Every year, the first major rain after the dry summer season gives us an opportunity to see the complicated problem of urban runoff and its impacts to our water quality. Urban runoff is water that flows over thehard scape surfaces we fill our cities with and drains directly into our waters. Stormwater, irrigation, and other water carry pollutants such as trash, oil, grease, pesticides, metals, bacteria and viruses, and toxic chemicals.
And it washes into our rivers, bays, lakes and ocean - untreated.
To unwind this major water quality issue in San Diego would require turning back the clock to a time before we developed the county and rethinking how we paved, connected and changed the natural landscape. Still, today, we can do things to capture or slow down runoff before it hits our water or to prevent pollutants in the first place. In thinking about our upcoming stormy season, we tapped the brains of our water quality sampling volunteers, who collect water samples from nine of our eleven watersheds, to produce this list of the top ten places to watch urban runoff. In no scientific way, we ordered it from the most basic visual to the most compelling. We target different pollutants, diverse geographic locations, a varierty of infrastructure impacts and human health and use impacts.
Take a look. What do you see?
10. 2306 S Coast Highway: Open channel dumping onto the beach
This popular North County surf spot features an open channel carrying urban runoff from the adjacent parking lot and highway straight onto the beach. This location highlights how stormwater washes trash and dissolved pollutants from our developed places onto our beaches.
9. 300 Forward Street in La Jolla/Bird Rock: Drain at the street's end
This is the most straightforward illustration of a storm drain labeled "drains to the ocean," where you can see the drain, the end of the street and the polluted water and its entrance to the Pacific. It simply illustrates the complicated infrastructure our region built that assumed pushing all water into our bays and ocean was the smartest way to keep our homes and businesses dry.
8. Tourmaline Surf Park: Channelized stormwater outlet meets popular surf spot
This Pacific Beach surf spot is world-renowned for its waves, thankfully not for its urban runoff pollution. Risking intestional illnesses of all sorts, surfers get barreled here when its raining, unaware that a paved stormwater channel leads direct to sandy beach and into the water. Polluted runoff in this channel dumps directly in the surf zone.
7. Coast Boulevard Park: Cement pipe at ocean's edge
The Waterkeeper movement started decades ago because fisherman saw large industrial sites using massive pipes to discard pollution directly into the Hudson River. This location symbolizes San Diego's version of that as a cement pipe carries polluted water from the storm drain straight to the ocean. With the Hudson's pollution, fishermen could pinpoint a specific corporation responsible for dumping pollution into the water. In San Diego, it's impossible to target one contributor to this issue because every person adds to the problem as rain water runs over our homes, yards, driveways, workplaces and more, until it carries accumalted toxins to this singular end point. In this spot, a large algae plume from the excess nutrients (commonly caused by fertilizer) grows along the rocks at the end of the drain. You can even see the algae mat in this photo to the right.
6. Cottonwood creek at Moonlight State Beach:Storm Drain opening
We're particularly aware of this polluted runoff example because Moonlight Beach is a favorite among locals, families and surfers. It's one of those rare beaches where a community member organizes regular cleanups to keep it trash free. Surfers flock here. Families play here. But, it's also a prime location to see an open channel storm drain flow right to the sandy beach.
5. San Dieguito River Park Stormwater Treatment lagoon: Treatment wetland in action
Is it too late to reverse the effects of polluted runoff? Absolutely not, especially when we get creative.
We chose this location because it showcases a stormwater pipe that drops large amounts of urban runoff from the nearby development. The folks at San Dieguito Lagoon built a treatment wetland to clean the water before it gets to the actual lagoon. Here, you'll see the pipe dumping water into the first pond. This first pond always has stagnant algae pond water, even when it's not raining. But, the good news in this solution-oriented example, is that you can see the treatment ponds prevent the gross water from reaching the lagoon.
This illustrates what many people refer to as stormwater capture, and it also depicts the role that nature plays in helping humans handle polluted runoff.
