Shortly before the Governor declared an emergency state of drought in California, a question of supply arose.
In the news recently is a story about the ongoing drawdown of water from Lake Morena. To sum it all up, the City of San Diego has begun drawing water out of Lake Morena for water supply, while the County, which runs the public park surrounding Morena, is opposed to the drawdown because it claims less water in the reservoir means harm to the environment and fewer recreational opportunities.
So who is right? The City? The County?
Trick question, because there is no right or wrong answer. Lake Morena is a reservoir. This is one of the safeguards our region has against drought. And yet, as of January 27, 2014, Lake Morena is only 5.4% full, at a depth of 91 feet, out of 157 possible, so the limit to which this reservoir should be drawn seems pretty close. The Lake Morena situation shows just how complex water issues are in San Diego County.
Whether we're dealing with drinking water supply, recreational use, or wastewater impacts on our environment, each of these issues is closely connected. And, we should expect to see more conflicts such as this one unless we change our thinking about water source and water usage.
For starters, California just had its driest year ever on record. Yes, you read that right. Less rainfall and snowpack means less water available to you and me. And for those who haven't yet heard, the Governor declared a drought. And so our water providers look to our storage reservoirs to supply our needs.
Shouldn't a reservoir that is at just 5.4% its capacity point strongly to a need for immediate and drastic action?
So where do we begin? Immediately: conserve. The governor called for voluntary 20% reductions and is considering mandatory restrictions. The Metropolitan Water District doubled its conservation budget to $40 million. Our County Water Authority has done nothing. It may be true that we have enough water to last the year, but what of the future? And what about the fact that most of our water comes from Northern California and the Colorado River, both of which are under dire strain? We must all voluntarily conserve now, even if the Water Authority won't help us.
And then, a long-range plan. As it just so happens, the San Diego County Water Authority is working on developing a long-range water supply plan for our area, and it falls far short of being a usable document to lead us into a more sustainable water future. The Plan fails to promote recycling and conservation as its top priority. If we want to help alleviate situations like Lake Morena in the future, we should encourage the County to work with the cities of our area and stakeholders (such as San Diego Coastkeeper!) in the implementation of far greater conservation and potable water recycling on a large-scale.
What can you do?
1. Contact your County Water Representative and ask them to fund and support greater conservation and recycling measures than their Master Plan does.
2. Conserve water. You can make a difference today. Follow a conservative watering schedule, and capture and use the rain when it does fall. Here's our Top Ten water conservation tips. We can all do our part to make San Diego a more water-friendly environment.
Protecting and restoring fishable, swimmable, drinkable San Diego waters. That's San Diego Coastkeeper's mission. Our mission echoes the goals of the Clean Water Act, which aims to protect all waters for all people--not just for the rich or the powerful.
Too often environmental protection is the privilege of select communities, not the masses. The Clean Water Act and other environmental laws are more likely enforced in wealthy communities that can afford lawyers, while socio-economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color bear a disproportionate burden of environmental harm. I saw this pattern play time and again as an attorney in New Orleans with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, and I see it continue in San Diego.
To more effectively fight inequality and strive for clean water for all of us, I've been fortunate enough to be invited to participate in a national conversation about environmental justice. This spring, I was invited to join a U.S. EPA-sponsored work group to address ways to build community resiliency in industrial waterfront communities. Over the past several months, I joined work group calls with environmental justice advocates, government officials, business representatives and academics to share threats that industrial waterfront communities in San Diego face and brainstorm solutions to build resiliency in these communities. In particular, we've discussed threats from sea level rise and storm surge and discussed ways that EPA can work with local governments to avoid and minimize harm to industrial waterfront communities.
