Each year San Diego’s Equinox Center releases a Quality of Life Dashboard which analyzes the area’s environment, economy and communities for the year. As a San Diegan and San Diego Coastkeeper Waterkeeper, I am grateful for both the time they put into producing it and the useful information it provides.
The 2013 Dashboard was recently released and I want to take a few minutes to talk about it today because the quality and depth of their work and findings help us assess the state of our waters, in both quantity and quality, and figure out where we can focus our organization’s efforts. In the end, in producing this Dashboard, the Equinox Center helps make a significant contribution to fishable, drinkable, swimmable San Diego waters. So thank you, Equinox!
The report, which analyzes both water consumption and water quality, has some good news and the good news is that when it comes to water quality, there has been some improvement. We’re happy to see San Diego score so high when compared to California’s other major cities, because our waters make up so much of what defines us as San Diegans. For example, the water analysis section has a section on beach closures and advisories and it reports that, despite increased closures since 2011, 97 percent of San Diego’s beaches earned A or B marks during dry weather from Heal the Bay, although only 76 percent did during wet weather. That is the highest score for any of California's major cities.
On the other hand, the report reflects an abundance of work still to be done. For example, did you know that water use in San Diego went up last year? This is not good news in a time of such serious drought. Now more than ever it’s important for all of us in the region to maximize conservation and work towards developing a new water conservation ethic built around zero waste.
While we’re reducing, we can also work towards reusing and utilizing local resources to help complement our existing water supplies. These strategies include increased stormwater capture and use when it does rain.
There are other steps that will have to be made on a larger scale. One example is wastewater recycling for potable reuse. I am excited to say that is something more and more local agencies, including the City of San Diego, are working towards implementing.
Of course, we at Coastkeeper will continue to work towards pollution prevention techniques and strategies that allow our beaches to remain open not only when it’s bright and sunny, but after it rains as well. One of the many lessons gleaned from review of the Dashboard is how important it is for us to continue our beach testing efforts that give us more rapid results to protect public health and recreational opportunities here in San Diego.
Do you want to be part of those testing efforts? Check out our Water Quality Monitoring Programs! If that isn’t your cup of tea, we have a beach cleanup, educational event or any number of other perfectly suited activities for you. Check out these opportunities on our volunteer opportunities and events pages.
It probably won’t surprise you that as San Diego Coastkeeper’s Waterkeeper I spend a lot of my time thinking about water- the best sources, the best methods and the best ways we can take stewardship for our environment while meeting our serious regional water needs. I probably don’t need to tell you that we live in a region with a drought crisis or that most of our water, 80 percent in fact, is imported from outside of San Diego County.
Lately, I have spent a great deal of time on efforts in the lead-up to the San Diego County Water Authority’s recent vote on the adoption of its Regional Water Facilities Optimization and Master Plan Update (Master Plan). As expected the vote upheld the business-as-usual and environmentally neglectful policies of the past. To the frustration of many, the plan and its accompanying environment and climate change documents fail to address the greater impacts of the region's water supply system including environmental damage, increasing ratepayer costs, greenhouse gas pollution and climate change.
In addition to the Master Plan, which explores the region's needs for and options to address water supply through 2035, the Water Authority also approved the accompanying Supplemental Program Environmental Impact Report and Climate Action Plan. Unfortunately the deficient Climate Action Plan will allow for the Water Authority to continue prioritizing water sources that are both energy-intense and environmentally damaging; namely additional imported water and conveyance, and additional desalination plants. I will talk in more detail about cheaper, more environmentally responsible alternatives to desalination, including the City of San Diego’s potable reuse project, in a later blog post. For now, I want to focus on the Master Plan and the supplemental documents.
In the months leading up to this vote, I worked in coordination with other environmental and social justice organizations, known collectively as San Diego Bay Council, which includes groups like the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Environmental Health Coalition, North County Coastal Group, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation and others. Most of us had been part of this planning process since early 2013 and have repeatedly called on the Water Authority to prioritize conservation and recycling, and implement an appropriate and responsible climate action plan. As evidenced by the vote, the Water Authority has repeatedly declined to incorporate any of this feedback into its plan, noting that it believes it is not responsible to account for the energy use of its water supply strategy, leaving that to its suppliers and customers to sort out. Does that seem fair or responsible to you?
The vote was disappointing in that it shows the Water Authority sidestepping an opportunity to safely and economically usher the region into a much-needed new water supply paradigm. What seems to have been ignored all together by this plan is the amount of energy it takes to supply water. As approved, the plan misses the opportunity to issue a water loading order, which would prioritize the least environmentally damaging sources of water. This would have led to water supply solutions that better protect the environment and reduce very costly infrastructure needs.