In their natural state, our inland creeks slow polluted water and force it through nature's filter--offering a true eco-cleanse that can remove a lot of urban runoff pollution from water before it reaches the ocean. Sandly, by channelizing many of San Diego County's creeks, we dehabilitated nature's role by replacing vegetation with paved concrete to quickly move water away from our developed areas into our bays and ocean.
4. Tecolote Shores, Mission Beach: Creek emptying into man-made bay
Mission Bay is gross--in this part of the bay. Here Tecolote Creek drains into Mission Bay, a tourism hot spot that we engineered when we rerouted the mouth of the San Diego River. Due to the high bacteria counts in this creek, this section of Mission Bay is often closed for swimming, even when it's not raining. It's particularly polluted here year round because this far-back section of Mission Bay does not have much current to mix the polluted water into the open ocean.
3. Dog Beach, Ocean Beach: The mouth of our region's largest river
The polluted runoff in this iconic location begins collecting bacteria and toxins from as far inland as Julian--the eastern edges of this watershed. The amount and the intensity of polluted runoff flowing through the mouth of this river demonstrate the gravity of our top water quality problem. Here, you're also likely to see a secondary issue in urban runoff--marine debris.
2. 3001 Harbor Drive: Trash
This bridge overlooks the outlet for Chollas Creek, one of San Diego County's most polluted creeks. Flowing through the most densely populated urban areas in the county, Chollas Creek is wrought with trash, oil, grease, pesticides, metals, bacteria and viruses and toxic chemicals. What makes this secure the #2 spot on our list of ten is that you can see a trash boom designed to capture trash flowing from upstream into the bay. Particularly with the popularity of photos on the Internet, many people have seen images from around the globe featuring humans in boats surrounded by massive amounts of trash in the water. It's easy to dismiss that in San Diego because we do have strong trash and recycling systems in place. But, if you find yourself here at the end of Chollas Creek, you may see that marine debris issues are much closer to home than they appear.
1. Dairy Mart Road: Binational polluted runoff
During the winter, the Tijuana River overruns the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Ysidro, California. It then runs through the Tijuana River Estuary, one of the largest remaining Southern California coastal wetland habitats. This area is as important stopover on the Pacific Flyway bird migratory route. Unfortunately, the river carries large amounts of raw sewage as well as trash and sediment straight through the estuary and onto the beaches near Imperial Beach. During the winter, the river flows close nearby beaches. This one location perfectly illustrates that urban runoff is not "one person's problem" or even "one country's problem." It highlights trash management issues as well as chemical water quality issues. This location slots into #1 because of the severity of the polluted runoff, the amount of the water flowing in this spot and the complicated matter of finding solutions to polluted runoff that starts in the U.S., flows through Mexico and completes it journey back in America.
Did we miss a location that you think should earn a spot on our top ten list of places to experience and learn about polluted runoff issues? Please, share with us your ideas in the comments below.
This is a story about a 12-year-old girl from San Diego who loves surfing, art and making the world a better place. One day she contacted San Diego Coastkeeper to share her story, and what we heard was not only impressive, it is an inspiration.
Paige realized that there was a big problem the world faced - ocean pollution. She knew that much of our trash ended up in one of her favorite places, the ocean, making it dirty and unhealthy for the marine creatures that lived there. What she did next proves that anyone could make a positive impact when they take action. Starting with a recycling program at her school, we're excited to see the impact her newest project will make.
I asked our little ocean hero to share her story and this is what she told us:
Coastkeeper: What inspired you?
Paige M.: "My 4th grade teacher at Del Mar Pines School inspired me to start the recycling program. She asked if I could do one thing to make the world a better place, what would it be?"
CK: When did you start the project?
PM: "I started planning for the project in the spring of my 4th grade year but officially launched the recycling program the fall of my 5th grade year."
CK: How many students participated in the recycling program?
PM: "Everyone at school – students and their families, staff and teachers – are welcome to participate. We host collection days on campus twice a month where families can bring their recyclable plastic drinking bottles from home. I also placed specially marked collection bins around campus that my committee and I check weekly.
CK: Why did you want to take on this project?
