Water Quality Index Score: 72, Fair
To no surprise, our 2014 data showed that:
- Nitrate is consistently high in upper Escondido Creek
In fact, four of the five samples with the highest nitrate concentrations collected anywhere in San Diego County this year came from Escondido Creek. Because of this, our volunteers report seeing a lot of algae growth in the water.
We’re not surprised because nitrate always measures high in Escondido Creek, but we’re interested in learning why this consistently happens. Recently, we inquired with the City of Escondido, and representatives say it comes from groundwater and the legacy pollution from the agriculture industry. Thankfully, our longtime volunteer and new board member, Taya Lazootin, is running a research project examining nitrate in Escondido Creek to figure out what’s happening. We’re hoping her final report has more insights into this problem.
Water Quality Index Score: 77, Fair
We tracked two parameters of concern in San Luis Rey Watershed:
- Turbidity: Two-thirds of the turbidity samples exceeded healthy standards
- Levels of pH: Over half of the pH samples collected exceeded healthy standards
Spoiler alert: Our volunteers saw the impacts of these poor water quality indicators play out when they reported numerous dead fish along the river’s bank in March and April.
When turbidity exceeds standards it means too many sediments are moving through the waters. We especially care about this in the San Luis River because it has a small tidal wetland where the fresh river water meets the coastal salt water. When the river carries unusually high amounts of sediment, it will deposit into the wetland, building it up and changing the habitat in this critical area. We’ll lose marine habitat because the ratio of salt and fresh waters will change if the salty tides can’t breach the sediment build up. This tidal wetland is an important brackish habitat for species like mullet fish and birds.
We’re not sure what’s raising the pH, and we’d like to research mines or factories in this watershed to understand how they may affect pH levels. We can tell you that it’s unusual for pH to be high, especially in river water. For healthy fresh waters, every river needs a certain window of pH–not too low and not too high. In San Luis Rey, the high levels of pH essentially stress the organisms that live in the river. It can also increase the toxicity of existing pollutants like metals and ammonia.
Unfortunately, our volunteers spotted fish kills in March and April–dead mullet fish that suffered from these exact cycles.
Side story, when we found these fish kills, we worked with the Regional Water Quality Control Board to understand more about what was happening. High nutrient levels in the water right after a rainstorm cause algae growth. During the day, algae pumps out oxygen, and then it reabsorbs it during the night. During our daytime tests, oxygen values were through the roof. When we investigated further, in the middle of the night at 2 a.m., oxygen levels dropped causing oxygen depletion, and dead fish.
The most important number to San Diego Coastkeeper is the power of one—you. Every day, we pursue more fishable, swimmable, drinkable water throughout San Diego County. And none of it happens without your passion, dedication and support.
In 2014, our staff of seven brought science, education and advocacy to bear on pressing water issues. Our negotiation, data and education efforts:
- Convinced the City of San Diego to unanimously approve a plan for Pure Water, a wastewater-recycling project that creates a new local drinking water source and stops polluted discharges to the ocean.
- Trained our 1,000th water quality monitor and launched a bio assessment program that measures ecosystem health by digging up bugs from rivers.
- Passed statewide legislation to allow rapid beach water quality tests that will let us know if water is safe to swim in less than four hours instead of 24 hours.
- Trained 44 teachers and taught 1,140 students with Project SWELL environmental education curriculum, helping them meet new Common Core requirements.
- Helped San Diegans do their part to address the historic drought by activating mandatory drought restrictions, in part thanks to the 10 legal and policy interns mentored through our Environmental Law & Policy Clinic.
Year in and year out, you are the support and inspiration that keeps us strong. We proudly share with you our 2014 annual report: an infographic that quantifies the “power of one” and an infographic about you and our goals for 2015.
We invite you to count the ways our team, along with you, improved fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego County this year. And imagine what we will continue to accomplish, thanks to the power of one.
Happy fishing, swimming and drinking,
|Megan Baehrens||Liz Taylor|
|Executive Director||President, Board of Directors|
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.
Project SWELL well equipped to educate future generations on water issues facing San Diego and possible solutions.
