The challenge: Use the information on the water scarcity problems we face in San Diego to become the solution. That's what Vicki Binswanger’s Biology class at Westview High School, Poway did. They used our education lessons and website for their class project and the results are very impressive. After learning how scarce our most important resource is, water, they were given the challenge to be a part of the solution. They had to either take action by:
- Persuading or educating others in their community.
- Reducing their own ecological impact.
- Designing an experiment to further understand conservation.
Overall, this small project made a huge impact on the environment:
- Several students managed to reduce their own water and electric bills, as well as trash production.
- Other students educated their sports teams and children at local schools as well as persuaded local business people to promote eco-friendly ideas.
- Many chose to design experiments where they answered their own questions related to the environment.
- All students used research skills, analyzed data, used critical reading and writing skills and demonstrated scientific thinking. This confirms that environmental education not only promotes stewardship but also increase student's college readiness.
They also designed a website to share all their projects and titled it the Green Teen.
Ms. Binswanger loved the presentation materials, reports and data we provided. She was impressed with the outcome of the project and how well it reached the students. The project was especially successful in speaking to students that are less inspired by traditional activities because they saw authentic value in what we were doing. Using San Diego's environmental real-life problems was important to help students connect with their science class.
Big thanks to Ms. Binswanger and her awesome biology class for sharing their project with us. You are a very inspiring group.
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.
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.
Well, hello blog readers.
Because you're an important part of the Coastkeeper community, I wanted to take a moment to give you an insider's perspective on our recent lawsuit. We filed against the San Diego County Water Authority for failing to account for the environmental impacts of existing and future water supply sources in its recently approved water supply plan. As you know, we strive to build relationships in the community with a broad spectrum of businesses, agencies and nonprofits. As you also know, when collaboration fails to meet the needs of our waters, legal action is in our repertoire.
In late March, the Water Authority approved an update to its Master Plan for water supply and a related environmental impact report and climate action plan. Despite the fact that California law requires them to do so, these plans do not fully assess the environmental impacts of each water supply source the Water Authority considers. In particular, they ignore the energy used to treat and move water. These plans will be used as the basis for decisions made for the next twenty years, and today that is a faulty basis.
San Diego Coastkeeper protects and restores fishable, swimmable and drinkable water, this includes our water supply. We are worried about these plans because energy used to move water translates to greenhouse gas and exacerbates climate change impacts like sea level rise and drought characteristics. In San Diego, our environmental and economic stability will be threatened if these plans are left as they stand.
We did not jump straight to a lawsuit. Since mid-2013, we have worked with the Water Authority in meetings with its staff and board members; by submitting comment letters alongside our partner groups; and by giving oral testimony at public hearings. Our concerns and cautions about environmental laws were repeatedly dismissed.
So, as the watchdog organization in our region dedicated to protect our waters and empowered to act, we filed a lawsuit. Our ultimate goal is to bring the Water Authority back to the table and end up with a better water supply plan for our region. The improved plan will consider embedded energy, and we'll end up prioritizing conservation and reuse over more energy-intensive sources like imports from the Bay-Delta and Colorado River.
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.