Sick of Sewage (15)
The folks at Proyecto Fronterizo de Educacion Ambiental A.C. shared this video with us of the broken sewage pipeline at Playas de Tijuana that is causing a spill of untreated sewage 3/4 mile south of the border. Remember to check our beach status page or download our SwimGuide to ensure you know when it's safe to go back into the water.
This post is the third in a series regarding the San Diego Regional Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permitfor the San Diego region.
In this third and final entry in our series on the San Diego Regional Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit, we will cover how you, the public, can get involved after the MS4 permit is adopted. In previous posts, you have gotten a quick introduction to the permitting process and how you can help develop the permit. It is important to know, however, that you can continue to shape the way this MS4 permit works after the Regional Water Quality Control Board adopts it.
The way the current draft is written, the organizations that enroll under it (the ones running big storm drain systems) have to develop Water Quality Improvement Plans within the first year of enrollment. These plans identify water quality “priorities,” how the priorities will be addressed, and timelines to improvement. The important part is that these plans are subjectto a 30- or 60-day public review and comment period just like the MS4 permit itself. This is arguably the MOST IMPORTANT part of the permit because the priorities are where the cities and counties will be focusing most of their time and resources, while other water quality problems have to wait. You need to be a part of this process to ensure that your voice is heard about water quality problems in your community.
Another important way to get involved is to report violations of the permit when you see them in your neighborhood. It is important that you know what part of the permit is being violated though, so when you call the municipalities hotline, they know they are getting usable information. This is why participation in the permitting process is so important (as we outlined in the previous entries), so that you have a working understanding of the permit. That way, when someone is emptying their pool right into the street, and subsequently down a storm drain, you know whether that is prohibited. (As a note: it might be prohibited, but it depends.)
If you don’t feel comfortable with working alone, or just prefer working with some more direction, you can also partner with us in water quality monitoring events. In the permit the cities and counties have to work to identify the sources of previously unidentified pollution. We are currently talking with municipalities to find ways to provide them our monitoring information and reduce their costs. If this cooperative program is green-lighted, you could work to directly hold polluters responsible for their actions and make San Diego’s waters that much cleaner.
If you haven’t already signed up for email updates about water quality issues in the San Diego region, do so here.
This post is the second in a series of three regarding the San Diego Regional Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit for the San Diego region.
In our previous post on the San Diego Regional Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit, you got a small look into the MS4 permit and how San Diego Coastkeeper is involved in its development. This entry will outline the opportunities there are for you, the public, to get involved in shaping the requirements of the MS4 permit.
The current version of the permit is the administrative draft, so it’s like a draft of a draft. There is a public workshop scheduled for September 5 for this version of the permit, which you should attend. This will give you a better understanding of the permit so that when the public version is released later this year, you are able to spot possible problems and offer meaningful comments. Also, the previous comments on the draft MS4 permit will likely be released, which are a good way to learn how comments should look.
When the public version of the MS4 permit is released for commenting, it will likely only be available for 30 to 60 days, so it is important to be on top of it and start learning it as soon as possible. The Regional Board provides email updates on the process, but you have to sign up to get them. The best thing you can do to contribute to this process is to read through the permit and submit a thought-out and reasoned comment letter after. It is important that your comments be on-point and concise so that the Regional Board can better understand what you support, oppose or feel should be altered. Be sure to make your reasoning and goals clear because if you try to tie in Cervantes’ Don Quixote to your analysis, the Regional Board won’t take you seriously.
This is not the most exciting aspect of public advocacy, but these regulations will be in effect for the next 5 years. The Regional Board also feels that this permit is such an improvement that they plan torenew it in 5 years without making significant changes. This can be good because it gives regulated entities more long-term certainty, but it’s only truly good if the requirements help us achieve better water quality.
We often get asked about ways that people can be more involved that don’t necessarily involve giving us money or picking up trash. This is the perfect opportunity to have your voice heard on water quality issues and accountability for those who pollute our waters. Get cracking and submit some comments, because this process is central to Regional Board actions: public notice, document release, review period, and comment deadline. The more practice you have at it, the more informed and better you’ll be.
