Looking for an easy way to help improve San Diego's beaches, bays and rivers?
Here at San Diego Coastkeeper, we take tremendous pride in our efforts to protect our fishable, swimmable and drinkable water in San Diego; however, protecting all that water is no easy feat. We are grateful to all of our supporters who come out to events or donate to our cause. Now with help from businesses and other outlets there are more ways for you to make a difference. Below are five easy ways to help us make a big impact throughout San Diego.
- Make an Online Donation: Your contribution will help continue the fight to protect swimmable, fishable and drinkable waters in San Diego County. You can give a one-time donation or you can give the gift of clean, plentiful waters by giving a membership to yourself or your loved ones. Give Here.
- Ralphs Reward Card Community Contribution Program: Now, you can shop for groceries and donate to Coastkeeper. Thanks to Ralphs Community Contribution Program, every time you use your Ralphs Rewards card, a portion of your purchase will automatically be donated to San Diego Coastkeeper when you enroll in its Community Rewards Program. So go on, shop at Ralphs today – and don't forget your reusable bags! Enroll Here.
- Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Choice Dollar: Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a financial services organization, is giving back! When you become a Thrivent Financial member, you can help support Coastkeeper through their Choice Dollar program. This program is member-based and allows members to allocate their Choice Dollars to partnering nonprofits like Coastkeeper. Become a Member.
- Amazon Smile: Amazon.com. The one-stop-shop online store with all you need, and now your shopping can benefit Coastkeeper. Amazon Smile will donate 0.5% of your purchase when you choose San Diego Coastkeeper as your charitable organization. All you need to do is remember to go to smile.amazon.com when shopping online. Sign In Here.
- Attend an Event: Whether it is cleaning up your local beach on a beautiful day or attending one of fundraisers, Coastkeeper provides a range of volunteer and donation opportunities that everyone can enjoy. Check them out here.
After a long time on the waiting list, my mother and I received custody of a large wooden box full of dirt that sits in an old vacant parking lot in East Village. We were thrilled. Of course, it isnʼt just any parking lot, and isnʼt just any dirt. Both belong to the labor of love that SMARTS Farm, one of San Diegoʼs newer community gardens, and one that also provides hands-on education for underserved youth. When you are standing in the farm, it is nearly impossible to see it as the parking lot it once was, such is the transporting nature of being surrounded by raised beds full of dark green chard, dwarf citrus trees, newly planted tomatoes and the scent of fresh soil.
Having grown up in Montana, tending to our extensive vegetable and flower gardens was the after school or work and weekend responsibility of each and every member of my family. Willingly or begrudgingly, taking care of what surrounded and sustained us was expected and unquestioned.
I truly believe this is why, as odd as it may seem to some, that even now, nearly a decade after leaving Montanaʼs rich black soil for life in downtown San Diego, I still sometimes want nothing more than to vacuum my apartment and water my houseplants as soon as I get home from work, even when the couch is calling. These are the small acts of stewardship that now keep me connected to my immediate environment. It is as if by vacuuming the floor or pulling weeds from our new garden bed, I am saying to the space around me, "I am yours, you are mine, we take care of one another." The act of caring for something is what makes that thing your own.
All this, of course, is exactly why I love the work I do for San Diego Coastkeeper. As community engagement coordinator, it is quite literally my job to support and enable this crucial connection between people and their local environment. Every volunteer opportunity we post is a way to take care of what is ours as San Diegans.
They may not always feel like grand, romantic gestures of love and devotion, but they count.
Thatʼs the thing: Picking up someone elseʼs cigarette butt or discarded plastic water bottle off a beach is not glamorous. Scrambling down a riverbank littered with forgotten refuse beneath an overpass to take a water sample from a polluted urban stream is not the way many of us would visualize our perfect Saturday morning. But these are acts of devotion that express our gratitude for what we have.
Coastkeeper is committed to protecting our water resources for all of us, but I am consistently amazed and grateful when I see just how many of you out there are willing to give your precious free time to share in this commitment with us. To put our hands in the sand is to make a piece of the coastline more than a pretty picture on a postcard of San Diego, it is to make it our own.
