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With the worst drought in recorded history parching the state, water and water sourcing options are hot topics. In this two part series (read part one), we chat with our Waterkeeper Matt O'Malley, who discusses the Colorado River, future water prospects and much more.

70 percent of California’s precipitation occurs north of Sacramento, yet 75 percent of California’s urban/agricultural water demands are to the south. Please explain this disparity.

DroughtOur animated water supply map overlays maps produced by the United States Drought Monitor with outlines of the Colorado, San Joaquin and Sacramento river basins. We used maps for the past year, using one a month. For consistency, we chose the last Thursday of each month as the source of the drought map. The climate of Southern California is ideal for growing year round, but, rainwater is severely lacking. There is a long and complicated history of fights over water and water rights between Northern and Southern California.  The defining book on this subject is Cadillac Desert, and I’d urge anyone interested in history and complexity of California water issues to read that book.  Twice.

The majority of our water (about 80 percent) in California goes to agriculture. How can more efficient irrigation practices help our current water crisis?

There are a couple of common sense and practical things that could be done right now to improve irrigation practices. We could use less water and/or grow more climate-appropriate crops. Low-flow irrigation techniques rather than flood irrigation, or capture and reuse of irrigated water when and where possible, are a great solution when irrigation is needed.

What is water reclamation and how does San Diego currently utilize this process?

Reclaimed water is wastewater that is treated to different standards, depending on its intended use. That standard could be appropriate for irrigation or for drinking water. 

The current process in getting this wastewater treated is similar to desalination technology, where water is forced through membrane filters and then further cleaned. This occurs in what is called “purple pipe," or reclaimed water system, which is what is most commonly used for golf courses or other industrial or commercial activities. 

The problem with this is that it is expensive to treat that water for irrigation purposes, when in practice we should be seeking ways to drastically reduce irrigation needs and develop drinkable water supplies – and we likely won’t have enough water long-term to do both.

California has been utilizing recycled water for many years, yet over one million acre-feet/year is unused. How can increased water reuse/reclamation greatly benefit our local supply?

San Diego Coastkeeper supports large-scale wastewater recycling for drinkable reuse. We believe recycling for irrigation is not the most efficient or environmentally friendly use and would like to see more drought-tolerate or native species planted that require far less watering than lawns, and thus free up any water for potable reuse for our community.

What will it take to get support from the general public for using purified wastewater?

Coastkeeper staff tries clean waterOur staff tries water at the Orange County water reclamation facility.According to the newest polls, the public is already there. Not too many years ago many in the public were opposed to potable reuse, but I think now that they understand the technology involved and the need.

Many are quickly coming around to the idea and supporting potable reuse projects.  As potable reuse projects pop up from Orange County to Texas, people realize that all water is recycled water.  Even the water we drink is subject to use and reuse upstream over and over again. 

How much will conservation help us meet our water needs?

Conservation can make a marked difference in helping us meet our current and long-term water need.  Currently, San Diego uses as much as 70 percent of our potable water outside the home (irrigation/pools/etc). 

By localizing our landscapes, planting drought tolerant species and just being much more conscious of our outdoor water use, we can drastically cut our use. Some parts of Australia use 40 gallons per day, where in San Diego we’re more like 140 gallons per day, and they have a similar standard of living and landscapes.  We can likely cut our use by half, if not more. 

What can the general public do to conserve water?

The first step is to be aware of your water use, in particular outdoor use.  As a community we need to be cognizant of our environment and adapt to it, rather than try to have it adapt to us. With even less rainfall likely in the future, this is of critical importance. 

The good news is that there are lots of incentives and rebates offered to help us do this. Take advantage of rebates offered by local agencies to improve efficiencies and remove lawns for localized landscapes that require far less water and irrigation, as this is the biggest use of water by far.

Desalination is one of the ways we can build a local water supply. What are some of the challenges with this technology?