Teachers have a great impact on the attitudes students have towards their class subjects and subsequently have the opportunity to cultivate an appreciation for San Diego Waterways. With the assistance of Think Blue and San Diego Coastkeeper’s Project SWELL curriculum, it has never been easier to instill a sense of environmental responsibility and awareness in San Diego youth.
The environmental education made accessible by Project SWELL, online and through classroom presentations to all San Diego Unified School District teachers, enhances current science curricula to better address pressing environmental issues related to local waterways. The Project SWELL lesson plans help teachers meet new Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards as well as raise awareness of issues that impact the San Diego environment and actions that students can take to improve and sustain it.
For the first time ever, due to the generous donations from Stiefel/Behner Charitable Fund, Project SWELL offers a choice of classroom demonstrations. These demonstrations give students access to hands-on experiments and models that promote critical thinking in determining solutions for pollution problems in San Diego. Classroom visits also allow the teachers to learn the SWELL material in order to continue implementing in classrooms with the SWELL kit and PowerPoint presentations given to the teachers. The classroom visits consist of various lesson topics and are designed with grade levels in mind.
There are various subjects, each tailored to specific class levels. The topics include lessons about identifying a marine animals’ habitat, storm drain pollution, what types of pollution are found in San Diego waterways and San Diego watersheds, water sources, and conservation. Not only do these lessons teach students about the issues San Diego faces, but the curriculum also incorporates material on how students can personally contribute to alleviating the issue.
Judging by the pre-assessments and post assessment student results given at a variety of San Diego Unified District schools from September 2014 to December 2014, it is evident that Project SWELL lesson plans enhance students’ understanding of the connection between their actions and the natural environment.
Pre-assessments are given prior to the lesson plan and assess the knowledge on the presentation topics that students have preceding the lesson. The results demonstrate that many San Diego youth have a basic understanding on how their actions may affect the local waterways, as well as possible ways they can personally improve it. The post assessments indicate that Project SWELL deepens the students’ understanding about San Diego water supply, water conservation, and pollution problems.
The curriculum supplied by Project SWELL also helps teachers build their own environmental knowledge and teaching skills. We hope the skills and knowledge acquired from the curriculum will be a lifelong lesson for our students and teachers. We are confident that the Project SWELL lessons will motivate these individuals to inspire others to care about our most precious resource, water.
Though the State Water Board has had water use restrictions in place since August 2014–and they seem to be working, the Monterey Herald quoted Governor Jerry Brown recently saying he’s not ready to add to the restrictions statewide: “I’m reluctant to expand the coercive power of state authority,” Brown said. “In a democracy, it is fundamental that citizens be the driving force.” This is good news for those who think that regulation is not the answer. It is also a call to action; a time for individual residents and business to prove that we understand the gravity of the situation and will take care of our water, whether to protect habitat, to ensure enough supply for our growing tech industry or to keep rate increases under control.
San Diego County used 27% less water in December 2014 than it did last December. That’s even better than the statewide reduction of 22%. That’s right, the governor called for 20% reduction in use, and we did it. That figure includes residential use, industrial, agriculture…all the water. It’s a reason to celebrate. But how did we get there, and can we sustain it over the long term, which we must do to ensure continued environmental and economic health in the region?
When the governor declared a drought state of emergency in January 2014, our now four years of drought became national news. Despite cases of extreme need in other areas of California, in San Diego the message was particularly hard to swallow because our reservoirs were relatively full and regional agencies told us not to worry. After a few months of hot weather, a period when our region actually increased water consumption, and strong conservation advocacy by San Diego Coastkeeper, agencies and individuals responded by slowly adjusting their use. In part, this happened in response to regional mandatory restrictions.
What can we do? Think about using less and creating more. San Diego County is at the end of two very important pipelines. Our water comes primarily from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta in the north and the Colorado River to the east. Our region just approved Pure Water to generate 83 million gallons a day of clean local water to replace imports; and coalitions in North and South Counties are discussing similar efforts. With state drought funds being offered for large-scale projects, we need to focus on new and expanded potable reuse projects.
About half of our water use is outside the home. In addition to permanently adjusting our use so that this 27% decrease (and more) becomes the new normal, our personal choices and those of the building and landscape industry must turn to drought tolerant and edible landscaping, and we need governments to support that change. We live in a Mediterranean climate and should create beautiful landscapes that survive and thrive with little water. That means out with the turf and in with beautiful drought-tolerant plants (toyon stays green all year and bougainvillea comes in a palette of colors), or food crops that convert water into foods that nourish the body (and reduce your food’s carbon footprint).