For more information about SMARTS Farm, please visit http://humanesmarts.org/farm/.
How is San Diego's water supply connected to other locations throughout our region? This blog, written by PhD Candidate Alida Cantor, looks at a particular connection: birds at the Salton Sea.
A quick background
The Colorado River supplies over half of San Diego's water. The Colorado also supplies water for many other users-- 25 million people and 3.5 million acres of farmland throughout the entire Colorado River basin. The river is known as one of the most controlled and over-allocated waterways in the world.
In 2003, an agreement (the Quantification Settlement Agreement, or QSA) was negotiated with the goal of limiting California's over-reliance on Colorado River supplies. The agreement transfers water from farms in Imperial Valley to urban users in San Diego. This means a more secure water supply for urban water users in San Diego, but could have negative impacts for others throughout the broader region -- including birds.
Birds at the Salton Sea
The Salton Sea, the largest lake in California, is a 400-square-mile salty lake in Imperial and Riverside Counties. Its water comes primarily from agricultural runoff—which means that taking water away from farms means less water flowing into the Salton Sea. This is very worrisome for many reasons, one of which is potential impacts on bird habitat. Less water means receding shorelines and increased salinity, which hurt bird habitat.
The Salton Sea hosts a lot of different types of birds-- around 400 different species. This includes several endangered and sensitive species, such as the Yuma Clapper Rail. The Salton Sea supports about 40 percent of the entire endangered Yuma Clapper Rail population so this bird is considered very vulnerable to habitat decline at the Salton Sea.
Other birds at the Salton Sea include eared grebes, cormorants, yellow-footed gulls, and white and brown pelicans. Brown pelicans were once endangered, but their populations have rebounded since the banning of the DDT pesticide. White pelicans are not endangered but a large percentage of them- 30 percent- nest at the Salton Sea. More birds of concern at the Salton Sea include mountain plovers, burrowing owls, and black skimmers, to name a few.
As wetlands throughout the broader region have diminished due to development (about 90 percent of wetlands in California have been lost over the last hundred years), the importance of the Salton Sea as habitat for migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway has grown. Although the Salton Sea experienced large-scale bird die-offs during the 1990s due to avian botulism and other diseases spread by having so many birds in one place, it remains a very important habitat, and every year millions of migrating birds rely upon the Salton Sea as a stopover to rest and fuel up along their journey.
Thinking about what San Diego's water system means for birds at the Salton Sea shows how we are connected via our water supply to other locations and species throughout the region. The story of our water doesn't start or end when we turn on the tap.
Bio means life. Bioassesment means the study of life and living organisms--and we're full force with our bioassessment program in San Diego County. Bioassesment helps us understand the health of a lake, river, stream or ocean by looking at the organisms that survive there. Scientists have used many different organisms to test water quality; including, mussels, fish, and our favorite, insects.
Insects represent the majority of living creatures. In fact, there are more than a million species of insects. And they are found in many different places because they can survive in a wide diversity of habitats. Insects have special body parts that help them to survive. They all have a segmented body including head, thorax and abdomen. Some can fly, some can swim, and some can fit between very small crevices. These are just some examples of the eccentricities that help these clever creatures survive. Some of them eat live plants and animals, while others prefer their food dead. Some like to decorate themselves to blend in or have an extra "cover" for protection.
Why are there so many insects? What can their presence or absence tell us about the health of a stream? These are questions that can be answered when we pay attention to these incredible creatures.
Why do we study the insects in our streams, creeks and rivers?
Some of the insects can live only in very high water quality, while others can live in fair or poor water quality. This means, the insects that you find tell you if the waters are fair, poor or high water quality.
How do we know if the presence of certain insects indicates good water quality? The insects are classified by their tolerance to certain water conditions. Insects with a low tolerance (0-3) are considered to be very sensitive to decreased water quality.
Insects with a high tolerance (6-10) are considered insensitive to decreased water quality. So if you can find bugs with low tolerance in your streams that's very good news!
Who are the usual suspects of fair or poor quality?
- Syrphidae “Hoverflies” - 10
Who are the bugs that like high water quality?
