This year is our 20th anniversary and we are proud to announce the Coastal Champions on World Oceans Day. These individuals, organizations and businesses have helped ensure that San Diego County has had fishable, swimmable, drinkable water for the past twenty years and for the next twenty years. Join us in honoring them by reserving your seat to the breakfast celebration at Birch Aquarium on Monday, June 8 at 7 a.m.
Lighthouse Lifetime Achievement
Skip and Donna Frye: Lifelong surfers and waterlovers, Skip and Donna Frye are both also clean water activists and environmental leaders. These two have given back to San Diego in many ways and have positively impacted our local community. In the 1990s, they founded Surfers Tired of Pollution to raise awareness about water pollution and to educate the community about the harmful impacts of pollution. Together, they fight for clean water safety standards in San Diego and ensure that San Diego has fishable, swimmable and drinkable water.
Volunteer of the Year
Allison Scofield: Over the past twenty years, we have been supported by our dedicated volunteers who make powerful impacts in our community. Allison is one of San Diego Coastkeeper’s most dedicated lab volunteers. Since 2010, Allison has been analyzing nutrients and fecal indicator bacteria for Coastkeeper’s water quality monitoring program once a month, even when she was in school at UCLA. She’s known around the office as an expert analyzer and an enthusiastic volunteer.
Nielsen and Beaumont Marine, Inc.: Nielsen and Beaumont Marine, Inc. is leading its boatyard community in preventing runoff with their modern, environmentally advanced facility. Nielsen and Beaumont Marine, Inc. designed their boatyard to capture and collect stormwater for treatment and storage, and it is more advanced than current stormwater regulations for boatyards. San Diego Coastkeeper and our community appreciates their efforts to prevent harm to our waters.
Brickman Group: San Diego is currently in a water crisis. We import more than eighty percent of our water from outside the area and much of it goes to landscaping. Thanks to Brickman Group, you can create a beautiful yard with native, drought resistant plants that will make your neighbors jealous. Brickman Group is helping local residents conserve water with water management services such as turf removal, native planting, soil nutrition and smart irrigation systems.
Ocean Discovery Institute: San Diego Coastkeeper loves educating about marine science and so does Ocean Discovery Institute. Ocean Discovery Institute was founded in 1999 to teach young people about science and conservation. Over the past 16 years, Ocean Discovery Institute has educated thousands of students, trained teachers, and engaged volunteers to help restore local wildlife habitats. Their work has inspired young people to become environmental leaders and make a difference in our community.
Find & Fix
John W. Stump: John Stump exemplifies this award: he found a pollution problem and immediately decided to fix it. John came across harmful debris and waste in the Chollas Creek and called a plan of action by alerting and mobilizing the community and the media of this pollution problem. This action had an immediate response from the City of San Diego and workers removed the harmful debris and waste, laid a layer of gravel and installed fencing and bumpers to mitigate future runoff pollution. San Diego Coastkeeper and Chollas Creek thanks John for being a community activist and environmental leader.
ECOLIFE Conservation: Do you love fresh, organic produce? Gardening or farming? Working with your hands? Well, if you said yes to any of these, then now you can have it all thanks to ECOLIFE. ECOLIFE develops aquaponic systems: a sustainable farming technique that is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponic farming, and they are bringing it to San Diego. These aquaponic systems allow individuals to grow fresh, organic produce and fish while only using ten percent of the land and water in comparison to traditional farming. ECOLIFE hosts community workshops and provides aquaponic kits as teaching curriculum in schools. Also, ECOLIFE has solar-powered greenhouses and rainwater collection barrels to be even more sustainable. How awesome are they.
Haley Cahill was our education intern from January to June 2015. She is majoring in Environmental Studies at the University of San Diego and believes the answer to improving many of the threats that our environment faces, starts with education. Haley helped us to bring Project SWELL into San Diego Unified School District classrooms.
“Do you talk about gross stuff?” was the first question I received as I set up my presentation for these elementary school kids. I immediately replied with a “yes” and the 5th grade boy replied with a fist pump and an enthusiastic “Yes!”
