Susan Cobb, one of San Diego Coastkeeper’s most dedicated Water Quality Monitors, spends her weekends collecting water samples from across San Diego for scientific analysis. Passionate volunteers like Susan are the reason we can catch sewage spills early and find and fix the sources of pollution making San Diego less fishable and swimmable. We sat down with Susan to find out why she loves water and what drives her to protect it.
Why do you volunteer as a Coastkeeper Water Quality Monitor?
I began volunteering when I was a teenager. My mom recycled everything (newspapers, cans, glass) and I spent a few hours every weekend at the local recycling center. When I moved to San Diego County many years later, I started volunteering everywhere I could. Finally, after helping with a few beach cleanups in North County I heard about San Diego Coastkeeper. When I read about their Water Quality Monitoring program and commitment to the waterways in San Diego, I knew I wanted to be involved. That was May of 2015 and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Besides the obvious fact that our environment is worth saving, when I joined San Diego Coastkeeper I met a room full of people that felt the same as I did. My first day as a Water Quality Monitor, I was paired up with Adrian and Steve Kwik. As we drove up the coast to the Los Penasquitos sites, I knew that I wanted to make a commitment to the Water Quality Monitoring program. Those two had been doing it for 8-9 years and I was so impressed with their attitude and longevity.
I love the outdoors. My family and I hike and camp as often as possible. We enjoy the beach and my husband’s hobby is ocean fishing. So, I consider this a perfect fit. I can spend about 5 hours once a month and know that I’m having a positive impact on this big beautiful rock we live on.
Why is it important to return every month?
I see quite a few others that make this a regular part of their schedules each month so I know that I’m not alone. For me, it’s important to come every month because I can. I put it on my calendar, and when other things come up, I work around the water quality monitoring schedule. I am proud to say that I’ve only missed a few since starting in May of 2015.
One thing I love about coming every month is the friendships I’m forming. All of the volunteers care about the environment, but also many are in education (teachers and students) or their jobs are directly related to the environment. Also, it’s not surprising that since I am here on a regular basis, I feel confident in my knowledge of the proper procedures; which I know is important. It’s important for team members to participate each month so we can help train those who are either new or only help occasionally. A strong base of volunteers is essential to the success of the water quality monitoring process to ensure consistency in the data collection itself; whether it be location or the procedure of collecting the data.
What should everyone in San Diego know about this program?
People in San Diego should know that local and state agencies don’t have the funding and/or man-power to monitor our water ways as they should. The data we collect and analyze is used to keep our local industries in check. Since we collect in compliance with scientific procedures (clean gloves, dirty gloves, double bagging, keeping samples on ice, etc) and the lab follows set procedures to ensure accuracy, the data can then be used to support environmental laws if and when the need arises.
Our waterways are the foundation of our life in Southern California. The diversity of our plants and animals cannot survive without a healthy foundation and they deserve protection. Human activity in the outdoors must also be protected. We all should have fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters. We should be able to enjoy seeing clean water and the wildlife it supports. Our environment is worth saving for ourselves and for our future.
How do you feel about the health of San Diego’s inland waters?
The health of San Diego’s inland waters fluctuates based on numerous factors. Water quality is not solely based on how industries treat our water, it also depends on how the general public, regular people like us, act in our daily life. Runoff from homes and roads, lawn fertilizers, oil from driveways, miscellaneous trash, and more can all have a negative impact on our watersheds. We all can make a difference. What we do matters when it comes to the health of our precious watersheds.
What do you do outside of Coastkeeper?
I’m a middle school science teacher. I encourage my students to participate in beach clean ups and any other causes they find worthy. I volunteer with Coastkeeper because I want them to know the importance of our waterways, and the environment in general. Leading by example is important.
What we all do can, and does, make a difference to others. We impact the world around us whether we realize it or not. I’ve shared with them some of the news that I learn from reading San Diego Coastkeeper’s newsletter. When the new law regarding microbeads passed, we did a mini-unit on plastics and their negative impact on the environment. One of the students this year mentioned how she thought that microbeads were part of the problem and that they should not be allowed. I let her know that the law had been passed and they were being phased out; which made her happy to say the least.