PM: "Our landfills only have limited space. Recycling helps take out a lot of unnecessary waste in the landfills. If we recycled every plastic bottle we used, we would keep two billion tons of plastic out of landfills. It's also cool to see all the things that recycled bottles can become – like sleeping bags."
Paige makes her moves
Paige started a recycling program to raise money for her school foundation. She created an education program and recruited a committee of schoolmates to help. In the fall of 6th grade, Paige designed a charm bracelet using the water bottle logo she created for her recycling program. She sold the bracelets and donated the money to water.org, a charity that produces safe drinking water in Africa, South Asia and Central America.
She also wrote and illustrated a short story called "Kayas Undersea Adventure." The story is about a girl who goes surfing and gets transported to an underwater world that's polluted. The surfer girl returns home and finds ways to encourage others to correct the pollution she had seen. Paige dedicated her book to San Diego Coastkeeper, because she thinks that our mission of keeping San Diego's waters fishable, swimmable and drinkable is cool!
Do you ever wonder where your water in San Diego comes from? Do you know what type of impact that has on our environment or how much energy it uses? Watch San Diego Coastkeeper's video on the water supply in San Diego to learn more. Then visit us at http://www.sdcoastkeeper.org.
Recently, LUSH volunteers teamed up with San Diego Coastkeeper to help clean a local beach. In just 2 hours, they collected over 2500 pieces of plastic, more than 800 cigarette butts, and over 600 pieces of Styrofoam—totaling almost 27 lbs of trash!
Twice-a-month, Coastkeeper, and our partners Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter, hosts a local beach cleanup like this one. If you love your beach and like it clean, bring your friends and family to volunteer at our next event! All of our upcoming beach cleanups can easily be found by visiting this link: http://www.sdcoastkeeper.org
Before starting at Coastkeeper, I spent a few years as a teacher. From 3rd-12th grade, teaching science is frequently an uphill battle. Sadly, the majority of students in middle and high school simply don’t have any connection to science. Without any reason to care about science, it’s incredibly difficult for students to engage.
Hands-on learning became critical for my students. Turning science into something that they can see, do, touch, or even change made a remarkable impact on their subject comprehension.
La Jolla Shores is special to our San Diego coastline. Set along an Area of Special Biological Significance and the Matlahuyal marine protected area (MPA), the water quality, marine life, and habitat are incredibly important to protect. Pressures from human activity, both on and offshore, can pose threats to these coastal resources. High Tech High students had the chance this week to do their part in protecting them, but also learn more about why they’re so important.
Along the coast, students worked in groups to collect marine debris and document activity within the MPA. Testing out the web-based app developed by UCSD, students recorded observations of human activity, helping Coastkeeper and other groups in San Diego identify trends in human use and potentially effectiveness of MPA regulations. While students learned about MPAs, they were able to take an active part in their assessment, contributing to science and policy that impacts us here in San Diego.
Volunteering helped make our coastline a little cleaner, but let students see where runoff goes, actually count how many pollutants we're producing and think about their impacts, while seeing an actual change in their environment. By making a positive impact in their community, science and environmental issues become a little more personal. For so many students, that connection is what drives their passion in science and I am thrilled to help them find it through service learning activities.
Another group set out on a “Pollution Patrol” of La Jolla Shores, sweeping nearly every street west of La Jolla Shores Drive and identifying potential pollution issues. Their biggest concern? Cigarette butts. In just an hour, students collected over 665 cigarette butts from the area, with most found in streets near stores. Students that morning were shocked by what they were finding in an area San Diegan’s value for its pristine beauty and ecological structure.
Beach cleanup volunteers with EPMG could not have chosen a nicer day to pick up debris on Pacific Beach while enjoying the beautiful San Diego weather. EPMG hosted one of our Sponsored Beach Cleanups, a great opportunity for corporate groups and organizations to learn more about pollution and how to prevent it through a hands-on beach cleanup experience.
Within the first hour, the 27 volunteers from EPMG had already found three dead birds, potentially a result of ingestion of marine debris or entanglement in materials that made its way to the beach. By the end of the cleanup, they had picked up 2,720 cigarette butts from the beach and the boardwalk.