I laughed, but I was thrilled to see these kids excited about pollution. As an education intern, I attended Bird Rock Elementary’s inaugural STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) Discovery Day, to try and ignite a passion for protecting and restoring our water in our next generation of leaders.
I love talking to students, it’s vital to instill in them why we need to care about our environment. Attending allowed me to see that Project SWELL, our water science education curriculum, is making a huge a difference! In each group of of kids, at least a few were already familiar with some of the material I was teaching. They would yell out an answer, or point out that they noticed pollution the last time they were at the beach.
As I looked out at all the faces I asked if anyone had ever been to a beach clean up. I was pleasantly surprised to see that over half had! These kids are already aware that their environment needs to be taken care of if they want to keep it healthy so they can continue to enjoy it as they do now. And the best part? They are excited to do it!
I can’t wait to meet other students as eager to learn as these kids were!
Formerly America’s largest reservoir, providing water for 20 million people in Arizona, Nevada and California, Lake Mead hit a historic low on April 30. This low wasn’t an inevitability of the drought or climate change. According to our friends at Save the Colorado, Lake Mead has been grossly mismanaged. Water supply agencies knew that more water is taken out of Lake Mead every year then is replenished by nature. But despite federal studies offering numerous sustainable management plans, nothing was ever done to save Lake Mead.
Now with levels lower than they’ve ever been, in something that might be pointed to as a Tragedy of the Commons or characterized as a race to the bottom, downstream cities are taking nearly all of the water they are legally allotted to capitalize on Lake Mead before it runs dry while upstream states Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are fast-tracking dam projects to hold onto more of their water and keep it from running into Lake Mead. This shortsighted, un-coordinated water war is leading us to mutually assured destruction. It needs to stop. And here in San Diego County, where we draw more than half our water supply from the Colorado River, we have to speak up. Make your voice heard and take action here.
It’s been twenty years since two gutsy water lovers took action to stop the toxic dumping that was slowly killing San Diego Bay. In 1995, they created San Diego Baykeeper and
- Brought major corporations into compliance with pollution laws
- Reduced sewage spills in the City of San Diego by 90 percent
- Reduced countywide beach advisories by 77 percent since 2000
- We drastically improved the health of San Diego Bay.
And as the need became apparent, we turned our attention countywide. Now we're known as San Diego Coastkeeper--the region’s water quality and water supply watchdog. We’ve grown from a team of two into a movement of thousands of volunteers, members, sponsors and partners passionate about working together to make San Diego more fishable, swimmable and drinkable.
Today we bring together science, education and advocacy to address the region’s most pressing concerns.
- After a 15 year battle, we earned a unanimous city council vote for Pure Water, San Diego’s new water recycling program.
- Twelve years of volunteer water quality data collection has given us insight on regional pollution issues and provided otherwise unavailable information when a waterway is in crisis.
- We offer free environmental STEM education lesson plans to anyone that wants to teach and we deliver the lessons ourselves to thousands of students each year.
- Connecting statewide partners, we made available beach water quality testing that can deliver water quality results to your phone in hours rather than days.
That is celebrateable.
Take a look back at our 20-year timeline of water victories and check out our top accomplishments page to reminisce about all the water wins of the past twenty years.
And take a look ahead. We are already knee-deep in the next twenty years of fighting for our region’s health.
- We are back in San Diego Bay, bringing south bay industrial polluters to task for dirtying our water.
- Our water quality lab is investigating impacts and root causes of the death-by-one-thousand-cuts that strangles our waterways with urban runoff.
- And we are fighting like mad to ensure that the urgency created by statewide drought fuels common sense conservation and innovative new water management practices like recycling and stormwater capture, but doesn’t justify bad choices like energy-hungry desalination.
Whether you’ve been with us since the beginning or are just joining us now, we want you to be part of this movement. Attend our Coastal Champions Awards Ceremony on June 8 and our Seaside Soiree in October. We’re proud to share this celebratory year with you and in honor of you. We celebrate 20 years of victories, but more than that, we celebrate the 20 years to come.
San Diego Coastkeeper stands on the shoulders of those who came before us. And we are leaning in to lift up those who come after us. But for today, you, I and everyone in this movement stands together for fishable, swimmable, drinkable water throughout San Diego County.