“We need to treat water as the precious resource that it is. We need to be sensitive to the fact that many Californians don’t have or barely have enough water to drink, cook and bathe,” said State Water Board chair Felicia Marcus. “Hundreds of thousands of acres of agriculture have been fallowed, thousands of people are out of work, and fish and wildlife are struggling. Each individual act of conservation – such as letting the lawn go brown or fixing leaks – can add up to huge savings if enough people act.”
By thinking ahead, this can be a relatively painless process. Establishing new landscape requires an upfront investment of water, so timing is everything. Spend upcoming warm, dry months planning, then plant new growth during the cooler, wetter months. And, while you are at it, go ahead and turn the irrigation off to the grassy areas that are going to be replaced.
Bruce and Beth Hendershot are rockstars. The dynamic duo makes up half of our Lower Escondido Creek water monitoring team, a group of four individuals who met through our Water Quality Monitoring program and decided to adopt the entire Lower Escondido Creek region. Every month, the Hendershots get together to brave dense foliage, the elements and all kinds of insects to bring us water samples to analyze in the lab. You can feel their energy in the air when the Hendershots stop by the office to pick up kits. They are model volunteers – coordinating kit pick-ups and drop-offs with their team and going above and beyond to provide high-quality usable data to the program.
In 2014, Bruce and Beth collectively gave 80 hours – two full weeks of their time – to the Water Quality Monitoring program. In 2013 the duo received the Volunteer of the Year award at Coastkeeper’s Coastal Champion Awards. We got a chance to talk with them about their experience with San Diego Coastkeeper. Here’s what they said:
K: How did you first hear about Water Quality Monitoring, and why did you decide to join the program?
H: We heard about Coastkeeper Water Quality Monitoring through my Surfrider membership-years ago. We worked on their Blue Water Task Force. They pointed us to you!
K: You are both so committed. What keeps you coming back to the program month after month?
H: First of all, we choose to stay involved month after month because we believe that the Water Quality Monitoring program is vitally important, worthwhile, produces critical results that can guide policy and citizen behavior, and is desperately needed for the health of our local water supply & environment. Second, we admire and enjoy the Coastkeeper team and other volunteers. We have learned so much through our participation in various Coastkeeper activities. We cherish the long, lasting friendships that have resulted from our work with Coastkeeper. (And…we like our “playtime” with all of you, too!)
K: What does clean water mean to you? Why do you think it is an important goal for our city and region?
H: It is not just an important goal…it is a MUST – and absolute requirement for our city, region and boundaries far beyond! Clean water impacts the health, wellbeing and future of us all – people, animals, habitats, the entire environment, businesses, etc. It is the responsibility of us all – personally & collectively.
K: What do you do when you are not out collecting samples for San Diego Coastkeeper (jobs, hobbies, interests, etc)?
H: We are both retired, but are often busier than when we were both working full-time! Activities include mountain biking, hiking, camping, rollerblading, kayaking, scuba diving, traveling, computer projects, charity projects & other volunteering, and beach cleanups are at the top of our list.
K: We are so humbled by all that we have gained from your help in the program, but what, if anything, do you feel you have gained from participating as volunteers?
H: It is Bruce and I who are humbled & grateful for the privilege and opportunity to work with the Coastkeeper team! The work you do is extremely important and becomes more so as we continue to learn new things about the diversity of work you do. We’ve gained a better understanding of our local water system –the natural & man-made components. We see how the water cycle is interdependent & impacted by seemingly minuscule and blatantly large factors. We are alarmed by the local pollution –up and down our watershed (especially the pollution which could be prevented). We’ve gained a better understanding of the chemistry of clean and polluted water, the effect of weather patterns, human activity, etc. And, we have changed the way we do things in our own life, home, outdoor activities, time with friends, etc. based on what we have learned during our time with Coastkeeper!
We love the Hendershots.