Desalination presents a few challenges. For one, is not very efficient and a great deal of water is wasted in the process. Moreover, the process destroys habitats and kills marine life, along with the fact that brine discharges are concentrated and can impair beneficial uses and water quality objectives. Lastly, it uses a tremendous amount of energy to process and treat sea water into potable water, further leading to climate change and associated negative impacts. If desalination is going to be used, these issues need to be figured out before it becomes a legitimate part of our water portfolio.

According to a 2010 report by the Equinox Center, “Water is likely to be the most critical resource challenge that the San Diego region will face during the next two decades." What will happen if extra measures aren’t taken to maintain a reliable water supply as population growth continues?

We will need to ration and regulate more, which is likely to happen anyway.  We may need additional infrastructure, which costs a great deal. 

By conserving, we’re saving money on that end, and we’re reducing our dependence on outside supplies. We don’t have an option but to meet these new challenges if we plan on succeeding and surviving as a community.

san diego drinking waterWill water be the “liquid gold” of the future?

It’s far too important to be compared to gold. It is essential to all life, and when it is unavailable, life no longer exists. Gold we can live without.  It is, by far, the most important thing in the world.  Think about when we look for planets that may harbor life, the first thing we ask is whether there is water in any form. The same can be said for our Southwest communities.

Ultimately why should the public be so concerned about our limited water supply in the Southwest? Why is reliable water so important?

It is essential to all life.  Without water, life does not exist and our communities are more dependent on a clean water supply than anything else in the world.  A reliable water supply means a stable economy, which is ultimately required for a stable environment.

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With the worst drought in recorded history parching the state, water and water sourcing options are hot topics. In this two part series (read part two), we chat with our Waterkeeper Matt O'Malley, who discusses the Colorado River, future water prospects and more.

Part 1 of 2

Why is water considered the lifeblood of the Southwestern US?

dry coloradoPhoto Credit Peter McBrideWater is vital to almost everything we do, in particular the Colorado River is vital to our everyday existence.  The reality is that most of the Southwest is desert, but we don’t live as though it is. Instead we try to make it look and live like regions that get much more rainfall – such as Hawaii or Florida. 

Without water our communities would not exist as they do. San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix and the rest of the Southwest, including our agricultural communities, would look much different than they do today.  The major population centers of the Southwest, including Los Angeles and San Diego, are home to about 1/10 of the U.S. population.

Please explain why there is a current water crisis in the Southwest.

There is a drought throughout the west, with California and Nevada feeling the largest impacts.  In addition to the significant impacts of drought, the Southwest has received less rainfall than average, and has for the last several years. This reality has lead to a severe shortage of water, both locally and in the sources available for importation to our region from other parts of the southwest. 

How has the perception of water as a valued resource changed in this region over the last few decades?

To paraphrase John Steinbeck in East of Eden, during the dry years, people forget about the lush years, and during the wet years they lose all memory of the dry years. That seems a constant and definitely rings true today. 

Luckily, an increasing number of individuals and agencies are becoming aware of just how valuable and necessary a resource water is, in both wet and dry years and taking steps to preserve this invaluable commodity.  It is heartening to see people are conserving more and doing more with less, but we can do much better. We have to do betterWhile I know there are also those who are oblivious to the water crisis, I feel confident they will become acutely aware of it sooner rather than later. With longer and more frequent droughts likely (the results from climate change) and with rising water prices, it will be hard to ignore.

A recent study projects that by 2050, climate change will reduce the flow of the Colorado River by 10 - 30 percent. How much will climate change impact our water supply?

Tremendously. With climate change we could very well experience prolonged periods of drought and inconsistent precipitation.  There are studies that show our current drought crisis is linked with climate change.  Water scarcity could easily become the “new normal” for the southwest and California.  It’s important for us to adapt to this new normal and develop conservation and recycling methods to deal with it, and that’s something we’re working on at San Diego Coastkeeper.

The demand for water has historically exceeded the local supply in Los Angeles and San Diego since the inception of these cities. Why has the Colorado River become such a vital resource for Southern California?