Cigarette butts are one of the main contributors to marine pollution, taking anywhere from 18 months to ten years to break down. Just one cigarette butt in a liter of water is lethal to fish and other marine animals and their constant presence is concerning.
In 2012, we found over 70,000 cigarette butts throughout San Diego county. Slowing their accumulation in our waterways depends on proper disposal of cigarette butts, rather than leaving them on sidewalks and in storm drains, where they can eventually make their way to our beaches.
Volunteers from EPMG collected over 38 pounds of trash during their cleanup, finding more than a pound per person. In addition to cigarette butts, small plastics were found in abundance across the beach. Over 400 unidentifiable plastic pieces and nearly 200 plastic bottle cpas, straws, and food wrappers were collected. Many of these come from drinks and snacks we bring to the beach in single-use containers. As summer beach season approaches, do your part and consider bringing food and drinks in a reusable container that won't get left behind!
EPMG volunteers got an up close look at one of the many marine organisms impacted by marine debris and their cleanup efforts. A baby sea lion, possibly impacted by the current food shortage, made its way up onto the beach. Quickly attended to by the SeaWorld animal rescue team, the sea lion pup's presence was a reminder that we share our beaches and water with more than just people. So many items removed from the beach by EPMG could pose a serious threat to marine mammals like sea lions. Keeping our beaches and waterways clear of small plastics and toxic cigarette butts are a small way to make a huge difference for human health and marine life alike.
San Diego Coastkeeper is thankful for companies like EPMG who are committed to making a difference in San Diego's communities. Keeping our water clean and safe is something we strive for every day, and we need the help and awareness of our volunteers.
Last week, I was invited to attend a beach cleanup along Silver Strand training beach with sailors from Naval Base Coronado. Anytime I get to help with a beach cleanup is a great opportunity, but being able to participate with one where so few people get to visit was an incredible experience.
Sailors who work every day on Silver Strand arrived to help make their “office” a little cleaner and to give back to the greater San Diego community. Working for about three hours, the team hauled more than 12 cubic yards of debris from the beach, completing EPA marine debris data cards as they worked. Slightly different from San Diego Coastkeeper’s beach cleanup cards, the EPA is looking closer at the source of debris. Asking volunteers to not only tally their findings, but note any specific brands they can identify during the cleanup.
The Navy cleanup is held annually in advance of the Western snowy plover and California least tern nesting season, when Navy training is adjusted to avoid potential damage to nests. With the season starting March 1, the removal of debris plays a huge role in helping these birds to survive and thrive along Silver Strand.
While not coordinated by Coastkeeper, being at the cleanup was a great way to see the part the Navy plays here in San Diego in minimizing our marine debris issues and what strides the EPA is taking to tackle the same problem.
Cleaning a beach vital to San Diego and our military alongside Navy sailors and EPA representatives was a strong reminder of just how important clean and healthy water is to all of us. No matter where you live or work, we all can contribute to the marine debris problem and we can all be an equally effective part of the solution.
San Diego Coastkeeper offers a number of ways for the community to get involved in keeping our waters clean. Our beach cleanup program gives groups and individuals a way to actively participate in the solution through our monthly cleanups and Beach Cleanup in a Box.
A few times a year, we get the chance to work with a group through a Sponsored Cleanup, and they're often some of the most memorable experiences in this program. This past week, we were lucky enough to host such a cleanup with the support of LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics. In town for a meeting, 30 LUSH employees from across North America came together at La Jolla Shores for an incredible day of giving back and learning.
This wasn't just another beach cleanup. There was something unique about the work done by this group. While talking with them about the the sources of marine debris, they shared with me ways they work to fight the problem in their own lives and through their work with LUSH. As a company that uses 100 percent post-consumer recycled bottles, biodegradable packing peanuts (instead of Styrofoam!), and uses fresh ingredients in their products, they were all personally connected to the marine debris problem and saw how their responsible choices made huge impacts on our waters.
Meticulously filling out their data cards, the LUSH team collected over 4,835 items from La Jolla Shores, sitting along an Area of Special Biological Significance. In two hours, they removed 26.85 pounds, including 2,542 plactic items, 809 cigarette butts and 636 Styrofoam pieces.