As you can see, its decision also means that the trend continues: lower-cost and more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient water source solutions are being downplayed or ignored to the detriment of our environment and pocket books. In a region so desperate for water, we must assure that our water sourcing portfolio is both diverse and effective while making informed decisions based on a variety of factors including cost, environmental impact, energy intensity, and ratepayer implications.
And let us not forget, another issue at stake is the depletion of one of the nation’s most vulnerable waterways, the Colorado River. Our region’s water needs have contributed heavily to the fact that for the last decade the Colorado River has been drained dry by the time it reaches the Sea of Cortez. The Save the Colorado organization points out that, “While the destruction of the river is a clear and obvious consequence of our actions, additional threats to the Colorado River - from its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park, all the way to its dry destiny near the Sea of Cortez - are increasing with each tick of the clock.” Can we really afford to wait to take action?
I want to be clear that, while the vote and other Water Authority efforts have disappointed, they are not the end of the story. We still have power as citizens and the region is brimming with potential. You can help prove me right by donating to our efforts, volunteering for one of our many monthly events to care for our beautiful and bountiful waters and beaches and you can let your voice be heard by contacting your local representatives on the San Diego County Water Authority Board with your thoughts on their totally-off-the-mark plan.
"Fix A Leak Week" ended. I'm pretty sure that some of us still have a leak or two that can be fixed, though, and that will save thousands upon thousands of gallons of water. So, in the spirit of experiential learning and full transparency, I bring you: my toilet.
San Diego Coastkeeper offers free dye tabs to anyone that wants them, thanks to a special delivery from the San Diego County Water Authority's conservation director. Here's your step-by-step pictorial how to guide to using them, as performed in my house:
STEP 1: Open your dye tab packet. (Get it free from San Diego Coastkeeper, if you need it.)
STEP 2: Remove the dye tab. Yes, it looks like a SweeTart. But it's not, so don't eat it.
STEP 3: Drop one dye tab in the tank of your toilet.
STEP 4: Agitate the water. You could try hurling insults or tickling to agitate it, but I suggest swirling a long-handled something in the tank, instead.
STEP 5: Wait. Wait a few moments longer.
STEP 6: Observe the water in the bowl of your toilet. Yes, of course mine is always this clean. If the water is clear like this, congratulate yourself. It's likely you don't have any water leaking from your tank. You are #waterwise! Tweet, Instagram or Facebook about it.
STEP 6.1: If a trail of blue appears in your tank, or you walk away and come back to a Smurf colored bowl, get your work clothes on or your plumber's phone number out. There seems to be water leaking from your tank to your bowl. You could be losing thousands of gallons of water a year! That's a lot of water that we can't afford to waste; and you're paying for it every time you get a bill. So take care of it!
Wondering what other leaks might be happening right under your roof? Check out Matt's earlier blog about the trillion gallons lost every year to leaks and let us know how your fixes go!
Bonus tip: San Diego County Water Authority provides a FREE irrigation survey. Around 60% of water use in San Diego County is outside the home and a tiny leak in your irrigation system can lose 6,300 gallons per MONTH! That's like taking an extra shower every single day. Sign up at the WaterSmart website. It's free. Go for it.
Did you know that March 17-23 is Fix a Leak Week?
Sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this week brings attention to water leaks, which are a serious concern, especially in drought- stricken California.
A leak doesn’t seem like a big deal? It is.
- Each year, more than 1 trillion gallons of water are lost to leaks nationwide. That is equivalent to the annual use of more than 11 million homes. That is a LOT of precious water being lost!
- Eight percent of the water used in a typical single-family California home is wasted due to leaks, according to a 2011 study.
- A leaky faucet that drips at the rate of once per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year. That's the amount of water needed to take more than 180 showers.
- An irrigation system with a leak 1/32 of an inch in diameter (about the thickness of a dime) can waste 6,300 gallons of water per month.
The San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies are paying extra attention to leak eradication during Fix a Leak Week by offering special classes, promoting home and business water-use check-ups, and giving away dye tablets to help detect leaky toilets.
We’ve partnered with the County Water Authority to make sure you have access to the dye tablets and the valuable information to help you learn about potential leaks in your home. Find us at a Beach Cleanup or visit our office to pick yours up.
For full details on classes, check-ups and other Leak Week offerings, visit www.sdcwa.org/fixaleakweek This is also a good reminder to those of us who call America’s Finest City home that more than 80 percent of our water is imported from outside the area. The single best way to increase local water supply is by using less and wasting none. Check out our other water conservation tips and save some water today.