Let’s get to work, Megan
An important step in protecting and restoring fishable, swimmable, drinkable water is making sure we have informed and passionate leaders in the next generation to which we can hand off our mission. Since we've started environmental education outreach programs like Project SWELL, we haven't had a shortage of hope for the future of San Diego's water. We continue to be inspired by our future leaders' passion for water. This is one of our favorite stories.
At Coronado Middle School, a teacher challenged her eighth grade students to choose their own topic for a research project about what human impacts are detrimental to our environment. This class, aptly named themselves the Ocean Enthusiasts, really wanted to focus on keeping the ocean they love clean. The students came up with an abundance of topics including the impacts of plastic bags, sewage waste, the current drought and marine pollution. At the close of their research, each created a video, poster or other illustration that showed the most important lessons they learned from this project.
These students, after working on these projects, take away not only the information on how harmful our effect on the environment can be, but also the drive to do something about it. They reached out to San Diego Coastkeeper to see if we could use what they worked so hard on to educate others. This class and the teacher, Mrs. Landry, can now act as an example to other students and teachers. This is a great way to get students involved and excited about the environment and water quality. Both are intertwined and it is necessary to impose the importance of both of them to the younger generations.
Plastic Bag Enthusiast
In 2014: Looks like San Diego's drought affects more than water quantity—and we have the data to show it.
We proudly announce the results of our 2014 Water Quality Monitoring efforts, and a few key takeaways from this year's data. One of the most striking trends we see is that our third consecutive year of drought (7.77' total rainfall in 2014 compared to the 10.34" average) has likely contributed to inland water quality issues.
One issue likely related to drought conditions that our 2014 data revealed is low dissolved oxygen concentrations. Turns out that 30 percent of our inland water quality samples that we gathered from across the county measured below healthy levels. Sadly, when dissolved oxygen measurements reach levels this low, aquatic life dies. In April 2014, we even ran across a fish kill in San Luis Rey from just this.
Another trend related to low water levels that shows in our 2014 numbers is that fecal indicator bacteria levels (especially Enterococcus) were a concern across all watersheds. Of our samples in 2014, 57 percent of the Enterococcus samples exceeded healthy standards, and eight of nine watersheds scored marginal or poor for their E. coli scores.
What does this mean?
Enterococcus indicates whether water conditions are safe to swim, most commonly used to measure healthy conditions of salt water. Since all of our inland waterways empty to the ocean, it's not a good sign that we're measuring so much Enterococcus in our fresh waters. If you don't know, this means that the water has pollutants in it that can cause staph infection, ear aches, stomach issues, rashes, eye infections, cysts, and others—just to name a few.
To be accurate, there can always be an amount of Enterococcus in our water due to natural causes (aka bird poo), and those may not cause human health impacts. But the levels in our data are so high, we have major concerns. To illustrate the degree to which this is a problem, our December sampling event took place on the day after a heavy rain, and every single sample collected far exceeded healthy levels acceptable for Enterococcus and E. coli. This is why the County's Department of Environmental Health closes the beaches countywide after it rains--water quality is extremely poor.
These sort of data sets also raise a question that we can't answer: Is the drought reducing water levels so much that shallow, slow-moving and warm streams create a breeding ground for Enterococcus and E. coli? More so than any other recent year, a lot of our sites even dried up in 2014 so that we couldn't gather samples. But given our analysis and the increase in water quality impacts shown by fecal indicator bacteria, we're curious to explore this question. Unfortunately, the data that we collect can't help us answer this question.
As you can see in the countywide map, Water Quality Index Scores grouped the map's color-coding into three sections: fair scores in the north, marginal in the middle and poor in the south. We're not surprised to see this as we think that these groupings of scores relate to the various land-use types and density of development within the watersheds. The north has more open space and agriculture, the middle has more density and developed land area and the south struggles with cross-border water quality management challenges.
We encourage you to click through to each of our nine watersheds to learn more about water quality scores unique to each. This year, San Diego's coastal watersheds ranged from fair to poor according to our Water Quality Index scoring system.
