unique its coastal backdrop--the wetlands, the water they protect and our home where the Turf Meets the Surf, will prosper.
Today's final presentations by students who participated in the Leadership Environmental Action Program (LEAP) were impressive. Young leaders Lexi, Erica, Steven, Diego, Tristan and Belen presented to their parents, San Diego Coastkeeper's Board President, our Community Advisory Council—which mentored these high school students over the past six months, and the staff that organized LEAP as a capstone event and celebration of their success. They brought to life their love of our water, awareness of the urgency of protecting it and knowledge of how to do that--passions and skills they will carry into their futures.
Lexi designed an environmental awareness week that she will teach at Solana Pacific school for 5th and 6th graders that will have the younger students take on recycling projects and commit to a pledge of sustainability. See her capstone presentation here.
Erica created a blog about environmental issues. She talked about meeting Todd Gloria and writing the Friendship Garden between the US and Mexico. CLICK THROUGH to her blog here.
Steven wanted to help his community learn, as he did, about the effects of stormwater so he designed an informational brochure to share. His ultimate goal – like that of Coastkeeper – is to provide people with knowledge and motivate them to take ACTION. "Eye-opener....now I notice things around me that affect water quality" READ page 1 and page 2 his brochure here. See his capstone presentation here.
Diego organized a cleanup in the community of Logan. He discovered that the best way to get people to act is by tapping into his own network; and that being able to get in touch with others and motivate the to participate will increase his impact. LEAP "provided me with a lot of new opportunities and gave me motivation to keep doing things like this".
Tristan created an ocean awareness video for his peers and younger surfers that shows how trash and stormwater pollution gets to the ocean and affects the health of the water they spend time in. "I want to inspire younger surfers."
Belen made an interactive presentation to her school clubs about water conservation and challenged her peers to talk about what water means to them and how they save it.
The students received certificates of achievement and a reusable goody bag with a book from Coastkeeper, a reusable water bottle from the Rob Machado Foundation (local surfer and environmental educator) and kayaking certificates from Chula Vista Kayak (owned by Community Advisory Council member Harry). Birch Aquarium at Scripps, one of our favorite partners in the community, extended the learning experience by providing us a room and hosting the students and their families in the aquarium after our potluck lunch. We chatted about their hobbies, how much they enjoyed the trip to Border Field State Park and kayaking in Chula Vista with the Community Council members. And they talked about plans to become bio-engineers, attend Harvard and study in China. The future of our water and our community lies in the hands of these smart young people. They're off to an excellent start.