- Chloroperlidae "Stoneflies" - 0-1
- Leuctridae "rolled-winged stoneflies" - 0
- Glossosomatidae "caddisflies" - 0-2
- Odontoceridae "Mortarjoint casemakers" - 0
What is the educational value of bioassessments?
Students can use several field guides to identify the insects and other creatures in their waters and relate their presence to water quality. Studies can range from basic identification to taxonomy, to collecting and identifying bugs. All of these activities are fairly easy and will teach students to use a key.
Students can examine the insect's mouth with a magnifying glass and infer to which functional feeding group the insect belongs. The students can then explore where the insect exists in the food web and what it needs to survive. For example, a shredder needs leaf material to fall into the stream and a grazer needs algae. Here is a helpful resource on functional feeding groups.
Zonation (Where does it live?)
Use location to answer questions about water quality. For example, where in the stream do you find certain species and is this related to certain water conditions (low oxygen, low pH, high temperature...)? This could work for both project based-learning and science fair projects.
English Language Arts and Arts & Crafts
Students can create their own bugs and tell their stories. What are the special body parts or behaviour "adaptations" that help them survive?
Volunteer with scientist groups or participate in International Rock Flipping Day, on Sunday, September 9.
More Resources and a very big THANK YOU to the California Digital Reference Collection for the rights to use their photos in our blog.
With the worst drought in recorded history parching the state, water and water sourcing options are hot topics. In this two part series (read part one), we chat with our Waterkeeper Matt O'Malley, who discusses the Colorado River, future water prospects and much more.
70 percent of California’s precipitation occurs north of Sacramento, yet 75 percent of California’s urban/agricultural water demands are to the south. Please explain this disparity.
Cadillac Desert, and I’d urge anyone interested in history and complexity of California water issues to read that book. Twice.The climate of Southern California is ideal for growing year round, but, rainwater is severely lacking. There is a long and complicated history of fights over water and water rights between Northern and Southern California. The defining book on this subject is
The majority of our water (about 80 percent) in California goes to agriculture. How can more efficient irrigation practices help our current water crisis?
There are a couple of common sense and practical things that could be done right now to improve irrigation practices. We could use less water and/or grow more climate-appropriate crops. Low-flow irrigation techniques rather than flood irrigation, or capture and reuse of irrigated water when and where possible, are a great solution when irrigation is needed.
What is water reclamation and how does San Diego currently utilize this process?
Reclaimed water is wastewater that is treated to different standards, depending on its intended use. That standard could be appropriate for irrigation or for drinking water.
The current process in getting this wastewater treated is similar to desalination technology, where water is forced through membrane filters and then further cleaned. This occurs in what is called “purple pipe," or reclaimed water system, which is what is most commonly used for golf courses or other industrial or commercial activities.
The problem with this is that it is expensive to treat that water for irrigation purposes, when in practice we should be seeking ways to drastically reduce irrigation needs and develop drinkable water supplies – and we likely won’t have enough water long-term to do both.
California has been utilizing recycled water for many years, yet over one million acre-feet/year is unused. How can increased water reuse/reclamation greatly benefit our local supply?
San Diego Coastkeeper supports large-scale wastewater recycling for drinkable reuse. We believe recycling for irrigation is not the most efficient or environmentally friendly use and would like to see more drought-tolerate or native species planted that require far less watering than lawns, and thus free up any water for potable reuse for our community.
What will it take to get support from the general public for using purified wastewater?
According to the newest polls, the public is already there. Not too many years ago many in the public were opposed to potable reuse, but I think now that they understand the technology involved and the need.
Many are quickly coming around to the idea and supporting potable reuse projects. As potable reuse projects pop up from Orange County to Texas, people realize that all water is recycled water. Even the water we drink is subject to use and reuse upstream over and over again.
How much will conservation help us meet our water needs?
Conservation can make a marked difference in helping us meet our current and long-term water need. Currently, San Diego uses as much as 70 percent of our potable water outside the home (irrigation/pools/etc).