- Two watersheds scored lower than they did in 2013 (Los Peñasquitos and San Diego—they were good last year)
- One watershed improved its score from 2013, going from Marginal to Fair (Carlsbad)
We're thankful for our 194 volunteers who gave a total of 1,888 hours. And we're encouraged by our 83 newly trained volunteers from 2014.
What watershed do you live on? Find out and click the watersheds below:
Water Quality Index Score: 77, Fair
We tracked two parameters of concern in San Luis Rey Watershed:
- Turbidity: Two-thirds of the turbidity samples exceeded healthy standards
- Levels of pH: Over half of the pH samples collected exceeded healthy standards
Spoiler alert: Our volunteers saw the impacts of these poor water quality indicators play out when they reported numerous dead fish along the river's bank in March and April.
When turbidity exceeds standards it means too many sediments are moving through the waters. We especially care about this in the San Luis River because it has a small tidal wetland where the fresh river water meets the coastal salt water. When the river carries unusually high amounts of sediment, it will deposit into the wetland, building it up and changing the habitat in this critical area. We'll lose marine habitat because the ratio of salt and fresh waters will change if the salty tides can't breach the sediment build up. This tidal wetland is an important brackish habitat for species like mullet fish and birds.
We're not sure what's raising the pH, and we'd like to research mines or factories in this watershed to understand how they may affect pH levels. We can tell you that it's unusual for pH to be high, especially in river water. For healthy fresh waters, every river needs a certain window of pH--not too low and not too high. In San Luis Rey, the high levels of pH essentially stress the organisms that live in the river. It can also increase the toxicity of existing pollutants like metals and ammonia.
Unfortunately, our volunteers spotted fish kills in March and April--dead mullet fish that suffered from these exact cycles.
Side story, when we found these fish kills, we worked with the Regional Water Quality Control Board to understand more about what was happening. High nutrient levels in the water right after a rainstorm cause algae growth. During the day, algae pumps out oxygen, and then it reabsorbs it during the night. During our daytime tests, oxygen values were through the roof. When we investigated further, in the middle of the night at 2 a.m., oxygen levels dropped causing oxygen depletion, and dead fish.
Water Quality Index Score: 72, Fair
To no surprise, our 2014 data showed that:
- Nitrate is consistently high in upper Escondido Creek
In fact, four of the five samples with the highest nitrate concentrations collected anywhere in San Diego County this year came from Escondido Creek. Because of this, our volunteers report seeing a lot of algae growth in the water.
We're not surprised because nitrate always measures high in Escondido Creek, but we're interested in learning why this consistently happens. Recently, we inquired with the City of Escondido, and representatives say it comes from groundwater and the legacy pollution from the agriculture industry. Thankfully, our longtime volunteer and new board member, Taya Lazootin, is running a research project examining nitrate in Escondido Creek to figure out what's happening. We're hoping her final report has more insights into this problem.
Water Quality Index Score: 76, Fair
Our data in San Dieguito Watershed show:
- Ammonia, phosphorus, and turbidity measuring at marginal on our Water Quality Index Scores
Ammonia and phosphorus are nutrients. In the farm or garden, people add nutrients to encourage robust and healthy plant growth. In the water, however, nutrients are rarely beneficial. Too many nutrients can cause algae to grow out of control, which will blanket the stream and bank with unsightly algae. These mats of algae ultimately lead to oxygen depletion that kill the aquatic life.
This is a huge concern for this waterway because our volunteers spotted lots of wildlife including birds, fish, turtles, clams, crawfish and insects.
The unhealthy levels of turbidity point to excessive sedimentation in the San Dieguito River. The river empties to the San Dieguito lagoon, which is sensitive to this sort of pollution because the river brings sediment into the east side of the lagoon and the Del Mar Racetrack and associated parking lots impact sediment flows on west side.
Water Quality Index Score: 76, Fair
Well, here it is: the most typical, average watershed in San Diego County in terms of water quality pollution and health. Our data in this watershed did not change dramatically from the year previous, nor did it produce any intriguing results this year.
The end point for this watershed, the Los Penasquitos Lagoon, has an official "pollution diet" in place for sediment, which means it's a known problem here. We continue to monitor this closely.