Last week, U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy appointed me to a three-year term on the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. The council comprises various stakeholders involved in the environmental justice dialogue and provides advice to the EPA on environmental justice issues. As the first Waterkeeper to be appointed to the council, I'm honored to share my experiences from San Diego and New Orleans and to bring attention to environmental justice issues that my fellow Waterkeepers around the country struggle with. With many environmental issues-- air pollution, hazardous waste, and energy--connected to and impacting our water quality, my participation on the council allows San Diego Coastkeeper to have a broader reach to protect San Diego's waters.
I hope that my participation in the national environmental justice dialogue moves us closer to fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters for all San Diegans.
We’re always in a drought. Seriously, people, I grew up here. There’s never been a time when it wasn’t important to conserve water. We watered our yards after 6 p.m., turned the faucet off when washing dishes or brushing our teeth and took brief showers. Some of that was mandated; some was common sense. And that’s what we need today: common sense.
Recently, the Fresno Bee reported state water officials saying that 2014 may be a real challenge for water supply in our state. “January through May 2013 were California’s driest in about 90 years of recordkeeping. Dwindling reservoirs should be a wake-up call to Californians.”
At the same time, 10News reported last week that the San Diego County Water Authority says that no water restrictions are needed in 2014 because San Diego should have sufficient water supply in 2014. Read CWA’s press release.
Despite the headline, the 10News story quotes the County Water Authority Board Chair saying, "We are in better shape than we were two years into the last drought, but we still need to practice smart water use no matter the weather."
Now, this is common sense. THIS is what should have been the headline. Or how about the new rebates offered to residents and HOAs through the County’s WaterSmart program. In 2009, we had water use restrictions, and residents responded by conserving. Not a little, but 20 percent. And in 2009-2011, we reduced our use by 14 percent. There's no reason to turn back from that. Here in San Diego, we use about 140 gallons of water per day per person. That compares to less than 50 gallons/day/person in Australia, where they have similar weather patterns and living standards. How can we say that almost triple their use is acceptable when we are draining the Colorado River, named 2013's #1 Most Endangered River.
Maybe San Diego reservoirs can handle the demand of 2014, but if we already know that 2015-2016 could be problematic, then how can we take the short-sighted view that we have enough water? Today, when we have enough water, when our residents have embraced water conservation, is the time for consistent messaging. We take almost half our water from the Colorado River and 20 percent from the San Joaquin Bay-Delta in Northern California. The Water Authority has taken a long-term view, committing to 30 years of water supply from the Carlsbad Desalination Plant and the City of San Diego is moving ahead with a decades-long commitment to build our water purification capacity (a.k.a., potable reuse or wastewater recycling). We must continue on the path of long-term security and diversification.
Groups like San Diego Coastkeeper that watchdog our water issues, agencies charged with providing our residents with sustainable, reliable water supplies and the news professionals who so often interpret information and shape residents’ thinking about complex issues, must give facts and offer commentary. That commentary must discuss and reinforce practices that will see us not just one year into the future, but five, ten and twenty years from now. So, when the County Water Authority says that we’re okay for a year, let’s look beyond the next 365 days and talk about the true value and cost of our water supply, and how we can conserve this year, and the next, to keep those balanced.
Photo credit Peter McBride
What is the National Young Farmer's Coalition and why does San Diego Council President Todd Gloria care?Written by Megan Baehrens
Thirty million people in seven states in the Southwest use the Colorado River's water for their survival. California—including San Diego—has more people depending upon Colorado River water than any other state.
Competing demands make the Colorado River one of the most contested and controlled rivers on Earth. Over the last decade, humans have drained all of the river's water - all 5 trillion gallons - before it reaches the Sea of Cortez. The Colorado River is in very bad shape and deeply threatened.
In total, about twenty million Californians rely, at least in part, on the Colorado River for their drinking water, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation's 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. In San Diego, we import 70 percent of our water and about half of that comes from the Colorado River. Does that sound efficient or secure to you?