I am not certain on all the motivations to use the Colorado River as source, but I can guess that at the time this seemed like an choice full of abundance in resource. Today the reality is that we haven’t come close to meeting our maximum conservation potential, and we haven’t yet developed ways to capture much of the rainfall that does occur here. Historically, rather than treat rainwater as an asset, we’ve treated it as a nuisance, something to be diverted from properties and into stormwater systems. 

The Colorado is our main source of imported water in Southern California because of this gap, based on long-standing water rights and adjudications.  If we can find ways to truly integrate our systems, we can supply a larger portion of our local water needs with local rainfall.

The local water supply in San Diego is currently enough to support just a few hundred thousand residents. Please explain.

San Diego has existing reservoirs designed to capture local rainfall and delivered to customers. But due in part to logistics, reservoir storage infrastructure and lack of local capture and use, we actually capture and use only a limited quantity.  In the future, it’s likely that you’ll see small-scaled capture and rainwater use/treatment systems throughout the desert and coastal Southwest.

California is facing its third dry year in a row. How do droughts like this affect the water supply?

The state has less snowpack to pull water resources from and less snowpack means less water. In the past, snowpack acted as a “natural reservoir." Currently, with the entire state impacted by drought, what water we were getting from central California is drastically reduced.  The same goes for Colorado River water and a drier environment is more likely to burn, meaning increase wildfires and the water quality issues are closely associated with our current situation, a situation that could be increasingly permanent.

The drought has caused increased groundwater pumping this year. Please explain how we are depleting our aquifers and what this could mean for the future.

dsc00328-sLimited water supply means we must rethink our landscaping.

This method of sourcing water has lead to drying up of wells, reduction of water in streams and lakes (due to hydrologic connections), deterioration of water quality, land subsidence and saltwater infiltration into groundwater, among other impacts.

A recent Los Angeles Times poll found that only 16 percent of people have been drastically affected by the drought at home. How will this change in the future if increased drought conditions occur as predicted?

One way that this will almost certainly change is that that number will go up, likely way up. Once mandatory irrigation schedules or other prohibitions become commonplace, people will begin to feel the pinch.  Pricing will continue to rise as water gets more scarce and harder to come by. Sometimes the pocketbook is the place where people feel things the most and get more motivated. That is not far off now.

 

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dry coloradoA dry Colorado River bed. Photo Credit Peter McBride.We're in the worst drought in California's recorded history--and the City of San Diego has not yet elevated its water use restrictions to Level 2. This is unacceptable.

Governor Brown already requested everyone in the state reach 20 percent conservation, and the San Diego County Water Authority recently approved moving voluntary water use restrictions to mandatory. This vote allowed numerous cities in the region to implement their mandatory water use restrictions and come into compliance with emergency water conservation mandates approved July 15 by the State Water Resources Control Board.

Unfortunately, during an update about its ongoing water conservation program on July 23, City of San Diego's Public Utilities Department Director Halla Razak and a representative from the city attorney's office reiterated the stance that the City is already in compliance with state regulations. They said that the permanent mandatory restrictions currently in place in the City of San Diego "mirror" the Level 2 drought restrictions that the County Water Authority approved. Sadly, Ms. Razak stated that we should "pray for rain" and plan for allocations.

We know this isn't right. And we are committed to working with folks at the City, the State Water Board and the County Water Authority to ensure all water suppliers in our region obey the law and do their part to conserve.

Last week, our staff gave public comment during the City of San Diego environment committee meeting to update council members on state regulations that require implementation of mandatory restrictions and information about how the City hasn't taken necessary steps to address outdoor irrigation scheduling and other key elements of those restrictions.

san diego drinking waterIn addition to comment letters and public testimony, we also partnered on a strongly-worded joint press release with Save the Colorado, highlighting the broader impacts of this decision for the regions from which we draw our water. We identified the current City of San Diego stance as in violation of existing regulations--and in poor taste, considering the broader implications of the drought for the entire Western U.S.

