Water Quality Index Score: 77, Fair
We tracked two parameters of concern in San Luis Rey Watershed:
- Turbidity: Two-thirds of the turbidity samples exceeded healthy standards
- Levels of pH: Over half of the pH samples collected exceeded healthy standards
Spoiler alert: Our volunteers saw the impacts of these poor water quality indicators play out when they reported numerous dead fish along the river's bank in March and April.
When turbidity exceeds standards it means too many sediments are moving through the waters. We especially care about this in the San Luis River because it has a small tidal wetland where the fresh river water meets the coastal salt water. When the river carries unusually high amounts of sediment, it will deposit into the wetland, building it up and changing the habitat in this critical area. We'll lose marine habitat because the ratio of salt and fresh waters will change if the salty tides can't breach the sediment build up. This tidal wetland is an important brackish habitat for species like mullet fish and birds.
We're not sure what's raising the pH, and we'd like to research mines or factories in this watershed to understand how they may affect pH levels. We can tell you that it's unusual for pH to be high, especially in river water. For healthy fresh waters, every river needs a certain window of pH--not too low and not too high. In San Luis Rey, the high levels of pH essentially stress the organisms that live in the river. It can also increase the toxicity of existing pollutants like metals and ammonia.
Unfortunately, our volunteers spotted fish kills in March and April--dead mullet fish that suffered from these exact cycles.
Side story, when we found these fish kills, we worked with the Regional Water Quality Control Board to understand more about what was happening. High nutrient levels in the water right after a rainstorm cause algae growth. During the day, algae pumps out oxygen, and then it reabsorbs it during the night. During our daytime tests, oxygen values were through the roof. When we investigated further, in the middle of the night at 2 a.m., oxygen levels dropped causing oxygen depletion, and dead fish.
The most important number to San Diego Coastkeeper is the power of one—you. Every day, we pursue more fishable, swimmable, drinkable water throughout San Diego County. And none of it happens without your passion, dedication and support.
In 2014, our staff of seven brought science, education and advocacy to bear on pressing water issues. Our negotiation, data and education efforts:
- Convinced the City of San Diego to unanimously approve a plan for Pure Water, a wastewater-recycling project that creates a new local drinking water source and stops polluted discharges to the ocean.
- Trained our 1,000th water quality monitor and launched a bio assessment program that measures ecosystem health by digging up bugs from rivers.
- Passed statewide legislation to allow rapid beach water quality tests that will let us know if water is safe to swim in less than four hours instead of 24 hours.
- Trained 44 teachers and taught 1,140 students with Project SWELL environmental education curriculum, helping them meet new Common Core requirements.
- Helped San Diegans do their part to address the historic drought by activating mandatory drought restrictions, in part thanks to the 10 legal and policy interns mentored through our Environmental Law & Policy Clinic.
Year in and year out, you are the support and inspiration that keeps us strong. We proudly share with you our 2014 annual report: an infographic that quantifies the “power of one” and an infographic about you and our goals for 2015.
We invite you to count the ways our team, along with you, improved fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego County this year. And imagine what we will continue to accomplish, thanks to the power of one.
Happy fishing, swimming and drinking,
|Megan Baehrens||Liz Taylor|
|Executive Director||President, Board of Directors|
Though the State Water Board has had water use restrictions in place since August 2014--and they seem to be working, the Monterey Herald quoted Governor Jerry Brown recently saying he's not ready to add to the restrictions statewide: "I'm reluctant to expand the coercive power of state authority," Brown said. "In a democracy, it is fundamental that citizens be the driving force." This is good news for those who think that regulation is not the answer. It is also a call to action; a time for individual residents and business to prove that we understand the gravity of the situation and will take care of our water, whether to protect habitat, to ensure enough supply for our growing tech industry or to keep rate increases under control.
San Diego County used 27% less water in December 2014 than it did last December. That's even better than the statewide reduction of 22%. That's right, the governor called for 20% reduction in use, and we did it. That figure includes residential use, industrial, agriculture...all the water. It's a reason to celebrate. But how did we get there, and can we sustain it over the long term, which we must do to ensure continued environmental and economic health in the region?
When the governor declared a drought state of emergency in January 2014, our now four years of drought became national news. Despite cases of extreme need in other areas of California, in San Diego the message was particularly hard to swallow because our reservoirs were relatively full and regional agencies told us not to worry. After a few months of hot weather, a period when our region actually increased water consumption, and strong conservation advocacy by San Diego Coastkeeper, agencies and individuals responded by slowly adjusting their use. In part, this happened in response to regional mandatory restrictions.