We say no, and it's time to change our ways. In 2009, San Diego Coastkeeper and our partners reached a Cooperative Agreement with the City of San Diego to plan how we can reduce our dependence on imported water and secure a local water supply. This year, in 2013, City Council unanimously instructed its staff to move forward with wastewater recycling to bring us about 100 million gallons per day of clean local drinking water. Success!
But guess what? Around 78 percent of the water drained from the Colorado every year goes to agriculture. Colorado River irrigates an amazing 15 percent of our nation's crops – so we'd better get busy on that front, too.
In California, over a half million acres of agricultural land is irrigated by the Colorado River and most of the vegetables consumed by people in the United States in winter months come from California crops irrigated by the Colorado River. The Department of Interior and the seven Colorado River states are now meeting to figure next steps on agricultural conservation and efficiency and keeping healthy flow in the river.
Thanks to the Colorado River Basin Study, we know that we could save three million acre feet per year, if only we'd take action. That's enough to cover San Diego in 13 feet of water.
And that's why we and Councilmember Gloria care about the National Young Farmer's Coalition.
It's a truism that how our young generations think and act will define the future of our society—and in this case our river. So the fact that the National Young Farmer's Coalition supports sustainable farming and is a leader in demanding that agricultural users protect the Colorado River tells us something important. A thriving Colorado River is our future. San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria is joining farmers on July 25, Colorado River Day, in a plea to the Basin Study planning group that the outcome of their meeting is actionable proposals—things we can do NOW--to reduce agricultural pressure on the Colorado River while maintainin its strong industry here in San Diego.
This issue has been studied thoroughly, the time for action is now.
The following blog about potable reuse was written by student attorney Courtney Cole.
For more info about our legal clinic, click here.
To learn more about water recycling, I recently toured facilities in both San Diego and Orange County that treat wastewater to better-than-tap quality. I'll have to admit, I had my reservations. What about all of the teeny tiny bacteria and viruses and...stuff? But that was before I knew how things worked.
Once biosolids are removed, the water undergoes a three-step process: microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and UV + H2O2. Microfiltration uses hollow fibers, similar to straws, with tiny holes (1/300 the diameter of a human hair) in the sides to remove suspended solids, protozoa, bacteria, and some viruses from the water. Next, during reverse osmosis, water is forced through the molecular structure of plastic membranes, removing dissolved chemicals, viruses, and pharmaceuticals. Water is near distilled quality after this step, but as an additional safeguard it is treated with a combination of high-intensity ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide. This destroys the DNA of any organism that might have made it past microfiltration and reverse osmosis. So much for my concern about the teeny tiny stuff.
An important part of the tours for me was the drink test. After hearing about destroyed DNA, my main concern was what the water would taste like. I hesitantly filled my test cup and raised it to my nose. It seemed fine, so I drank. Better than fine, the water tasted wonderful! It was clean and refreshing, and better than any bottled water I have ever had.
Aside from tasting great, recycled water has other benefits for San Diego. Over 80% of our drinking water is imported from the Colorado River or northern California, which uses energy and costs money. To address this, Coastkeeper advocates for potable reuse – a process in which highly-treated wastewater is added to local reservoirs to increase drinking water supply. Utilizing recycled water will help secure a local and reliable source of water for our city. And if I'm still here to write this blog post, maybe toilet to tap isn't so bad after all.
The next chapter in the San Diego Bay sediment cleanup has begun. The Shipyards are finally preparing to begin dredging by applying for permits that would allow the dredging to go forward. On Monday, June 25, I, along with the help of student attorney Courtney Cole, submitted comments to the Regional Water Quality Control Board on the proposed water quality permit. At the same time, we have developed suggestions on how to improve the proposed safeguards to protect water quality during the dredging. We are also working with Regional Board staff and some Shipyard representatives to ensure that the dredging is done in a way that contains pollutants and protects San Diego Bay water quality. The Regional Board hearing on the permit is set for Wednesday, July 10th at 9am.