It is our goal to have the City of San Diego understand the requirements and come into compliance with State Board regulations. The deadline just passed, and the need to act is urgent. We have been working one-on-one with decision makers, in public hearings and in the media to achieve this goal.

I invite you to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call me (619.758.7743) if you have questions regarding our water supply work or if you'd like to financially support our work or volunteer to support our efforts.

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How is San Diego's water supply connected to other locations throughout our region? This blog, written by PhD Candidate Alida Cantor, looks at a particular connection: birds at the Salton Sea.

A quick background

The Colorado River supplies over half of San Diego's water. The Colorado also supplies water for many other users-- 25 million people and 3.5 million acres of farmland throughout the entire Colorado River basin. The river is known as one of the most controlled and over-allocated waterways in the world.

In 2003, an agreement (the Quantification Settlement Agreement, or QSA) was negotiated with the goal of limiting California's over-reliance on Colorado River supplies. The agreement transfers water from farms in Imperial Valley to urban users in San Diego. This means a more secure water supply for urban water users in San Diego, but could have negative impacts for others throughout the broader region -- including birds.

a single duck in the water hidden escondido san diego coastkeeper

Birds at the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea, the largest lake in California, is a 400-square-mile salty lake in Imperial and Riverside Counties. Its water comes primarily from agricultural runoff—which means that taking water away from farms means less water flowing into the Salton Sea. This is very worrisome for many reasons, one of which is potential impacts on bird habitat. Less water means receding shorelines and increased salinity, which hurt bird habitat.

The Salton Sea hosts a lot of different types of birds-- around 400 different species. This includes several endangered and sensitive species, such as the Yuma Clapper Rail. The Salton Sea supports about 40 percent of the entire endangered Yuma Clapper Rail population so this bird is considered very vulnerable to habitat decline at the Salton Sea.

Other birds at the Salton Sea include eared grebes, cormorants, yellow-footed gulls, and white and brown pelicans. Brown pelicans were once endangered, but their populations have rebounded since the banning of the DDT pesticide. White pelicans are not endangered but a large percentage of them- 30 percent- nest at the Salton Sea. More birds of concern at the Salton Sea include mountain plovers, burrowing owls, and black skimmers, to name a few.

As wetlands throughout the broader region have diminished due to development (about 90 percent of wetlands in California have been lost over the last hundred years), the importance of the Salton Sea as habitat for migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway has grown. Although the Salton Sea experienced large-scale bird die-offs during the 1990s due to avian botulism and other diseases spread by having so many birds in one place, it remains a very important habitat, and every year millions of migrating birds rely upon the Salton Sea as a stopover to rest and fuel up along their journey.

Thinking about what San Diego's water system means for birds at the Salton Sea shows how we are connected via our water supply to other locations and species throughout the region. The story of our water doesn't start or end when we turn on the tap.

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The summer is sure to bring the heat. We can already tell it's going to be a summer of rushing to the ice cream truck, cold showers and ocean swimming. 

As things quickly heat up, we can clearly see how important it is to have a sustainable water conservation plan that takes into account drought concerns and environmental impact throughout San Diego County and beyond.

To put things in perspective, the color-coded portion of the map below depicts the severity of drought throughout California with data from the US Drought Monitor. It was produced as a joint venture between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

DroughtOur animated water supply map overlays maps produced by the United States Drought Monitor with outlines of the Colorado, San Joaquin and Sacramento river basins. We used maps for the past year, using one a month. For consistency, we chose the last Thursday of each month as the source of the drought map.

When you read news reports about parts of California being in "exceptional drought," this is the map they are referring to. To see the drought's impact on our water supply sources, I overlaid the outlines of the Colorado River Basin and the Sacramento River Basin combined with the San Joaquin River Basin, which flow into the Bay Delta. The watersheds San Diego draws its water from are nearly 100 percent impacted by drought. The San Diego County Water Authority's Master Plan update doesn't focus enough on conservation, recycling and local stormwater capture as future sources.