The following was written by Coastkeeper’s Jo Brooks and Everett Delano of our board of directors in response to a February 23 U-T San Diego editorial that criticized stormwater runoff requirements. This is the full text of their response, a partial response was published in the March 15, 2014 U-T.
A recent U-T San Diego editorial complained about the “ridiculousness” of stormwater runoff requirements adopted last May by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. Alleging the rules would cost the city $4 billion over the next 17 years and cause a 1,000 percent increase in the (miniscule) stormwater portion of water bills, the U-T San Diego Editorial Board urged that somebody “needs to stop the madness.” While the editorial was filled with hyperbole and sought to entertain, particularly the line about having to put diapers on waterfowl, the problem of water pollution is no laughing matter.
A Region in Trouble
Our region’s waters are in bad shape. In 2013 alone, San Diego County had over 3,000 beach closure days. More than 160 water bodies in the county are listed as polluted and not meeting federal water quality standards for, among other things, bacteria, lead, nickel, pesticides, thallium and trash. An urban runoff report on the biological integrity of San Diego’s streams in 2011-2012 listed only 3% as in “very good” condition while 79% were listed as “poor” or “very poor.” San Diego Coastkeeper’s own monitoring in 2013 revealed “marginal” water quality for the Carlsbad, Sweetwater, Pueblo, and Otay watersheds, and “poor” water quality for the Tijuana watershed. San Diego’s waters, inextricably linked to our own health and to the health of our economy, need our protection and our action.
The editorial’s complaint that the standards would require the city to “scrub its urban runoff” is simply wrong. Yes, even under prior permits, washing a car in a driveway and allowing dirty wash water to escape to the street or a storm drain system is “strongly discouraged.” So are a host of other bad practices that flush water with chemicals and pollutants into storm drains, where it collects with other pollutants that feed into San Diego’s streams, beaches, lagoons, bays, and eventually the ocean. While there are no permit requirements to “scrub runoff,” there are appropriate requirements to adopt “maximum extent practicable” levels of protection of San Diego’s precious water bodies.
Fishable, Swimmable & Drinkable
As members of San Diego Coastkeeper’s board of directors, we take seriously the federal Clean Water Act’s mandates of fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters. As San Diegans, we should all ask ourselves – what is it worth to be able to eat fish from our waters, recreate in our bays and ocean, and drink water without fear of illness? There can be little doubt but that clean water is important to all. A 2004 study conducted by the University of Southern California and UCLA estimates that for every dollar spent on compliance with stormwater requirements, two to three dollars in benefits will result, including benefits to tourism, property values, public health, and public recreation.
A Questionable Price Tag
In reality, the $4 billion 17-year price tag listed in the editorial is suspect – like many things, there are often less expensive ways to address the same objective. Certainly the permit contains no requirement to spend any particular amount of money. But some of the very things the editorial complains about, like improving our irrigation systems and capturing stormwater for reuse, have tremendous potential to save both money and water in the long run, particularly when we are faced with a drought and the inevitably increasing costs associated with a reliable water supply for a growing population. Coastkeeper participates in the permit’s stakeholder process and supports constructive approaches to meeting permit requirements at reasonable cost.
It is also important to remember that visitors to San Diego spend nearly $8.4 billion annually, with an economic impact of over $18.7 billion generated for our regional economy. These visitors, just like residents and businesses, depend on healthy beaches and bays. Our healthy economy, like our public health, depends on healthy San Diego water bodies.
The U-T editorial correctly notes that our antiquated sewage-processing facility, the country’s last large municipal treatment plant not to meet basic secondary-treatment standards, requires significant upgrades. But we cannot afford to pollute our region’s water bodies either through inadequate sewage treatment or through polluted urban runoff.
The editorial derides the Regional Water Board’s permit as “environmental extremism.” In fact, it implements obligations set forth in the very mainstream 40-year-old federal Clean Water Act. We think of it more as an appropriate, measured step to address one of our region’s greatest assets. Our public health, our ecological health, and our financial well-being deserve nothing less.
Shortly before the Governor declared an emergency state of drought in California, a question of supply arose.
In the news recently is a story about the ongoing drawdown of water from Lake Morena. To sum it all up, the City of San Diego has begun drawing water out of Lake Morena for water supply, while the County, which runs the public park surrounding Morena, is opposed to the drawdown because it claims less water in the reservoir means harm to the environment and fewer recreational opportunities.
So who is right? The City? The County?