Outside of work, I love to be outdoors. My husband, daughter and I take a yearly camping trip, most often to Sequoia National Park. We have also been to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and others. Locally, we enjoy our local coastline, Anza Borrego and Palomar Mountain. I’ve also done summer traveling with some work friends to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.
And perhaps — your favorite San Diego beer and why?
My favorite beer is called Headbasher IPA. It’s made by a Carlsbad Brewery by the name of Arcana. We belong to Arcana’s ‘Mug-Club’ and I can’t say enough positive things about it. The owner and staff are amazing people and the two dart boards, along with the variety of food trucks, just can’t be beat. They have a nice selection of brews and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. If you’re in North County and are thirsty for a great brew, stop into Arcana and tell them I sent you.
What is polluted runoff?
Pollutants like oil, grease, pesticides and litter build up on our streets and sidewalks each day. When it rains, and when sprinklers spill onto the sidewalk, water carries all of these pollutants through our storm drains directly into our rivers, bays and beaches without any treatment. Another large and related, and somewhat unquantifiable, problem is called industrial stormwater pollution. While this pollution reaches our waters in much the same way as everyday runoff, this type of pollution originates at the many industrial business sites across the county.
Why is polluted runoff the largest threat to our fishable, swimmable water?
Polluted runoff is the reason we can’t swim in the ocean for 72 hours after it rains, and it causes chemical build up in the fish we eat. But fighting polluted runoff isn’t as simple as stopping a single source of pollution. It’s a death by a thousand cuts, originating everywhere from car washes and sprinklers to streets, construction and industrial sites and farms. Imagine stopping the rain from pouring from the sky and running down the streets!
Dive into our polluted runoff series to explore the cutting edge of our work defending San Diego County’s water from urban and industrial runoff and learn how to make a difference yourself.
- Why We Spend Our Saturdays Collecting Water Samples
- Water Quality: What’s Drought Got to Do With It?
Stay tuned for more stories coming soon.
San Diego Coastkeeper member, Water Quality Monitor, and beach cleanup host extraordinaire Amanda Sousa is a water lover in the truest sense. When she sailed from Ensenada to Oahu, Amanda experienced just how wondrously huge our ocean is and how quickly we become small in its presence. And yet, despite all this vastness, there was one persistent and unwelcome visitor from which Amanda could not escape. In her own words, Amanda describes how these constant encounters impacted her.
I recently had the opportunity to crew on a passage from Ensenada, Mexico to Oahu, Hawaii on a 44-ft Leopard Catamaran owned by my dad’s friends, Ian Steele and Sharon Lockhart. I jumped at the opportunity to do some blue water sailing; to hop on the trade winds, experience falling seas, sail wing on wing and live the adventure. On the water, I was absolutely struck by the sheer grandeur of the ocean, I felt so small compared to its vastness.
Day after day there was no sight of land, and yet day after day I saw plastic. We did not chart a course into the Northern Pacific Gyre and were not looking for plastic, but there it was every single day. Over 19 days of different wind speeds, different currents and small swells to large swells, it was always there.
The plastic came in all different sizes from small fragments to ghost nets tangled in a large blob. There was plastic that looked as if it just blown in the water from my home in Pacific Beach, plastic that looked as if it made its way overboard and plastic that had been floating for what looked like years. I started to feel that the ocean was a whole lot smaller.
It pains me that the beautiful ocean, in all it’s splendor, has been so polluted by our trash. This plastic did not fall from the sky and there is no excuse for it being 1,200 miles from shore other than the disregard of our impact to this world.
The damage that has been done is so pervasive and ubiquitous. It was heartbreaking to witness right in front of my eyes. In the deepest parts of my heart I love the oceans, the streams, the lakes and the rivers; I love the animals that live and depend on these water bodies (including all of us); I love the plants that bloom and creep in these places. This passage has reinforced my love of the beauty of the ocean and has also strengthened my conviction that we need to realize our impact. We must take active steps to eliminate this ubiquitous plastic from our lives, our world and our wild places.