This post is the first in a series of three regarding the San Diego Regional Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit for the San Diego region.
In this entry, I give a brief overview of the permit’s purpose and permitting process. The second and third entries will highlight how you, dear reader, can get involved. My primary task this summer as a student attorney was evaluating the MS4 permit from the environmental perspective, spotting potential issues, and drafting comments to rehabilitate and increase protection of our natural resources.
As I’m sure you are aware, stormwater and urban runoff are key issues that have a very direct impact on the health of coastal waters. In a nutshell, this permit encompasses the rules for stormwater flows and urban runoff as well as regulations for what can enter storm drains and leave MS4 facilities. The version out right now is the pre-public draft of the permit. That means that key stakeholders (municipalities, environmental groups, and building industry) get to review the proposed permit first and work with the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board to recommend improvements.
This particular MS4 permit is special because it has been handled differently than previous ones. In the past, San Diego, Orange and Riverside Counties each had their own MS4 permit with slightly different requirements. This obviously complicates things for all parties involved because water does not recognize municipal boundaries. Having uniform requirements across the entire San Diego Region is an important step in working towards better water quality because it makes compliance easier for those enrolled under the permit.
Another important part of this permit has been the use of four stakeholder focus meetings. These focus meetings are unprecedented, bringing together small groups of stakeholders around the table to have a professionally moderated discussion on the issues of the MS4 permit. I was thrilled to be a part of this process and put to use the time I spent learning the permit like the back of my hand. Both Jill and I have been representing the environmental perspective at the table along with other environmental groups to make this permit even better.
While the permit is currently in the pre-public form, there are going to be a number of significant ways for you to get involved later on in the process. The next entry will detail the permitting process a bit more and ways that you can get involved while the MS4 permit is developed. The last entry in the series will explain how you can get involved in the implementation process of the permit after it has been adopted.
Make sure you’re up to date on the permit process--sign up for email updates here.
On April 12, San Diego Coastkeeper went on a Tijuana border tour led by WiLDCOAST’s Serge Dedina and Paloma Aguirre. The story of the day was the 2 million gallon sewage spill that flowed from the Tijuana River to Imperial Beach. Government failed to promptly notify the public and as result, surfers and swimmers were using the water for almost a week before they became aware that the waters were tainted by sewage.
“It’s bad enough to have polluted water,” Serge said, “it’s worse when federal and international agencies don’t do their job.”
As Rob Davis noted in a Voice of San Diego piece, “The incident is just one symptom of a major pollution problem that has plagued San Diego’s coast for decades, one that was supposed to have been fixed 15 years ago but that’s been dragged down by missed deadlines, bureaucratic bungling and local infighting.”
Everywhere we went in Tijuana we saw waste tires. Waste tires are not only a huge problem for those living in Tijuana, but waste tires also have significant health, environment and economic impacts on this side of the border. When it rains trash, sewage and tires from Tijuana flow from Mexico across the border into the United States. Waste tire cleanups are a constant on both sides of the border. For example, in a recent cleanup at the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park volunteers collected more than 600 tires in a four hour period. Wildcoast’s Ben McCue noted, “A lot of those tires actually originated in California. (The tires) went over to Mexico, were not disposed of correctly and many came back here.” This is not the kind of recycling story any of us want to hear.
In Tijuana’s Laureles Canyon we had the opportunity to see the impact an organization like Wildcoast can have on a community. Through the efforts of Paloma Aguirre and Wildcoast locals are not only working to rid the community of trash and tires, but community members are actually policing the area and serving notice to would be dumpsters that such conduct will not be tolerated. But best of all is found up on top of one of the Laureles Canyon hills where Four Walls International, Wildcoast, Tijuana Calidad De Vida and Tijuana Estuary partnered on building a green community center made of 450 waste tires and other trash. The plan is to use the same construction to build homes in Laureles Canyon. This collaboration also trains residents on how to manage trash and human waste.