As stewards of the water, we are concerned with the scarcity of water in our supply chain and the environmental impact that this plan could have in the long run. The energy needed to transport this water translates to greenhouse gas emissions, further intensifying climate change impacts like drought in the southwest, leading to more aggressive and spontaneous wildfires like what we have been experiencing recently.

We must develop a plan that focuses on water recycling and conservation so we can stay hydrated for the days, months and years to come and reduce climate change impacts associated with our water supply choices.

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Well, hello blog readers.

san diego drinking waterBecause you're an important part of the Coastkeeper community, I wanted to take a moment to give you an insider's perspective on our recent lawsuit. We filed against the San Diego County Water Authority for failing to account for the environmental impacts of existing and future water supply sources in its recently approved water supply plan. As you know, we strive to build relationships in the community with a broad spectrum of businesses, agencies and nonprofits. As you also know, when collaboration fails to meet the needs of our waters, legal action is in our repertoire.

In late March, the Water Authority approved an update to its Master Plan for water supply and a related environmental impact report and climate action plan. Despite the fact that California law requires them to do so, these plans do not fully assess the environmental impacts of each water supply source the Water Authority considers. In particular, they ignore the energy used to treat and move water. These plans will be used as the basis for decisions made for the next twenty years, and today that is a faulty basis.

San Diego Coastkeeper protects and restores fishable, swimmable and drinkable water, this includes our water supply. We are worried about these plans because energy used to move water translates to greenhouse gas and exacerbates climate change impacts like sea level rise and drought characteristics. In San Diego, our environmental and economic stability will be threatened if these plans are left as they stand.

We did not jump straight to a lawsuit. Since mid-2013, we have worked with the Water Authority in meetings with its staff and board members; by submitting comment letters alongside our partner groups; and by giving oral testimony at public hearings. Our concerns and cautions about environmental laws were repeatedly dismissed.

So, as the watchdog organization in our region dedicated to protect our waters and empowered to act, we filed a lawsuit. Our ultimate goal is to bring the Water Authority back to the table and end up with a better water supply plan for our region. The improved plan will consider embedded energy, and we'll end up prioritizing conservation and reuse over more energy-intensive sources like imports from the Bay-Delta and Colorado River.

Please feel free to comment here or contact me if you have thoughts on this move--supportive or critical. Your opinion matters to us, and I'd like to hear from you. You can This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call me at 619-758-7743 x103.

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Meier LighthawkIt probably won’t surprise you that as San Diego Coastkeeper’s Waterkeeper I spend a lot of my time thinking about water- the best sources, the best methods and the best ways we can take stewardship for our environment while meeting our serious regional water needs. I probably don’t need to tell you that we live in a region with a drought crisis or that most of our water, 80 percent in fact, is imported from outside of San Diego County.

Lately, I have spent a great deal of time on efforts in the lead-up to the San Diego County Water Authority’s recent vote on the adoption of its Regional Water Facilities Optimization and Master Plan Update (Master Plan). As expected the vote upheld the business-as-usual and environmentally neglectful policies of the past. To the frustration of many, the plan and its accompanying environment and climate change documents fail to address the greater impacts of the region's water supply system including environmental damage, increasing ratepayer costs, greenhouse gas pollution and climate change.


In addition to the Master Plan, which explores the region's needs for and options to address water supply through 2035, the Water Authority also approved the accompanying Supplemental Program Environmental Impact Report and Climate Action Plan. Unfortunately the deficient Climate Action Plan will allow for the Water Authority to continue prioritizing water sources that are both energy-intense and environmentally damaging; namely additional imported water and conveyance, and additional desalination plants. I will talk in more detail about cheaper, more environmentally responsible alternatives to desalination, including the City of San Diego’s potable reuse project, in a later blog post. For now, I want to focus on the Master Plan and the supplemental documents.