Trick question, because there is no right or wrong answer. Lake Morena is a reservoir. This is one of the safeguards our region has against drought. And yet, as of January 27, 2014, Lake Morena is only 5.4% full, at a depth of 91 feet, out of 157 possible, so the limit to which this reservoir should be drawn seems pretty close. The Lake Morena situation shows just how complex water issues are in San Diego County.
Whether we're dealing with drinking water supply, recreational use, or wastewater impacts on our environment, each of these issues is closely connected. And, we should expect to see more conflicts such as this one unless we change our thinking about water source and water usage.
For starters, California just had its driest year ever on record. Yes, you read that right. Less rainfall and snowpack means less water available to you and me. And for those who haven't yet heard, the Governor declared a drought. And so our water providers look to our storage reservoirs to supply our needs.
Shouldn't a reservoir that is at just 5.4% its capacity point strongly to a need for immediate and drastic action?
So where do we begin? Immediately: conserve. The governor called for voluntary 20% reductions and is considering mandatory restrictions. The Metropolitan Water District doubled its conservation budget to $40 million. Our County Water Authority has done nothing. It may be true that we have enough water to last the year, but what of the future? And what about the fact that most of our water comes from Northern California and the Colorado River, both of which are under dire strain? We must all voluntarily conserve now, even if the Water Authority won't help us.
And then, a long-range plan. As it just so happens, the San Diego County Water Authority is working on developing a long-range water supply plan for our area, and it falls far short of being a usable document to lead us into a more sustainable water future. The Plan fails to promote recycling and conservation as its top priority. If we want to help alleviate situations like Lake Morena in the future, we should encourage the County to work with the cities of our area and stakeholders (such as San Diego Coastkeeper!) in the implementation of far greater conservation and potable water recycling on a large-scale.
What can you do?
1. Contact your County Water Representative and ask them to fund and support greater conservation and recycling measures than their Master Plan does.
2. Conserve water. You can make a difference today. Follow a conservative watering schedule, and capture and use the rain when it does fall. Here's our Top Ten water conservation tips. We can all do our part to make San Diego a more water-friendly environment.
Do you ever wonder where your water in San Diego comes from? Do you know what type of impact that has on our environment or how much energy it uses? Watch San Diego Coastkeeper's video on the water supply in San Diego to learn more. Then visit us at http://www.sdcoastkeeper.org.
Thirty million people in seven states in the Southwest use the Colorado River's water for their survival. California—including San Diego—has more people depending upon Colorado River water than any other state.
Competing demands make the Colorado River one of the most contested and controlled rivers on Earth. Over the last decade, humans have drained all of the river's water - all 5 trillion gallons - before it reaches the Sea of Cortez. The Colorado River is in very bad shape and deeply threatened.
In total, about twenty million Californians rely, at least in part, on the Colorado River for their drinking water, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation's 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. In San Diego, we import 70 percent of our water and about half of that comes from the Colorado River. Does that sound efficient or secure to you?
We say no, and it's time to change our ways. In 2009, San Diego Coastkeeper and our partners reached a Cooperative Agreement with the City of San Diego to plan how we can reduce our dependence on imported water and secure a local water supply. This year, in 2013, City Council unanimously instructed its staff to move forward with wastewater recycling to bring us about 100 million gallons per day of clean local drinking water. Success!
But guess what? Around 78 percent of the water drained from the Colorado every year goes to agriculture. Colorado River irrigates an amazing 15 percent of our nation's crops – so we'd better get busy on that front, too.
In California, over a half million acres of agricultural land is irrigated by the Colorado River and most of the vegetables consumed by people in the United States in winter months come from California crops irrigated by the Colorado River. The Department of Interior and the seven Colorado River states are now meeting to figure next steps on agricultural conservation and efficiency and keeping healthy flow in the river.
Thanks to the Colorado River Basin Study, we know that we could save three million acre feet per year, if only we'd take action. That's enough to cover San Diego in 13 feet of water.
And that's why we and Councilmember Gloria care about the National Young Farmer's Coalition.
It's a truism that how our young generations think and act will define the future of our society—and in this case our river. So the fact that the National Young Farmer's Coalition supports sustainable farming and is a leader in demanding that agricultural users protect the Colorado River tells us something important. A thriving Colorado River is our future. San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria is joining farmers on July 25, Colorado River Day, in a plea to the Basin Study planning group that the outcome of their meeting is actionable proposals—things we can do NOW--to reduce agricultural pressure on the Colorado River while maintainin its strong industry here in San Diego.
This issue has been studied thoroughly, the time for action is now.