Bravo! It’s really simple: find an environmental harm and fix the problem. Perfect solution? No, but it is a step in the right direction. That’s what the hokey pokey is all about!
The region-wide power outage last September caused massive sewage spills when two pump stations that lacked adequate backup power failed and discharged into local creeks. Our volunteer water monitors found evidence of the 3.5-million gallons of sewage pooled in Los Peñasquitos Creek slowly releasing into the fragile Peñasquitos lagoon.
After the discovery, San Diego Coastkeeper sprang into action. We alerted the city of San Diego and the Department of Fish and Game about the stagnant pool of polluted water. We offered our years of background data at that site to the city to help them with their cleanup. We performed follow-up testing of the water in the creek and in the lagoon to monitor the cleanup and shared that data with the public, the Regional Water Control Board, the city’s stormwater department and the Peñasquitos Lagoon Foundation. We gave public testimony at the San Diego City Council’s Committee on Natural Resources and Culture Committee about the effects of the spill and the need to prevent spills like this from ever happening again.
All of our hard work has paid off. I would like to commend the City of San Diego wastewater officials who put forward a plan to ensure nothing like this happens again. They are seeking to install generators on the pump stations that lack adequate backup power. (Read our press release responding to the wastewater official's plan.) This backup power will ensure the pumps work properly during future power disruptions. The City Council now needs to step up provide them the tools and money they need to make this happen. I encourage the City Council to do what is right and help protect our fragile water resources against similar failures.
This also demonstrates the power that our community has when we work together to find and fix pollution problems. And this is a new emphasis for San Diego Coastkeeper. Around here we call it "watchdogging" to ensure our waters in San Diego County are protected. Sound exciting? Please join our efforts by volunteering to help us patrol for pollution or donating to be a part of the solution.
Have you seen that Kohler commercial where a man sees a pretty lady plumber walk into the house next door? He goes inside and starts flushing a bunch of junk down his toilet, presumably so he can have an excuse to call the pretty plumber. The man is exasperated when everything he flushes magically disappears, whether it’s a towel, votive candles, lingerie or travel-sized toiletries.
They really need to have a “do not try this at home” disclaimer at the bottom of that commercial. Even if the toilet has enough power to force towels and toys out of view, the pipes that lead from a residence to the sewer main, called “private laterals” are a different story. They’re just not designed to handle that sort of abuse.
A big chunk of sewage spills around San Diego can be traced to private lateral spills. Why are there are so many private lateral spills? These pipes are generally pretty small—I’m guessing that most people have no clue how small and vulnerable these pipes are. The one leading from my house to the main sewer line is only 4” in diameter. I learned this the hard way.
Late last week, I noticed some water pooling on the floor after I had done a load of laundry. The next day, our toilet started gurgling. The following morning, the water level in the toilet was really low. That evening, while I was finishing up at work, I received a frantic call that our toilet was overflowing and my boyfriend was stuck bailing the wastewater into the shower. Gross.
Our friendly Roto-Rooter team came to our rescue. Unable to clear the clog by snaking the toilet, they had to completely remove the toilet and use closed circuit TV to find the cause of the problem. Two hours and $400 later we found the answer. The culprit? It turns out that an out-of-town guest visiting the prior weekend flushed feminine products down our toilet. Coupled with a piece of wood that partially blocked the 4” pipe (the Roto Rooter guys think it got washed into the pipe at a cleanout during a rain storm), those seemingly innocent tampons caused a major headache for us.
So the next time you think about flushing something down the toilet—whether it be for convenience or to have an excuse to call the cute plumber—think about how small those pipes connecting your house to the main sewage lines really are. Trust me, the cost and the ick factor of having to clean up the aftermath of a plugged toilet is not worth it!
Have you ever been standing on the beach, looking at the waves and thought, should I go in? Did it rain yesterday? How do I know if I will get sick or not if I go surfing or swimming today? If you answered, you are certainly not alone. The quality of water along our shores and in our creeks remains a significant concern for recreational users. Parts of our county, like beaches in south county, are notorious for having consistent closures.
