Helping Local Businesses Protect Our Precious Waters

Written by Matt O'Malley
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A storm drain outlet to Mission Bay. Photo by Jackie Loza

From time to time I’m asked to speak at one event or another on issues related to water quality or water supply and I almost always seize those opportunities to educate and inform on Coastkeeper’s positions and ongoing work. Recently Coastkeeper agreed to co-sponsor a workshop on the statewide industrial stormwater permit and compliance. And, after seeing how crucial this month’s Industrial General Permit Awareness Training was for industry leaders failing to comply with pollution regulations, consider this blog post a standing offer to dust off my slide presentation for any other leaders who will listen.

urban-runoff1On February 2, I joined experts from The Industrial Environmental Association and the State and Regional Water Boards to educate industry leaders on how to meet the requirements of the statewide industrial stormwater permit and do their part to keep our waters healthy. The day’s workshop demonstrated the profound need for further efforts to inform industries about the legal requirements that aim to protect our waters.

For instance, most small- and medium-sized businesses covered by the industrial stormwater general permit don’t know enough about the permit’s water protection mandates. In fact, California State University at San Marcos conducted a survey that found that 100 percent of small businesses (sized 0-25 employees) were “not adequately informed” about the permit. Unfortunately, these small businesses have an incredibly significant impact on the quality and health of our waters.

Furthermore, the State Water Board explained that less than half of all facilities that have filed for coverage under the permit are complying with its monitoring and reporting requirements. As many as half of all facilities that discharge metals into our waters are likely to be required to undergo a more rigorous compliance process since their discharges are of such poor quality. This news comes after years of noncompliance and continued polluting by many different industrial sectors throughout San Diego County.

While the day did not bring good news, it was important to learn how truly necessary these workshops and trainings are in order to educate industry leaders and consultants about the role they must play in keeping pollution out of our water. We were grateful to partner with Biocom and The Industrial Environmental Association to make February’s event possible and look to the future with renewed motivation to continue our work protecting and restoring San Diego’s water.

We Just Inspired 875 More Future Leaders to Love Our Water

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Soon, our water’s fate will be out of our hands — our kids will be in charge. That’s why we’re excited to announce that over the past few months, we have educated and inspired over 875 children and their family members to love and protect San Diego’s water. By partnering with Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and League of Extraordinary Scientists, we brought Water Education For All curricula to classrooms countywide. And we keep working after the school bell rings to inspire young minds outside of class, too.

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On October 6, 2015, we joined Reuben H. Fleet Science Center’s 52 Weeks of Science kickoff event, offering exciting, hands-on lessons about the specific water quality issues in kids’ own San Diego County backyards, rivers and beaches. Most importantly, we let them solve these problems on their own, offering them the thrill of building solutions to real problems that affect their families. These interactive projects are key to helping kids stay hooked on protecting our water for life.

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On December 3, 2015, San Diego Coastkeeper presented at another 52 Weeks of Science event at the Boys and Girls club. We discussed the importance of water conservation and how students could start conserving as soon as they got home. We then brought out the crowd favorite, our hands-on watershed model, to demonstrate how urban runoff pollution travels from land to the ocean, and played a game to discover how long San Diego’s most common types of marine debris take to decompose.

We also teamed up with the League of Extraordinary Scientists and Engineers to incorporate our Water Education for All lesson on watersheds into its “Making Waves” tour held at libraries and community centers across San Diego. The League captured kids’ attention with the opportunity to interact with live marine organisms native to San Diego. Then, through our Water Education For All lesson and hands-on watershed model, they learned how our pollution on land can affect the health of these animals, building strong understanding of the importance of preventing urban runoff, the largest threat to San Diego’s water quality. Kids learned that urban runoff is made of pollutants like trash, dog poop, oil, cigarette butts and, as one student correctly suggested, “even hot cheetos.”

After the League witnessed our watershed curriculum and model inspiring both kids and parents to become environmental stewards, the its board of directors decided to permanently incorporate our watershed curriculum into its countywide classroom tours, which are anticipaed to reach 2,700 San Diego students in 2016. The League is even planning on building a larger mobile watershed with a clear floor and walls and gutters that lead to an artifical ocean. 

You can help bring water education to even more future leaders in the coming months. Share water science with your classroom or familiy by downloading our free Water Education For All curriculum, available in both English and Spanish. We are grateful to the Port of San Diego, our education interns and our partners League of Extradordinary Scientists and Engineers and Reuben H. Fleet Science Center for making these lessons and events possible.

There is a cheaper, better way to manage our water supply

Written by Matt O'Malley

Despite December’s onslaught of El Niño rains, the vast majority of our region’s water suppliers missed state-mandated conservation targets–for a second month in a row. In this new year, still firmly gripped by the worst drought in our state’s history, we cannot settle for this indifference and lose the progress we made in meeting conservation targets. Rather than viewing this drought as a temporary emergency – something to be survived until things return to “normal” – we must treat it as a transformative catalyst that pushes us to seek a more sustainable relationship with water.

A paradigm shift is long overdue.

When we conserve, water agencies make less money

The impacts of this drought, born from climate change and environmental variation, have been accelerated by laws and agency models designed for water acquisition and consumption rather than smart use and conservation.

A few years ago, in order to move forward with desalination, the San Diego County Water Authority signed a “take or pay” contract with Poseidon Resources, the developer of the Carlsbad desalination plant. That contract essentially stuck us with paying for the most expensive type of water supply currently in existence, whether the region could use it or not. Water agencies already have few real incentives to conserve, as it lowers their profits, and as we’ve recently seen in San Diego their reaction is to raise rates. With a bunch of expensive desalinated water coming down the pipes and an order from the governor to use less water, San Diego County water agencies in a tricky place, and they are looking for a tricky way out.