In the months leading up to this vote, I worked in coordination with other environmental and social justice organizations, known collectively as San Diego Bay Council, which includes groups like the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Environmental Health Coalition, North County Coastal Group, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation and others. Most of us had been part of this planning process since early 2013 and have repeatedly called on the Water Authority to prioritize conservation and recycling, and implement an appropriate and responsible climate action plan. As evidenced by the vote, the Water Authority has repeatedly declined to incorporate any of this feedback into its plan, noting that it believes it is not responsible to account for the energy use of its water supply strategy, leaving that to its suppliers and customers to sort out. Does that seem fair or responsible to you?


The vote was disappointing in that it shows the Water Authority sidestepping an opportunity to safely and economically usher the region into a much-needed new water supply paradigm.   What seems to have been ignored all together by this plan is the amount of energy it takes to supply water. As approved, the plan misses the opportunity to issue a water loading order, which would prioritize the least environmentally damaging sources of water. This would have led to water supply solutions that better protect the environment and reduce very costly infrastructure needs.

As you can see, its decision also means that the trend continues: lower-cost and more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient water source solutions are being downplayed or ignored to the detriment of our environment and pocket books. In a region so desperate for water, we must assure that our water sourcing portfolio is both diverse and effective while making informed decisions based on a variety of factors including cost, environmental impact, energy intensity, and ratepayer implications.


And let us not forget, another issue at stake is the depletion of one of the nation’s most vulnerable waterways, the Colorado River. Our region’s water needs have contributed heavily to the fact that for the last decade the Colorado River has been drained dry by the time it reaches the Sea of Cortez. The Save the Colorado organization points out that, “While the destruction of the river is a clear and obvious consequence of our actions, additional threats to the Colorado River - from its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park, all the way to its dry destiny near the Sea of Cortez - are increasing with each tick of the clock.” Can we really afford to wait to take action?

I want to be clear that, while the vote and other Water Authority efforts have disappointed, they are not the end of the story. We still have power as citizens and the region is brimming with potential. You can help prove me right by donating to our efforts, volunteering for one of our many monthly events to care for our beautiful and bountiful waters and beaches and you can let your voice be heard by contacting your local representatives on the San Diego County Water Authority Board with your thoughts on their totally-off-the-mark plan.

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Did you know that March 17-23 is Fix a Leak Week?

Sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this week brings attention to water leaks, which are a serious concern, especially in drought- stricken California.

A leak doesn’t seem like a big deal? It is.

  • Each year, more than 1 trillion gallons of water are lost to leaks nationwide. That is equivalent to the annualfix-a-leak-week use of more than 11 million homes. That is a LOT of precious water being lost!
  • Eight percent of the water used in a typical single-family California home is wasted due to leaks, according to a 2011 study.
  • A leaky faucet that drips at the rate of once per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year. That's the amount of water needed to take more than 180 showers.
  • An irrigation system with a leak 1/32 of an inch in diameter (about the thickness of a dime) can waste 6,300 gallons of water per month.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies are paying extra attention to leak eradication during Fix a Leak Week by offering special classes, promoting home and business water-use check-ups, and giving away dye tablets to help detect leaky toilets.

We’ve partnered with the County Water Authority to make sure you have access to the dye tablets and the valuable information to help you learn about potential leaks in your home. Find us at a Beach Cleanup or visit our office to pick yours up.

For full details on classes, check-ups and other Leak Week offerings, visit www.sdcwa.org/fixaleakweek This is also a good reminder to those of us who call America’s Finest City home that more than 80 percent of our water is imported from outside the area. The single best way to increase local water supply is by using less and wasting none. Check out our other water conservation tips and save some water today.

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The following was written by Coastkeeper’s Jo Brooks and Everett Delano of our board of directors in response to a February 23 U-T San Diego editorial that criticized stormwater runoff requirements. This is the full text of their response, a partial response was published in the March 15, 2014 U-T.