For a cold February afternoon, their enthusiam and excitement to make a difference that day was infectious. Surfers and joggers stopped to thank them for their work, giving our visitors a chance to connect with the people directly impacted by their efforts that day. It was also a reminder that those responsible choices they make in their own lives and through LUSH have a greater influence than they sometimes see.
Before leaving the beach that day, all 30 LUSH team members, hailing from across the US and Canada, became San Diego Coastkeeper members . While those of us who work and play in San Diego's water know the challenge we have in protecting it, it's a wonderful reminder that we have members 1,000s of miles away supporting our work and have actively contributed to solving those problems.
All of us at San Diego Coastkeeper would like to send a huge Thank You to the LUSH team for their efforts at La Jolla Shores and back home!
Every time I present at a school, I am always struck by how hungry students are for hands-on environmental education. Revently, I had the pleasure of meeting with over 200 students from Linda Vista Elementary and Carson Elementary school.
The students were in the middle of an environmental curriculum and were looking for additional engagement around the topic of water quality and pollution control. To augment their learning, San Diego Coastkeeper came in to teach a hands-on lesson from Project SWELL, school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the San Diego region's waters.
Each lesson began with a simple question: What is marine debris and how does it affect the animals that live in marine environments? After spending a few minutes brainstorming ideas the students got an opportunity to model how entanglement can affect a sea animal.
Sarah Hargis, the Literacy Supervisor at Linda Vista Elementary had this to say about the presentation:
“[This] presentation not only gave real insight to our students' questions, but also gave them hands-on activities that simulated real situations that occur in the environment due to human negligence. We wouldn't have been able to have a successful environmentalism unit without Ms. Gipson's presentation. We look forward to having her visit again and continue being part of our effort to educate students on the environment."
Thanks Sarah! I look forward to working with your students again.
Interested in learning more about Project SWELL? Visit us online at www.projectswell.org
If you’ve ever helped out at a San Diego Coastkeeper or Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter beach cleanup, you’ve likely been handed one of our data cards along with your bags, gloves and trash grabbers. While the data card is sometimes met with enthusiasm, there is equal parts confusion. The reaction is similar to students who are told they get to watch a movie in class but have to fill out a worksheet too.
Unlike your movie worksheet in 6th grade, the data sheet we hand you isn’t graded but it does get used long after your day at a beach cleanup. They get compiled in our annual marine debris report and help direct decisions and actions.
The data cards are used to track what debris we’re finding on our beaches throughout the year. Every part of the card you fill out helps us to improve our understanding of marine debris in San Diego. They allow us to help plan for future cleanups, make local recommendations, design education programs, and study the impacts of policy.
Filling out a data card for an hour or two or cleanup may not seem like a big deal, but by each one of our 4,308 volunteers in 2012 helping to correctly fill out their data cards, we are able to learn far more about marine debris that we could on our own.
Thanks to data cards, we know:
- 7,594 pounds of trash were removed in 2012. This means each volunteer removed roughly 1.72 pounds of trash. That’s over a pound more than in previous years!
- Ocean Beach, historically one of the dirtiest beaches, is now one of the cleanest, with less than 1 pound removed per volunteer.
- 32% of all items were plastic and 40% were cigarette butts. In fact, 20,000 more cigarette butts were found on beaches this year. Yikes!
- Over 53,000 debris items on our beaches are actually recyclable. Teaching our neighbors, family, and friends about what we can recycle could make a huge difference.
- A record low number of plastic bags were found, which means we're making better choices as a community. However, we collected 7,500, and this is still too many plastic bags on our beaches.
Thanks to all of our wonderful volunteers who helped make this another successful year of beach cleanups and contributed to our data collection.
Want to be a part of our 2013 marine debris program? Come out to any one of our beach cleanups. San Diego Coastkeeper is also happy to arrange special cleanups through our Beach Cleanup in Box and Sponsored Cleanup Program. We’ll supply you with everything you need to make your beaches a little cleaner, including a data card.