I am a clean water advocate, I am a volunteer and I am a supporter of San Diego Coastkeeper. Collectively, we need to put more energy toward our most precious resource. Now more than ever, we need to take a hard look inside and decide what we want in this world. I have decided I want fishable, swimmable, drinkable water; I want wild places; I want the ocean to be just blue; I want to be small in the ocean again.
The United States and California have some of the best water quality regulations in the world. The problem is, they are seldom enforced. That’s where we come in. San Diego Coastkeeper’s identifies illegal polluters like government bodies and businesses and works, often hand-in-hand with polluters, to bring them into compliance with the law. The end result is a new industry leader in environmental stewardship.
Enter El Cajon Business Precision Metals Products
Precision Metals Products’ facility primarily fabricates steel columns, beams, braces and machines. As you can imagine, a lot of metals on this site that can leach into the water — and they have. Over the past five years, Precision Metals Products has polluted Forester Creek, the San Diego River, and ultimately, the Pacific Ocean. These polluted discharges make our water less fishable and swimmable.
In February 2016, San Diego Coastkeeper and Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation sent a 60-day notice of intent to sue Precision Metals Products, Inc. in El Cajon for violations of the California statewide industrial general permit and the Clean Water Act.
A Win for Clean Water and Sustainable Business
Thanks to hard work from all parties, we now have an agreement that keeps our water clean. Coastkeeper recently filed an agreement between our groups and Precision Metals Products, and it’s now approved by the federal court system and the Department of Justice. This means there is a legally binding agreement requiring the operators to keep the site cleaner and repair cracked pavement. These major changes will prevent the following types of pollutions from entering our waters:
- Total Suspended Solids
Restitution for Past Pollution
While the past pollution cannot be undone, stormwater pollution settlements use the money won to further improve water quality — attempting to balance past damage with investments in the future. Different environmental groups apply for these grants, called Supplemental Environmental Projects.
In this case, the funds from the settlement will go to San Diego Audubon Society for its Supplemental Environmental Project called ReWild Mission Bay, a project to enhance and restore up to 170 acres of wetlands in the northeast corner of Mission Bay.
Setting the Standard
When a business is polluting, we always have the goal to work hand-in-hand with business leaders to help them come into compliance. When that happens, it sets a positive example for the industry that following the law is good for business and good for the community. Eventually, this leads to improved industry standards as a whole.
Everyone has a right to clean water — and our enforcement efforts make up part of the solution to creating a fishable, swimmable, drinkable San Diego County for all.
Meet Monica, our beach cleanup intern-extraordinaire. She signed up with San Diego Coastkeeper to keep our waters swimmable, but discovered a new passion for volunteering itself. Enjoy her first blog below.
It might surprise you that clean beaches are not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the benefits of organizing beach cleanups. While the physical evidence of hundreds of pounds of trash is encouraging at the end of each cleanup, there’s so much more to feel great about. Rising early on a Saturday morning to be a part of a community of families, students, and avid beachgoers sparks thoughtful conversations and meaningful interactions accompanied by warm ocean breezes and the fleeting dance of dolphins in the waves.
Surfers dart past you towards the waves in a youthful jog as you assemble Coastkeeper’s signature blue easy-up gazebo, which in fact isn’t so easy after all. A kind stranger always offers a helping hand and you always accept. What follows is wave after wave of passionate people wanting to take action and make a difference in their community. People meet, share ideas and discuss politics all while getting outside and active on a weekend morning.
Only recently have I come to appreciate all the positive effects volunteer work has on a community and myself. Productively working together to better the community, particularly the environment, creates a positive feedback loop; a group of individuals working hard to improve their community benefits the community, the community becomes happier, which builds a stronger bond with their community and drives more to embrace volunteer work to make it even better.
Volunteer work has positive effects on individual volunteers as well. Working outside boosts physical, mental and social well-being. Working with your peers to create a stronger and more sustainable community focuses attention on local problems that directly affect the members of your neighborhood.
As the cleanup is winding down those same surfers emerge from the water, grinning from the adrenaline rush, and offer a smile or kind words for helping to keep our beaches clean. While they are not wrong, they are unaware of the bigger impact that has elapsed during their brief surf session. Beach cleanups do far more than just clean beaches.
Did you know that clean water is protected by law?