Data – they aren’t just numbers. The data we collect every year during our beach cleanups include numbers, of course, but we also gather valuable anecdotal insights from seasoned volunteers and common misconceptions from newcomers. It’s easy to compile the numbers into graphs and statistics, which we share on our San Diego beach cleanup data webpage, but we also wanted to create a separate-than-science analysis of our beach cleanup finds this year. In that vein, we encourage your to read these eleven crazy things we learned at beach cleanups in 2014.
- Condoms and Tampons – The Usual Unusuals
We can’t explain it. By far, condoms and tampons top the “unusual items” category tracked by our data-seeking volunteers. How and why do these used personal products find their way to our beaches? It’s San Diego’s great hygiene mystery.
- Baby, This Beach Doesn’t Look that Dirty
It’s one of the most common things we hear volunteers say at the start of each San Diego County beach cleanup two hours later comes the inevitable surprise at the amount of trash they collected afterall. We know that what you can’t see can hurt you—and marine animals and the environment. Sadly, the majority of trash we collect is so small most beachgoers don’t immediately notice it; however, it poses a very large risk to wildlife because it is easy to ingest and hard to pick up.
- Butts are big—cigarette butts, that is.
We removed over 75,000 cigarette butts from our coastal areas. That’s 3,750 packs of cigarettes worth of toxin-leaching, plastic foam pollution that harms water quality, fools marine animals and breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces of trash, never disappearing.
- Cleaning up trash comes with warm fuzzy feelings
Our 7,000 volunteers spent their Saturday mornings picking up trash. It doesn’t sound so glamorous on paper, but time and again they tell us how they love the experience and the learning, which couldn’t please us more.
- Speaking of which—You are the Solution
In 2014, you provided 14,000 solution hours beautifying our beaches and restoring them to a healthier state. Want to continue that impact? Commit to using fewer single-use items, ensure trash is properly discarded and educate your friends on beach pollution solutions.
- The Great Trash Migration is Real
If you don’t believe us, read number one again. Much of the trash that we pick up on our beaches didn’t get discarded there. It started somewhere inland and wind and rain carried it to a its resting destination. While you’re at it, reread number five, because you are the solution.
- Your Doctor May Surf
This year, we found a stethoscope at one of our beach cleanups. Did your doctor lose hers?
- Where’s the Bag?
In 2014 and 2013, fully intact, single-use plastic bags accounted for three percent of the trash we removed each year. Why is this interesting? It’s significantly lower than the number we removed in 2012. This may indicate a decrease in the use of plastic bags, the success of regional bag bans or an increase in recycling or proper disposal. But also, the thinness of plastic bags mean they are easily broken down into smaller pieces, and our volunteers would count these small pieces as other plastics. It is likely that plastic bags are a larger environmental problem than our stats are showing. We will track this trend as our statewide bag ban takes effect.
- Plastic is Pesky
It’s the most common material we find, and it never biodegrades There is nothing more frustrating that reaching down to pick up a plastic cup off a beach or mudflat only to have it shatter like glass in your hand because it is so brittle from sitting out in the sun. Your littered plastic cup just became a thousand littered plastic fragments.
- It’s Not Just That Beach
Don’t think your local, non-touristy beach is immune from trash build-up, unlike “those other” beaches. See point number two. Though they may look clean, every beach in San Diego County suffers from pollution. Sadly. There’s hope. Reread number five.
- Ew. Stinky Seaweed and Dead Birds
Many people think anything that makes the beach less nice for humans, like stinky seaweed or dead birds, is trash. But these are natural parts of the lifecycles of a healthy ecosystem, so let’s keep them out of our trash bags and on the beaches where they belong. After all, a beach with seaweed is an indication that there is a kelp forest offshore!
What crazy things did you learn at beach cleanups this year? Comment below to tell us what we should add to our list.
Wetlands are the superheroes of ecosystems. They may look like patches of mud and grass, but they’re saving San Diego one tidal flow at a time.
In addition, they help regulate climate, store surface water, control pollution, absorb fertilizers, protect shorelines, maintain natural communities of plants and animals, serve as critical nursery areas, and provide opportunities for education and recreation.