By localizing our landscapes, planting drought tolerant species and just being much more conscious of our outdoor water use, we can drastically cut our use. Some parts of Australia use 40 gallons per day, where in San Diego we’re more like 140 gallons per day, and they have a similar standard of living and landscapes. We can likely cut our use by half, if not more.
What can the general public do to conserve water?
The first step is to be aware of your water use, in particular outdoor use. As a community we need to be cognizant of our environment and adapt to it, rather than try to have it adapt to us. With even less rainfall likely in the future, this is of critical importance.
The good news is that there are lots of incentives and rebates offered to help us do this. Take advantage of rebates offered by local agencies to improve efficiencies and remove lawns for localized landscapes that require far less water and irrigation, as this is the biggest use of water by far.
Desalination is one of the ways we can build a local water supply. What are some of the challenges with this technology?
Desalination presents a few challenges. For one, is not very efficient and a great deal of water is wasted in the process. Moreover, the process destroys habitats and kills marine life, along with the fact that brine discharges are concentrated and can impair beneficial uses and water quality objectives. Lastly, it uses a tremendous amount of energy to process and treat sea water into potable water, further leading to climate change and associated negative impacts. If desalination is going to be used, these issues need to be figured out before it becomes a legitimate part of our water portfolio.
According to a 2010 report by the Equinox Center, “Water is likely to be the most critical resource challenge that the San Diego region will face during the next two decades." What will happen if extra measures aren’t taken to maintain a reliable water supply as population growth continues?
We will need to ration and regulate more, which is likely to happen anyway. We may need additional infrastructure, which costs a great deal.
By conserving, we’re saving money on that end, and we’re reducing our dependence on outside supplies. We don’t have an option but to meet these new challenges if we plan on succeeding and surviving as a community.
Will water be the “liquid gold” of the future?
It’s far too important to be compared to gold. It is essential to all life, and when it is unavailable, life no longer exists. Gold we can live without. It is, by far, the most important thing in the world. Think about when we look for planets that may harbor life, the first thing we ask is whether there is water in any form. The same can be said for our Southwest communities.
Ultimately why should the public be so concerned about our limited water supply in the Southwest? Why is reliable water so important?
It is essential to all life. Without water, life does not exist and our communities are more dependent on a clean water supply than anything else in the world. A reliable water supply means a stable economy, which is ultimately required for a stable environment.
With the worst drought in recorded history parching the state, water and water sourcing options are hot topics. In this two part series (read part two), we chat with our Waterkeeper Matt O'Malley, who discusses the Colorado River, future water prospects and more.
Part 1 of 2
Why is water considered the lifeblood of the Southwestern US?
Colorado River is vital to our everyday existence. The reality is that most of the Southwest is desert, but we don’t live as though it is. Instead we try to make it look and live like regions that get much more rainfall – such as Hawaii or Florida. Water is vital to almost everything we do, in particular the
Without water our communities would not exist as they do. San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix and the rest of the Southwest, including our agricultural communities, would look much different than they do today. The major population centers of the Southwest, including Los Angeles and San Diego, are home to about 1/10 of the U.S. population.
Please explain why there is a current water crisis in the Southwest.
There is a drought throughout the west, with California and Nevada feeling the largest impacts. In addition to the significant impacts of drought, the Southwest has received less rainfall than average, and has for the last several years. This reality has lead to a severe shortage of water, both locally and in the sources available for importation to our region from other parts of the southwest.
How has the perception of water as a valued resource changed in this region over the last few decades?
To paraphrase John Steinbeck in East of Eden, during the dry years, people forget about the lush years, and during the wet years they lose all memory of the dry years. That seems a constant and definitely rings true today.
Luckily, an increasing number of individuals and agencies are becoming aware of just how valuable and necessary a resource water is, in both wet and dry years and taking steps to preserve this invaluable commodity. It is heartening to see people are conserving more and doing more with less, but we can do much better. We have to do better. While I know there are also those who are oblivious to the water crisis, I feel confident they will become acutely aware of it sooner rather than later. With longer and more frequent droughts likely (the results from climate change) and with rising water prices, it will be hard to ignore.