A Clean Water Law is Born
Prior to 1972, people across America could pollute waters freely — and without much consequence. It wasn’t until the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught on fire that the EPA decided to do something about the pollution across our nation.
That’s when the Clean Water Act was born. This federal law regulates what industries and government can and can’t do to water that we all share. Though locally the law is implemented by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, actual enforcement is rare.
The Power of the People
The Clean Water Act long ago recognized that the job of protecting our waters was a much bigger task than the EPA or Regional Water Boards could handle alone. In doing so, it created a provision that provides citizens with the right to enforce these water-protecting laws.
This law is the best – and many times the only – tool we have to defend and protect our waters here in San Diego. Sometimes citizen suits are necessary to stop a polluter from harming our water, but often we can transform a polluter to an industry-leading water steward with some cooperation and collaboration.
Cooperation is Key
Today, without Coastkeeper’s stormwater enforcement program, business and government agencies in San Diego County could continue to pollute without consequences for decades. To prevent pollution, our model is simple: find and fix. We identify industrial stormwater polluters and remedy violations using every tool available like the Clean Water Act and the California statewide Industrial General Stormwater Permit.
Since the Government is not actively identifying industrial polluters and bringing them into compliance, we step in by analyzing data and taking proper steps to notify and work with the facility to come into compliance. Our team can pull a business’s mandatory, self-reported water quality data from California’s public database, and at times we may also take our own water quality samples to determine if a facility is doing enough. This analysis allows us to see if a business has failed to do water quality tests or if its data indicates they are polluting in violation of the law.
Once we identify a business or government agency that is out of compliance, we send them a legal notice required under the Clean Water Act. We also offer to cooperate with them in order to not only protect our water, but protect their business from further legal consequences. Often, industry and government are willing to upgrade their facilities and their practices to the standards necessary under the Clean Water Act to keep our waters pollution-free. In this way we hope to build partnerships and environmental stewards who bring value to our community.
Coastkeeper’s Role in Pollution Prevention
Our industrial enforcement efforts have focused, in part, on areas where environmental injustice continues to occur. A few of our more recent enforcement actions have focused in areas such as Barrio Logan, Chula Vista, and National City, where facilities pollute in close proximity to residential areas and into waterways that residents rely on for fish to feed their families. Often, residents are unaware of the harmful pollution resulting from these businesses in their communities, and the proximity and concentration of industrial pollution near residences and public resources is troublesome.
It’s in our best interest to work with these businesses or government agencies to help them come into compliance. It sets a positive example for industry that following the law is good for business and the community, and can eventually lead to improved industry standards as a whole. Since San Diego’s biggest water issue is runoff pollution, we will need all industries to comply with the Clean Water Act to solve our problem. This takes leadership from our governing agencies like the State and Regional Water Boards, the cities that hold municipal stormwater permits, and the industrial businesses that are part of our community.
Do Your Part
Everyone has a right to clean water, and our industrial enforcement efforts help to create a clean, healthy environment for all. With your help and watchful eyes, we can ensure our waters remain fishable, swimmable, and drinkable.
We have laws in place to limit industrial pollution and ensure that our water can support all of its uses, from swimming and fishing to hosting endangered wildlife. But without enforcement, these regulations cannot keep our water healthy. That’s where San Diego Coastkeeper comes in.
Urban runoff is the single biggest threat to water quality in San Diego. During the dry season, pollutants build up on hard surfaces like roads and parking lots. When it rains, stormwater pushes the accumulated pollutants into our storm drains. In San Diego, like most of California, our storm drains generally do not connect to wastewater treatment plants, so everything flows untreated into our waters. Pollutants created by industries, like metals and oils, are especially serious because they can be toxic in very low concentrations.
The Clean Water Act is a federal law that lays out the legal requirement for protecting, maintaining and improving the health of our water bodies. It is our most powerful tool for making sure San Diego’s water is healthy because it mandates that all states identify creeks, rivers and shorelines that are severely impaired by pollution.
Unfortunately, state and local regulators often don’t review water quality reports or conduct monitoring to make sure that industries are meeting Clean Water Act standards. San Diego Coastkeeper steps up to make sure that industries are doing everything they can to reduce pollution to our rivers and beaches. We review water quality reports, but that’s only the first step.