The endangered San Diego fairy shrimp is in a fight for survival, and two San Diego area projects plan to destroy the rare shrimp and its vernal pool habitat. On June 13 and 20th, student attorney Morgan Embleton and I asked the City of San Diego Planning Commission to delay approval of the Brown Field Metropolitan Airpark project in Otay Mesa until the City of San Diego finishes its planning process to protect vernal pool habitat. The Planning Commission sent the project, which would destroy four vernal pools and their resident fairy shrimp, forward to San Diego City Council despite the fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet approved killing the fairy shrimp or decided whether vernal pool creation is feasible mitigation. The Castlerock project, a monstrous housing development in San Diego and Santee, will come before the Planning Commission on July 11th. It also proposes to destroy four vernal pools and fairy shrimp, without examining the cumulative impact of these projects on the San Diego fairy shrimp.
Part two of four in our Annual Report blog series highlighting everything Coastkeeper in the year of 2012.
Restorable - Coastkeeper Helps Clean San Diego Bay
Knowledgeable – Project SWELL Expands its Teacher Resources
Shareable - Coastkeeper Publishes Watershed Report
Protectable - Partnership Brings Technology to Marine Protected Areas
Empowerable – Coastkeeper Launches Community Advisory Council
Cleanable – Volunteers Storm the Beaches for Trash
Swimmable - Check the SwimGuide for Safe Waters
Fixable – Find and Fix Empowers Residents
Attendable – Events Bring Water Quality to Life
Honorable – Coastal Champions Crowned at World Oceans Day
Part four of four in our Annual Report blog series highlighting everything Coastkeeper in the year of 2012.
How can you get involved this year?
Adaptable- From rinsing your fruits and veggies in a bowl of water to recycling graywater in your home, there are so many ways to adapt your water habits to use only what you need.
Advisable- Go one step beyond making a change at your own home: challenge yourself to convert a friend or family member’s water usage, even it if it means changing one bad habit at a time.
Shareable- With just a click, a like or a share, you can spread the word about Coastkeeper’s mission, events and volunteering through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Volunteerable- Whether it’s with our Water Quality Monitoring Program , through our MPA “CLICK” mobile website or participating in our twice-a-month beach cleanups, there is always a way to help maintain fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters.
Sponsorable- Endorse our movement in San Diego by sponsoring an event and feel great knowing that your support will outlast the event and continue its impact directly through Coastkeeper’s programs like the Volunteer Core, Project SWELL and more.
Joinable- Whether you’re a seasoned water quality monitoring veteran or just getting started at your first beach cleanup or by reading our website, you can join Coastkeeper’s cause by becoming a member for as little as $25.
A Look Ahead at Coastkeeper in 2013 and Beyond:
Find and Fix: Coastkeeper identifies water quality issues around San Diego and works with our partners to get them resolved. We will focus on helping to create new Water Quality Improvement Plans to prevent stormwater pollution, resolving issues reported to us on our hotline and empowering high school students to address environmental issues through the LEAP program.
Water Supply: Coastkeeper will continue to work with local cities on developing and implementing policies to reduce demand for water and to create a safe, reliable, local water supply. We will work with the City of San Diego as it finalizes its Long Range Water Resources Plan and continues to make purified water a reality in San Diego.
MPA Watch: Coastkeeeper’s MPA Watch program trains volunteers to help monitor and record activities in our marine protected areas so we have the information we need about how people use them. Our MPA Watch volunteers contribute to a statewide data collection effort for evaluation, education of users and enforcement.
Training Tomorrow's Professionals: A well-informed, involved community has the power to improve its quality of life by influencing decisions—their own, their neighbors', their businesses' and their elected and appointed officials'. By training tomorrow's professionals, San Diego Coastkeeper ensures that future leaders have the knowledge they need to make good decisions (for us and our environment.)