That is why the annual South San Diego Water Quality Workshop: When is it safe to swim, surf? was developed. Tijuana River National Estuary Research Reserve, the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observatory System, WiLDCOAST, Surfrider San Diego and San Diego Coastkeeper invite you to come out and hear some of the details about how our local agencies monitor water quality at our beaches, how decisions are made to close beaches or post advisories and ways you can help monitor in the watersheds in South San Diego.
The workshop is free but registration is encouraged. The workshop will be happening at the TRNERR Visitor Center on Wednesday October 12 from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. And because we know you want more than just good information, we will also provide some snacks and raffles! Come out, meet some new people, learn a few things, and share some yummy food. For more information check out the event web page.
I would like to share what is going on with the Los Penasquitos sewage spill from September 8. Since the spill, Coastkeeper conducted additional monitoring in the creek as well as in the lagoon. The last sampling we did out there was on Tuesday, Sept. 20, so these results are almost a week old. Additional sampling will be performed this week, now that the city has stopped their pumping (as of Friday, 2 p.m.).
As you can see the E. coli levels in the creek have dropped dramatically since the city started pumping the creek out. As of Tuesday, E. coli concentrations were still elevated downstream in the lagoon, flowing slowly to the tidal area of the lagoon.
Dissolved oxygen levels remain low for all sites. The oxygen concentrations in the normal sampling location in the creek are steadily rising but the lagoon site shows a decrease over time. This could be indicating that the sewage effects are slowly making its way down the lagoon, past the pumping area of the city. The red line in the chart above is the state standard of 5 mg/L, so all areas of the lagoon and creek still have some room for improvement.
Ammonia concentrations show a similar patter to Dissolved Oxygen. This further indicates that the negative effects of the sewage are slowly making its way down the stretch of the lagoon.
These results are alarming, but not unexpected. The sewage will flow downstream. Despite the city’s attempts to pump it down, it will affect the land that the creek flows into. In this case, the Los Penasquitos lagoon is classified as a State Park Preserve. According to its website, “This label, which is pinned to only the rarest and most fragile of the state owned lands, reflects the increasing concern of ecologists and wildlife managers for the progressive destruction of coastal wetlands, a habitat vital for the preservation of migratory waterfowl and certain species of fish and shellfish.” This habitat is extremely delicate, and this sewage spill further harms this ecosystem, which is already fairly stressed.
Fortunately, Coastkeeper continues its vigilance in monitoring, tracking, and responding to the spill.
To highlight San Diego Coastkeeper’s efforts in this spill thus far:
- Our monitors were the ones that discovered the effects of the spill. Without the efforts of our volunteer monitors, the effects of this spill would have been noticed days later, if at all.
- Our monitoring data was used to establish the baseline conditions of the creek. The city pumped down the creek until their monitoring showed that the creek had returned to baseline conditions. Since our volunteer monitors study such an extensive portion of the county, our data was the best the city had to compare to. It was our data that established those baseline conditions.
- We were the first ones to monitor the effects of the spill on the downstream lagoon. When we saw where the spill was and noticed the extremely fragile ecosystem immediately downstream, we performed follow-up testing in the creek. Governmental agencies have since asked for our data, since we have the earliest available monitoring data in the lagoon.
I will leave you with this video of one of the park rangers in the lagoon discussing the effects he has personally seen.
I just got the results from yesterday's water quality samples taken at the location of the sewage spill in Los Penasquitos. And the results are in.
The good news is that the data show a slight improvement in bacteria concentrations, however, the bad news is that these concentrations are still well above healthy standards. Dissolved oxygen has risen only slightly and remains below 1 mg/L. This morning I took samples in the lagoon so we will be able to track the downstream effects of the sewage spill. We'll post those results on our blog on Monday.
Meanwhile, check out the data from yesterday's creek sample as compared to our initial samples from Saturday and our historical average.