Water agencies are lobbying to save face

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Our water supply imports stress the health of the Colorado River. Photo Peter McBride

A more sustainable water future can be achieved by prioritizing and incentivizing conservation; embracing San Diego’s unique natural beauty through locally appropriate landscapes; and, supporting multi-benefit projects that reduce polluted discharges while producing new clean drinking water. Not coincidentally, multi-benefit solutions also minimize the use of and dependence on imported water and often reduce the costs to upgrade, add to, and maintain existing infrastructure.

Which brings us back to the tricky way out. Despite the responsible solutions listed above, San Diego water agencies continue to lobby Sacramento for exemptions from statewide conservation requirements — they want to continue the wasteful, yet lucrative, practices of the past, and save face for committing their ratepayers to unnecessary, expensive desalinated water. They have argued that because they have already invested in various energy-intensive, infrastructure-heavy water supply projects, San Diego shouldn’t have to conserve as much as other regions. As a result of this lobbying, the State Water Resources Control Board announced earlier this week that it would allow the San Diego region to use more water during the drought. This, despite the fact that we can meet our conservation goals and our quality of life here in San Diego is as good as ever.
The water agencies offer no good justification for these credits, and any move to allow our region to use more water will only benefit Southern California water suppliers. It hurts us, the taxpayers, who are saddled with higher prices for expensive water supply projects that we don’t need, while slowing our region’s ability to shift to a new normal based on a water conservation ethic.

Water agencies want to reward water use

san diego drinking waterWith the State Board’s approval of the new regulations, San Diego is poised to use more water, while other communities have to tighten their belts even more to offset our increased water use– so that the state can still meet the governor’s required 25 percent reduction. A situation that rewards water use and punishes water frugality is the antithesis of what we must work towards. A true reward system built on equity would give the greatest recognition to those communities that have reduced demand and made investments in long-term conservation measures.

Water agencies are ignoring the opportunity

We must consider, fundamentally, how we’ll change our relationship with water going forward. We cannot, from an environmental or an economic standpoint, build costly desalination plants to continue feeding growth while maintaining lush tropical landscapes and ornamental lawns. The drought is a catalyst for change, but that change shouldn’t be a slew of new water acquisition projects, but instead a spark that ignites a new conservation ethic built upon smart and responsible water use, capture, and recycling. Our way of life depends on it, and the Constitution of California requires it.

 

 

Season’s GIF-ings From San Diego Coastkeeper

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

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Water Education For All, Lesson 6: Water Conservation

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

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In Water Education For All Lesson 6: Water Conservation, Students will apply their knowledge of drought and water consumption to their everyday lives. Students will keep track of how much water they consume at home. They will ask questions like, “What ways can I conserve water in my home?” Students will be asked to identify and practice two ways of conserving water. This lesson encourage students to share their knowledge at home to include their families in a water conservation project.

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Water Education For All, Lesson 5: Animal Adaptations

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

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In Water Education For All Lesson 5: Animal Adaptations, students discover ways animals change over time. Students will learn that animals can change in order to live in their own changing environment and discuss how San Diego coastal habitats lead local wildlife to develop certain characteristics. To cement the lesson students will create an animal of their own. They will have to think about what adaptations are necessary for their animal to live in a San Diego aquatic ecosystem – and be encouraged to be as creative as possible to give their animal an advantage!

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Water Education For All, Lesson 4: Natural Hazards and Disasters

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

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In Water Education For All Lesson 4: Natural Hazards and Disasters, students learn about natural hazards that result from natural processes — and the water quality and water supply impacts. Humans cannot eliminate natural hazards, but can take steps to reduce their impact. It is important to note that severe weather doesn’t occur randomly, it occurs in specific times and places. In San Diego, we see drought due to climate change.

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Water Education For All, Lesson 3: Weather vs. Climate

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

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In Water Education For All Lesson 3: Weather vs. Climate, students learn to distinguish between weather and climate using San Diego’s weather data over time (climate) and collecting temperature over a short period of time (weather).

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Water Education For All, Lesson 2: Marine Debris

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

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In Water Education For All lesson 2: Marine Debris, students come to understand the problems caused by plastic pollution, explore solutions and become engaged as stewards of our beaches, rivers, and other water bodies. Using data from San Diego Coastkeeper beach cleanups students will learn the most common item found on our beaches, why this is a problem for our ocean, wildlife and human health, and how to prevent marine debris pollution.

We included the “How Long Does It Take to Break Down?” Beach Cleanup Activity, a short hands-on lesson that can be taught during a beach cleanup or in the classroom. Students will learn how long our trash can last in the ocean and the effects on our marine life. 

We also included a fable about a Garibaldi named Gerald. Gerald Discovers Debris will help your students to practice reading and writing while learning to care for the ocean and other living creatures (nice or naughty!).

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Water Education For All, Lesson 1: Watersheds and Water Quality

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

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In Water Education For All Lesson 1: Watersheds and Water Quality, students will learn to test pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity using the World Water Monitoring Kits (or other available kits in their programs). These parameters will be used as a watershed case study to help students understand how our daily activities can make our watersheds healthy or polluted. They will compare San Diego Coastkeeper water quality data with their results. The lesson includes a PowerPoint with slide notes to help educators teach the lesson on their own.

Also for educators we have a list of materials and a one-page explaining how to build your own watershed model. These models may be used for future exhibits and hands-on presentations.

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