Water Quality Monitoring
Trash Assessment: San Diego Coastkeeper partners with a number of organizations to help conduct the first coordinated regional assessment of marine debris. We will look at trash accumulation in ocean waters, inland streams, coastal estuaries and even inside of fish guts. This work will help figure out the source, movement and fate of marine debris for the whole of southern California
Bioassessment: Next spring, San Diego Coastkeeper will conduct bioassessment--we're looking for bugs! Trained volunteers will wade directly into streams to collect and identify aquatic insects. This bug hunting gives us a more holistic picture of stream health, since insects are the base of the food web. We have measured pollutants in the rivers for a decade now and bioassessment allows us to see the effects of that pollution on the stream ecosystem health.
Part one of four in our Annual Report blog series highlighting everything Coastkeeper in the year of 2012.
Fishable. Swimmable. Drinkable. _______able.
How do you fill in the blank?
Kayakable. Protectable. Enjoyable. Knowledgeable. Dependable.
The waters of San Diego County give something different to each one of us. From those who camp and fish at Lake Jennings to those who make a living from the ocean to those who bird-watch in the Tijuana Estuary, our waters channel adventure, relaxation and business to everyone who lives in and visits San Diego.
That’s the beauty of San Diego Coastkeeper—we protect and restore fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego County so that you can fill in the blank with what matters to you.
Here’s a peek at how we filled in the blank in 2012:
● Restorable – The Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered a cleanup of San Diego Bay.
● Protectable – UCSD’s Global TIES helped us create a web-based app to monitor activity in marine protected areas.
You can read more about our top ten accomplishments in 2012, and we also invite you to hear from Board of Directors President Jo Brooks as she reflects on the year. We like that she filled in the blank with “invaluable”-- as that perfectly describes how we feel about you. Last but not least, find out how you can get involved with Coastkeeper in 2013 and beyond.
Thank you for your support of San Diego Coastkeeper,
Megan and Jill
How You and IPR Can Save the Colorado River
In its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2013, American Rivers has named the Colorado River as the number-one Most Endangered River in the country. Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers, identified that the Colorado River is “so over-tapped that it no longer reaches the sea.”
The Colorado River is, simply put, the lifeline of the Southwest. It supplies drinking water to 36 million people from Denver to LA, irrigates four million acres of land and supports a 26 billion dollar outdoor recreation economy.
Yet it currently stands as the Most Endangered River in America because of outdated water management that can’t respond to the pressures of over-allocation and persistent drought. This led American Rivers to sound the alarm for Congress to support state-of-the-art water supply programs that can positively and sustainably impact how the water in the Colorado River is managed.
This also highlights to the significance of what we can do in San Diego—both as a region through potable reuse and individually as water-conscientious citizens and community members.
Currently, the City of San Diego is deciding whether to move forward with full-scale water purification projects in San Diego. San Diego Coastkeeper and the Water Reliability Coalition—a groundbreaking collaboration between environmental and business-oriented groups—are encouraging the San Diego City Council to approve full-scale water purification projects to create more potable water in San Diego. Creating a reliable, secure local water supply is both good for the environment and good for business.
Potable reuse projects use special technology to purify water, leaving it extremely clean. Just how clean? The ultra-purified water is actually cleaner than the water we import from the Colorado River or the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The ultra-purified water can then be mixed with imported water either at a reservoir or at a drinking water treatment plant before it gets another round of treatment.
The City of San Diego has run a pilot project of this technology since early 2012. When they tested the ultra-purified water for over 300 compounds, the purified water met all drinking water standards. Not only that, but the purified water contained only two of the 91 Chemicals of Emerging Concern, while imported water that makes up the bulk of our drinking water contained 13 of these chemicals.
While the City of San Diego is working to implement potable reuse projects, there are a lot of things that we can do, both large and small, that can make an impact on water conservation efforts like that of saving the Colorado River. See what positive changes you can make to reduce your daily water use. And please contribute to Coastkeeper’s efforts with the City and other decision makers.
Together, we can make a lasting impact on San Diego’s water supply and save the Colorado.