The following blog about potable reuse was written by student attorney Courtney Cole.
For more info about our legal clinic, click here.
To learn more about water recycling, I recently toured facilities in both San Diego and Orange County that treat wastewater to better-than-tap quality. I'll have to admit, I had my reservations. What about all of the teeny tiny bacteria and viruses and...stuff? But that was before I knew how things worked.
Once biosolids are removed, the water undergoes a three-step process: microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and UV + H2O2. Microfiltration uses hollow fibers, similar to straws, with tiny holes (1/300 the diameter of a human hair) in the sides to remove suspended solids, protozoa, bacteria, and some viruses from the water. Next, during reverse osmosis, water is forced through the molecular structure of plastic membranes, removing dissolved chemicals, viruses, and pharmaceuticals. Water is near distilled quality after this step, but as an additional safeguard it is treated with a combination of high-intensity ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide. This destroys the DNA of any organism that might have made it past microfiltration and reverse osmosis. So much for my concern about the teeny tiny stuff.
An important part of the tours for me was the drink test. After hearing about destroyed DNA, my main concern was what the water would taste like. I hesitantly filled my test cup and raised it to my nose. It seemed fine, so I drank. Better than fine, the water tasted wonderful! It was clean and refreshing, and better than any bottled water I have ever had.
Aside from tasting great, recycled water has other benefits for San Diego. Over 80% of our drinking water is imported from the Colorado River or northern California, which uses energy and costs money. To address this, Coastkeeper advocates for potable reuse – a process in which highly-treated wastewater is added to local reservoirs to increase drinking water supply. Utilizing recycled water will help secure a local and reliable source of water for our city. And if I'm still here to write this blog post, maybe toilet to tap isn't so bad after all.
A few weeks ago I was invited to attend a workshop hosted by the EPA called Technology to Empower Citizen Scientists. About 60 people from NGOs and state and federal agencies got together to discuss how we can work better together and how new technologies can help, especially in the area of bioassessment.
First, let me describe what bioassessment is. Our current water quality monitoring program looks at several very specific chemical concentrations in the stream. Among other things, we look at dissolved oxygen, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, and dissolved metals. Our rivers and streams are not to exceed very specific limits of these chemicals, and we directed our program's efforts to identifying if San Diego County’s rivers and streams are exceeding pollutant regulatory thresholds. Measuring these chemicals can give us a rough picture of stream health, but it isn't complete without bioassessment.
Bioassessment measures the health of the stream by measuring algae and aquatic insect communities. This gives us a more holistic view of the health of our waters. First, if the river is full of pollutant tolerant insects, but no pollutant sensitive species, pollution is most likely affecting stream health. Second, if algae are growing out of control, nutrients are affecting stream health. Chemical monitoring measures pollutants, then bioassessment measures the effects that those pollutants have on the aquatic ecosystem. We need more of these bioassessments in order to get a better picture of the health of our waterways. San Diego Coastkeeper will be starting our own volunteer-powered program next Spring '14.
What struck me at this meeting, which was attended by folks from all over the country, was how comparatively open California is in utilizing volunteer-generated data. We in California have a statewide database that anyone can upload into. We can also include our quality assurance data to show that the data generated is of good, useful quality. The Regional Water Quality Control Board as well as various municipalities around the county actively solicits us to send data to them so they can include it in their analysis and reports. The new draft of San Diego's stormwater permit has a section encouraging stormwater departments to partner with programs like ours to conduct special studies on water pollution. In short, our data is recognized for what it is: high quality and useful.
Unfortunately, most other states have put up roadblocks to utilizing volunteer generated data. For example, Ohio has this ridiculous law they call the “Ohio Credible Data Law.” Instead of letting the data speak for itself, volunteer data must pass various certification tests before it is considered. This is an expensive roadblock to utilizing good data. A certificate may "certify" one's data but it does not guarantee that the data is good. This is why it is imperative to look beyond a certification and directly at the quality assurance data to make a sound judgment about how useful one's data is.
Anyway, sorry for the mini rant. Most of the nation is not yet at a point where we can talk about cool, new technologies, volunteer-generated data is still sometimes relegated to the margins of the regulatory community. We in San Diego have it a bit easier- our data is actually used. So the morals of this blog are:
- Good job, California- by being open with volunteer data, we really set the bar for the rest of the country.
- Other states need to get their act together and stop putting up ridiculous roadblocks to volunteer-generated data.
- Keep your eye out for our new bioassessment program coming next Spring '14. We’ll be stomping around creeks and collecting bugs. It should be super fun.