A recent U-T San Diego editorial complained about the “ridiculousness” of stormwater runoff requirements adopted last May by the San Diego Regional Water QuTourmaline-storm-channelality Control Board. Alleging the rules would cost the city $4 billion over the next 17 years and cause a 1,000 percent increase in the (miniscule) stormwater portion of water bills, the U-T San Diego Editorial Board urged that somebody “needs to stop the madness.” While the editorial was filled with hyperbole and sought to entertain, particularly the line about having to put diapers on waterfowl, the problem of water pollution is no laughing matter.

A Region in Trouble

Our region’s waters are in bad shape. In 2013 alone, San Diego County had over 3,000 beach closure days. More than 160 water bodies in the county are listed as polluted and not meeting federal water quality standards for, among other things, bacteria, lead, nickel, pesticides, thallium and trash. An urban runoff report on the biological integrity of San Diego’s streams in 2011-2012 listed only 3% as in “very good” condition while 79% were listed as “poor” or “very poor.” San Diego Coastkeeper’s own monitoring in 2013 revealed “marginal” water quality for the Carlsbad, Sweetwater, Pueblo, and Otay watersheds, and “poor” water quality for the Tijuana watershed. San Diego’s waters, inextricably linked to our own health and to the health of our economy, need our protection and our action.

The editorial’s complaint that the standards would require the city to “scrub its urban runoff” is simply wrong. Yes, even under prior permits, washing a car in a driveway and allowing dirty wash water to escape to the street or a storm drain system is “strongly discouraged.” So are a host of other bad practices that flush water with chemicals and pollutants into storm drains, where it collects with other pollutants that feed into San Diego’s streams, beaches, lagoons, bays, and eventually the ocean. While there are no permit requirements to “scrub runoff,” there are appropriate requirements to adopt “maximum extent practicable” levels of protection of San Diego’s precious water bodies.

Fishable, Swimmable & Drinkable

As members of San Diego Coastkeeper’s board of directors, we take seriously the federal Clean Water Act’s mandates of fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters.   As San Diegans, we should all ask ourselves – what is it worth to be able to eat fish from our waters, recreate in our bays and ocean, and drink water without fear of illness? There can be little doubt but that clean water is important to all. A 2004 study conducted by the University of Southern California and UCLA estimates that for every dollar spent on compliance with stormwater requirements, two to three dollars in benefits will result, including benefits to tourism, property values, public health, and public recreation.

A Questionable Price Tag

In reality, the $4 billion 17-year price tag listed in the editorial is suspect – like many things, there are often less expensive ways to address the same objective. Certainly the permit contains no requirement to spend any particular amount of money. But some of the very things the editorial complains about, like improving our irrigation systems and capturing stormwater for reuse, have tremendous potential to save both money and water in the long run, particularly when we are faced with a drought and the inevitably increasing costs associated with a reliable water supply for a growing population. Coastkeeper participates in the permit’s stakeholder process and supports constructive approaches to meeting permit requirements at reasonable cost.

It is also important to remember that visitors to San Diego spend nearly $8.4 billion annually, with an economic impact of over $18.7 billion generated for our regional economy. These visitors, just like residents and businesses, depend on healthy beaches and bays. Our healthy economy, like our public health, depends on healthy San Diego water bodies.

The U-T editorial correctly notes that our antiquated sewage-processing facility, the country’s last large municipal treatment plant not to meet basic secondary-treatment standards, requires significant upgrades. But we cannot afford to pollute our region’s water bodies either through inadequate sewage treatment or through polluted urban runoff.

The editorial derides the Regional Water Board’s permit as “environmental extremism.” In fact, it implements obligations set forth in the very mainstream 40-year-old federal Clean Water Act. We think of it more as an appropriate, measured step to address one of our region’s greatest assets. Our public health, our ecological health, and our financial well-being deserve nothing less.

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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.

WATER SUPPLY

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.

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2825 Dewey Rd., Ste. 200 • San Diego CA 92106 • TEL. 619.758.7743