San Diego’s local government agencies have limited resources and they monitor infrequently, providing only a snapshot of water quality. To solve this problem, San Diego Coastkeeper also conducts our own monitoring to ensure compliance of clean water rules. We collect and analyze water samples from nine out of 11 watersheds in San Diego County every month. To ensure that our data meets the highest quality standards possible, Coastkeeper follows a rigorous quality assurance and control plan and standard operating procedures that have been approved by our state regulatory agencies. Sounds like a big job, right? That’s why we train over 100 volunteers each year and rely on them to help.
When we find polluting facilities, we use the Clean Water Act to bring them into compliance through enforcement actions. Our goal is to force industry operators to install and use best management practices that will meaningfully reduce pollutants in our waterways.
Want to see what kind of report card your local watershed is getting? Click here to explore a map of the most recent data we have for locations from Otay to Carlsbad.
Eleanor Musick, a past San Diego Coastkeeper board member, and Abe Ordover are some of our favorite San Diego Coastkeeper donors. We sat with them to talk about why they love fishable, swimmable, drinkable water and what drives them to make a difference.
How did you first get involved with San Diego Coastkeeper?
I was part of Athena San Diego – a nonprofit organization that promotes professional growth for women in STEM-related industries – and was taking a course about nonprofits’ board of directors. Jo Brooks, San Diego Coastkeeper’s past board president, sent an email to Athena San Diego about an opening on the board of directors. Abe was already a member of San Diego Coastkeeper, and I knew a previous executive director from the community. I was very excited about joining as a board member.
What excites you most about Coastkeeper?
I am really impressed with the dedication of the staff and board. I love the mission of San Diego Coastkeeper and how the organization combines legal methods with science and education to protect our waters.
What motivated you to start giving to us?
San Diego Coastkeeper is a worthy organization for our support.
What do you wish more people knew about San Diego Coastkeeper?
The great impacts that San Diego Coastkeeper has accomplished over the past 21 years. A few years ago, there was a sediment pollution problem in Encinitas, and it affected my own backyard. I called San Diego Coastkeeper to report the pollution and the staff just ran with it and contacted the appropriate people to stop the pollution. The Water Board acted quickly because Coastkeeper was involved and there was a huge fine for the City of Encinitas. I felt really supported by the staff of San Diego Coastkeeper and, since it was literally in my own backyard, there was a personal interest to stop the pollution and take action… and that is what Coastkeeper did, took action. This example demonstrates the respect that Coastkeeper has and the impact the small organization has in the community.
What outdoor activities do you and Abe like to do when you’re not busy serving your community as board members and donors?
Abe loves to take photographs of nature. I like to paddle board in the ocean and sit near the kelp beds and watch the little critters go by. My goal when I paddle board is to get out and be in the water. Unfortunately, I am always putting trash on my board that I find in the ocean. My general attitude is that if I see trash, I pick it up. I also love to whale watch. I have a telescope that I use to watch the migrating whales.
Who is being put in charge of our nation’s environment?
President Elect Trump has appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier with a history of suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to head the EPA. Along with a litany of other promised anti-environment policies and appointees, the new administration poses a real and serious threat to our fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters.
Not to fear. We’re here.
But amidst this threat, environmental activist groups like San Diego Coastkeeper will remain powerful. We rely upon environmental regulations like the Clean Water Act, laws that make the act of polluting a criminal offense, and that are enforced by U.S. courts and citizens. Although Trump may enjoy a sympathetic Congress, he will not be able to wave his hand and nullify the power of the Clean Water Act and other environmental regulations set forth by the Obama administration. Why? Because clean water activists like us stand in the way.
With Pruitt in charge, what are the threats to San Diego’s water quality?
EPA’s budgets maybe at risk
With Pruitt, who already talks about unnecessary EPA regulations, we can expect an EPA that is likely to be on the receiving end of significant budget cuts. Without adequate funding and on top of the already reduced budget and staff at the EPA, we may see an EPA that ignores water quality issues and significantly curtails government enforcement of the Clean Water Act. One need look no further than Trump’s own transition website where he talks about reframing the EPA to be focused on “safe drinking water,” while he conveniently leaves out the Act’s goal of achieving fishable, swimmable waters for all. The new administration may accomplish through these cuts what it cannot otherwise accomplish through the slow, facts-based process of rule-making and obstruction.