Every December, January and February, in particular, they hold back some of the ocean’s toughest tides. It’s during these months that we have some of the highest tides of the year, AKA king tides. The average king tide is 5 – 8 inches higher than the average high tide. That might not seem like a lot until you see the Ocean Beach Pier get completely swamped by massive waves. But king tides also affect our coastline infrastructure, and it’s our wetlands that soak king tides like a sponge. In fact, without the wetlands, San Diego’s infrastructure would be more at risk during every king tide.
Wetlands save the day year after year.
But here’s the problem: 90% of California’s wetlands have been lost to development. And king tides are just a taste of future high tides. By 2050, rising sea levels are predicted to make everyday ocean water levels 12-18 inches higher than today’s tides. That’s an everyday tide that’s more than double the height of our highest tides. And we’re continuing to develop the wetlands, making our coastline less and less resilient to the impending sea level rise.
The California Climate Change Center predicts nearly 140 schools, 34 police and fire stations and 350,000 miles of road are at risk in California from rising sea levels and development of wetlands. It estimates that nearly $100 billion (in year 2000 dollars) worth of property is at risk of flooding from a 100-year event.
But don’t take my written word for it.
Watch this time-lapse video showing the extreme high and low tides during king tides at Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh at Campland on the Bay. I think it’ll amaze you with how much water our wetlands absorb and also help you visualize why we must protect our remaining wetlands in San Diego.
Want to see this for yourself? Check out any of the remaining wetlands in San Diego County to watch nature’s sponge in action:
- Tijuana River Valley
- San Diego Bay Wildlife Refuge Complex
- San Diego Bay Wildlife Refuge
- Paradise Point
- San Diego River Estuary
- Famosa Slough
- Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh
- Los Penasquitos Lagoon
- San Dieguito Lagoon
- San Elijo Lagoon
- Batiquitos Lagoon
- San Luis Rey Estuary
Kathryn C. Kelchner, a marine science teacher from the Chesapeake Bay, knows that lecturing isn’t the way to inspire kids to become passionate about taking care of our waters.
So for New Year’s Resolution she took a new approach. She hung a bulletin board by the bathroom hallway, where students tend to loiter, avoiding going back to class. She posted 32 simple New Year’s resolutions for the ocean; all small things that kids and adults can do to have a positive impact on our water.
The simplicity of her New Year Ocean’s resolution bulletin board inspired us. We had to share her resolutions and we’ll be adopting as many as we can this year to ensure fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters continue to be a prime part of life in San Diego. This year I will…
- Make sure every single piece of trash is removed from the sea, starting by organizing local beach cleanups
- Reduce my use of pesticides & fertilizers – including bug spray
- Refuse single-use plastics
- Turn off car engines while waiting in lines to reduce idling time
- Use native plants in my landscaping
- Avoid plastic microbeads in body and face washes
- Pick up a piece of plastic litter during my day
- Unplug electronics like (toasters, TVs and computers) from outlets when not in use
- Try to use less disposable plastics (by substituting sandwich baggies for reusable containers and thermoses for water bottles) to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in our ocean
- Use the Seafood Watch guide to inform my purchases of seafood. This will assure that I’m not encouraging overfishing of at-risk populations
- Become an advocate for one endangered or affected marine species and learn all about them. Then I will tell as many people as I can
- Learn about how ocean acidification affects turtles, sharks, right whales, walruses, polar bears, reef coral, or shell builders
- Enjoy and share in the life and beauty of the ocean, especially with other kids
- Skip the Straw! This will help reduce plastic use and keep it from ending up in the ocean
- Help take care of the beach
- Reduce my carbon footprint
- Be careful of marine life while on my boat
- Buy ocean-friendly products like jewelry not made of coral or sea turtle shell
- Go to the beach and take only pictures; leave only footprints
- Not wash my car in the street
- Pick up after my pets
- Be careful of what I wash down the drain
- Use natural soap and cleaning products
- Use cloth shopping bags
- Cut up monofilament fishing line, string, and rope before discarding, and NEVER let balloons drift off
- Prevent air pollution by not using aerosols
- Drive less and bike more
- Not flush medicines down the drain or toilet
- Not throw trash in waterways
- Not use antibacterial soap. Its most common ingredient, triclosan, is not completely removed during waste-water treatment and is toxic to marine organisms
- Take up SCUBA diving
- Not feed the seagulls off the pier
How many of these will you resolve to do in 2015?