A recent study projects that by 2050, climate change will reduce the flow of the Colorado River by 10 - 30 percent. How much will climate change impact our water supply?
Tremendously. With climate change we could very well experience prolonged periods of drought and inconsistent precipitation. There are studies that show our current drought crisis is linked with climate change. Water scarcity could easily become the “new normal” for the southwest and California. It’s important for us to adapt to this new normal and develop conservation and recycling methods to deal with it, and that’s something we’re working on at San Diego Coastkeeper.
The demand for water has historically exceeded the local supply in Los Angeles and San Diego since the inception of these cities. Why has the Colorado River become such a vital resource for Southern California?
I am not certain on all the motivations to use the Colorado River as source, but I can guess that at the time this seemed like an choice full of abundance in resource. Today the reality is that we haven’t come close to meeting our maximum conservation potential, and we haven’t yet developed ways to capture much of the rainfall that does occur here. Historically, rather than treat rainwater as an asset, we’ve treated it as a nuisance, something to be diverted from properties and into stormwater systems.
The Colorado is our main source of imported water in Southern California because of this gap, based on long-standing water rights and adjudications. If we can find ways to truly integrate our systems, we can supply a larger portion of our local water needs with local rainfall.
The local water supply in San Diego is currently enough to support just a few hundred thousand residents. Please explain.
San Diego has existing reservoirs designed to capture local rainfall and delivered to customers. But due in part to logistics, reservoir storage infrastructure and lack of local capture and use, we actually capture and use only a limited quantity. In the future, it’s likely that you’ll see small-scaled capture and rainwater use/treatment systems throughout the desert and coastal Southwest.
California is facing its third dry year in a row. How do droughts like this affect the water supply?
The state has less snowpack to pull water resources from and less snowpack means less water. In the past, snowpack acted as a “natural reservoir." Currently, with the entire state impacted by drought, what water we were getting from central California is drastically reduced. The same goes for Colorado River water and a drier environment is more likely to burn, meaning increase wildfires and the water quality issues are closely associated with our current situation, a situation that could be increasingly permanent.
The drought has caused increased groundwater pumping this year. Please explain how we are depleting our aquifers and what this could mean for the future.
This method of sourcing water has lead to drying up of wells, reduction of water in streams and lakes (due to hydrologic connections), deterioration of water quality, land subsidence and saltwater infiltration into groundwater, among other impacts.
A recent Los Angeles Times poll found that only 16 percent of people have been drastically affected by the drought at home. How will this change in the future if increased drought conditions occur as predicted?
One way that this will almost certainly change is that that number will go up, likely way up. Once mandatory irrigation schedules or other prohibitions become commonplace, people will begin to feel the pinch. Pricing will continue to rise as water gets more scarce and harder to come by. Sometimes the pocketbook is the place where people feel things the most and get more motivated. That is not far off now.
We're in the worst drought in California's recorded history--and the City of San Diego has not yet elevated its water use restrictions to Level 2. This is unacceptable.
Governor Brown already requested everyone in the state reach 20 percent conservation, and the San Diego County Water Authority recently approved moving voluntary water use restrictions to mandatory. This vote allowed numerous cities in the region to implement their mandatory water use restrictions and come into compliance with emergency water conservation mandates approved July 15 by the State Water Resources Control Board.
Unfortunately, during an update about its ongoing water conservation program on July 23, City of San Diego's Public Utilities Department Director Halla Razak and a representative from the city attorney's office reiterated the stance that the City is already in compliance with state regulations. They said that the permanent mandatory restrictions currently in place in the City of San Diego "mirror" the Level 2 drought restrictions that the County Water Authority approved. Sadly, Ms. Razak stated that we should "pray for rain" and plan for allocations.
We know this isn't right. And we are committed to working with folks at the City, the State Water Board and the County Water Authority to ensure all water suppliers in our region obey the law and do their part to conserve.
Last week, our staff gave public comment during the City of San Diego environment committee meeting to update council members on state regulations that require implementation of mandatory restrictions and information about how the City hasn't taken necessary steps to address outdoor irrigation scheduling and other key elements of those restrictions.