Necessary infrastructure improvements may not happen
Much of our infrastructure that protects water quality – whether it’s wastewater treatment and conveyance infrastructure or stormwater infrastructure – is beyond its intended lifespan. The cost of replacing that infrastructure to ensure that we have clean water to surf in, swim in, drink is expensive (by some estimates in the hundreds of millions of dollars). As that infrastructure ages, water quality is suffering. If Pruitt’s past actions and statements are any indication, instead of the EPA leading the nation in efforts to incentivize or require infrastructure and action that address water pollution, we can expect an EPA that ignores water quality issues, or, at worst, actively stands in the way of efforts to address our polluted coasts and streams.
More offshore oil — and associated oil spills — may come to our coastline
The EPA under Pruitt’s leadership may be looking to expand oil and gas drilling off our coasts, including the coasts of Southern California, by expanding existing oil extraction industries into federal waters. With oil industry often comes oil spills, which could lead to large-scale disasters along our coasts as we’ve seen in Santa Barbara and the Gulf of Mexico.
We’ll lose ground on addressing climate change
And then there are the longer-term implications, such as losing ground on climate change initiatives, which will guarantee that our coastal resources will change in the years ahead due to sea level rise. Every day we delay implementing national and local measures aimed at curbing greenhouse gasses and addressing climate change and its impacts is a blow to our future. As sea level rises, many of the beaches and breaks we all love will be greatly changed. With what we’ve heard from the incoming administration and with Pruitt’s actions aimed against rules meant to lead to cleaner air, we can expect a retreat from the progress we’ve been making in climate change initiatives.
Here’s one more reason why groups like San Diego Coastkeeper are more important than ever during the next 4 years.
Under President Trump, we may face more serious and emergent threats to our environment than ever before, but we will not back down. With Pruitt’s appointment, we can see some near-term fights that we’re ready to battle to protect our water.
We will remain active in education and community engagement, and we will continue to enforce the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws when government cannot or is unwilling to do so. We will continue to advocate, either through outreach with our decision-makers, or through legal action, for infrastructure projects like stormwater capture projects that create water supply while reducing water pollution in our rivers and streams, along our coastlines, and in our surf breaks. We will continue to work with our statewide representation, California Coastkeeper Alliance, to ensure we protect our water locally and at the state level. We will continue this important work for you and everyone in this region who deserves clean water.
Will you stand with us in 2017 in the fight to protect our fishable, swimmable, drinkable water? Please donate today.
Local enforcement of the Clean Water Act by the government is rare.
This is a huge problem for clean waters in San Diego. But, the Clean Water Act itself recognized that government alone cannot do the job of holding polluters accountable, and encouraged citizens who value clean water to enforce the law on their own. So that’s what we do. This great empowering tool was one of the great victories for the environment some 40 plus years ago.
Today, without our stormwater enforcement program, business and government agencies in San Diego County could continue to pollute without consequences for decades. Sometimes citizen suits are necessary to stop a polluter from harming our water, but often we can transform a polluter to an industry-leading water steward with some cooperation and collaboration.
We offer to cooperate.
Our staff can pull a business’s mandatory, self-reported water quality data from California’s public database. This allows us to see if a business has failed to do water quality tests or if its data indicates they are polluting in violation of the law. Once we identify a business or government agency that is out of compliance, we send them a legal notice, which is required under the Clean Water Act, and we offer to cooperate with them to help protect our water and protect their business from legal consequences. Often, businesses are willing to upgrade their facilities and their practices to the legal standards necessary to keep our waters fishable and swimmable.
Businesses want to take action.
We love the results we’ve seen from our engagement with companies such as Quality Recycling in Vista. Its staff took action with our legal notice and now the stormwater samples taken at its facility show mostly clean results. We’re glad to see they are now responsible stewards of the environment, and look forward to engaging industry and government to protect our waters from ongoing pollution.