In addition to comment letters and public testimony, we also partnered on a strongly-worded joint press release with Save the Colorado, highlighting the broader impacts of this decision for the regions from which we draw our water. We identified the current City of San Diego stance as in violation of existing regulations--and in poor taste, considering the broader implications of the drought for the entire Western U.S.
It is our goal to have the City of San Diego understand the requirements and come into compliance with State Board regulations. The deadline just passed, and the need to act is urgent. We have been working one-on-one with decision makers, in public hearings and in the media to achieve this goal.
For three decades, toxins sat in the sediment at the bottom of San Diego Bay, a legacy of poor practices at the shipyards of yesteryear.
What was once a thriving ecosystem went dead.
Even after the Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered a cleanup, San Diego Coastkeeper and its allies spent years advocating for a plan that would protect both the environment and the communities through which the toxic waste would be hauled. Finally, in 2013, the cleanup began with the dredging of the southernmost of two sites.
Legal battles among the responsible parties has prevented cleanup of the northern site. On July 22, 2014, the San Diego City Council approved funds for a portion of the cleanup so that it could begin.
Thank you City of San Diego. We're pleased to see the City following through on its obligations to clean San Diego Bay, and we hope that remediation activities will now begin. We attended the council meeting when the council approved the funds so that we could give them our "attaboy." We wanted to let them know that we are watching and urge that no further obstacle stand in the way of a complete cleanup, as ordered by the Regional Board.
Our bay provides sustenance, recreation and industry. It deserves nothing less.
Swimmable Water Weekend is back! July 25 - 27 is a weekend to celebrate clean water by visiting your favorite beach. To celebrate this year, we are hosting a contest on Instagram:#swimmableSD.
How do you enter?
Post a picture on Instagram showing how you enjoy your favorite beach. Are you a surfer? Parasailer? Paddleboarder? Or do you enjoy simply soaking in the sun just out of reach of the tide?
Post your picture showing what swimmable water means to you and tag it with #SwimmableSD. Post by the end of the day on July 25. On July 28, we will pick our favorites and the winners will receive a #SwimmableSD Gift Pack from us. Follow us @SD_Coastkeeper and enjoy the water!
But wait, there's more!
You can also tag your photo with #SwimmableCA to enter an Instagram and Twitter contest hosted by our friends at California Coastkeeper Alliance. Along with their sponsors WeWork offices, Rubio's and Pura Vida Bracelets, they will select and announce winners on August 1 in these three categories:
- The best Swimmable Photo by a WeWork member (swimmable summer fun package + a ticket to WeWork's summer camp in New York!)
- The best Swimmable Photo
- The best non-swimming Swimmable Photo
Feel free to step up your game by making a #swimmablewater video to participate in the international Waterkeeper #swimmablewater video contest.
High Tech High Blog Series: Blog 6 of 7
What comes to mind when you read the word “fertilizer?” Lawns? Farms? Family garden projects? What about water pollution and dead zones?
It’s hard to believe a substance famous for helping plants flourish in one environment can destroy other environments only a few miles away in our lakes, rivers and ocean.
Fertilizers are made up of mostly nitrogen and phosphorus which, when applied sparingly and responsibly, can create a healthy, strong plant. But when overuse and over watering cause these compounds to flow into other areas, they cause aquatic plants to grow out of control and overrun their delicate ecosystems.
This is Where YOU Come In.
Yes, YOU and everyone with a lawn or garden can help end fertilizer pollution. It takes a lot of work to keep nonnative plants alive in Southern California, because those plants natively thrived in a much wetter, more fertile environment. Instead of breaking out the hose and fertilizer spreader, consider the many beautiful and delicate native plants that love the Southern California heat.
These plants love the San Diego climate as much as you do:
- Miniature Hollyhock - White Sage
- California Lilac - Wooly Blue Curls
- Manzanita - Desert Mallow
- Baby Blue Eyes - Ian Bush
And many more native plants.
If you can’t bear to part with your beautiful garden, try a natural fertilizer like recycled coffee grounds (free from Starbucks!) before you heap on the chemicals. Remember, there’s always a natural alternative. You just have to be willing to find it.