What can we do? Think about using less and creating more. San Diego County is at the end of two very important pipelines. Our water comes primarily from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta in the north and the Colorado River to the east. Our region just approved Pure Water to generate 83 million gallons a day of clean local water to replace imports; and coalitions in North and South Counties are discussing similar efforts. With state drought funds being offered for large-scale projects, we need to focus on new and expanded potable reuse projects.
About half of our water use is outside the home. In addition to permanently adjusting our use so that this 27% decrease (and more) becomes the new normal, our personal choices and those of the building and landscape industry must turn to drought tolerant and edible landscaping, and we need governments to support that change. We live in a Mediterranean climate and should create beautiful landscapes that survive and thrive with little water. That means out with the turf and in with beautiful drought-tolerant plants (toyon stays green all year and bougainvillea comes in a palette of colors), or food crops that convert water into foods that nourish the body (and reduce your food's carbon footprint).
"We need to treat water as the precious resource that it is. We need to be sensitive to the fact that many Californians don't have or barely have enough water to drink, cook and bathe," said State Water Board chair Felicia Marcus. "Hundreds of thousands of acres of agriculture have been fallowed, thousands of people are out of work, and fish and wildlife are struggling. Each individual act of conservation – such as letting the lawn go brown or fixing leaks – can add up to huge savings if enough people act."
By thinking ahead, this can be a relatively painless process. Establishing new landscape requires an upfront investment of water, so timing is everything. Spend upcoming warm, dry months planning, then plant new growth during the cooler, wetter months. And, while you are at it, go ahead and turn the irrigation off to the grassy areas that are going to be replaced.
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.
In 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.
In San Diego, a typical household uses about 10,472 gallons of water a month. What can you do to use less this month? Whatever your conservation goal is - 15 percent, 25 percent or more - the more of these steps you take, the more water you'll save. The more water you save, the more money you'll save on your water and sewer bills.
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.
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.
On my very first day with San Diego Coastkeeper, Waterkeeper Jill Witkowski came to me with an idea to change the way we tackle water issues throughout the county.
She envisioned pulling together a group of community members from throughout San Diego County who represent the diverse backgrounds and concerns of the region to better inform us of what local, water-related problems were out there.
As an organization that works to “find and fix” these problems, Jill saw a need for us make sure we were finding what truly needed fixing. There seemed no better way to identify these issues than straight from the individuals seeing them every day.
If I ever had any doubts about how motivated San Diego Coastkeeper was to making ideas become reality, it was quickly cleared up as we launched the application process for our inaugural Community Advisory Council just three weeks later at our Signs of the Tide event.
At the same time, the San Diego community wasted no time in showing me how devoted they were to protecting our water. In the one-month application window, we received 24 applications from a wide range of ages, professions, interests and locations. There were 24 applications for 10 seats on the Council.
Reading through the applications was one of the most inspiring and motivating processes. It’s amazing how many individuals wanted to be a part of enacting change in their community. Students and parents, legal professionals, college professors, and healthcare workers all voiced their concern over water quality and availability here in San Diego.
While we heard from drastically different communities and individuals, the concern for clean water availability was constant. From Oceanside to Chula Vista, we heard from people who were not only concerned about their water, but were willing to take an active role in protecting it. This was incredible to see and only made the selection process more difficult.
After four weeks of reviewing applications and meeting with candidates, we were left with 10 members of our inaugural Community Advisory Council. They will be responsible for representing their community’s concerns and working with others to develop solutions. Our Council members will also act as representatives of San Diego Coastkeeper, helping to educate their community and provide them with resources to be successful advocates for their water.
We are thrilled to welcome on our inaugural Community Advisory Council. We have a dynamic and passionate group and are excited to work with them in the coming months. If the last two months are any indication, the next year will be an incredible time at San Diego Coastkeeper and looks very promising for the health of our water.
For years, shipyards dumped pollutants into the sediments of San Diego's waters.
Since the approval of the cleanup plan, they’ve been good about listening to our feedback on how to cleanup the problem, but they haven’t been good about listening to yours.
The Remedial Action Plan, adopted back in March, set forth a strong cleanup order to get metal discharges and other pollutant wastes out of the sediment. The plan outlined how the shipyards were to dredge without harming water quality, and to make sure no more pollutants end up in our water. It has specific goals for these shipyards to reach. And the shipyards have done a good job at incorporating our feedback on how to reach those goals.
But why aren’t they incorporating your feedback?
The Shipyard Sediment Site Group needs a new communication plan. The current one isn’t cutting it. Right now, their plan is to essentially to direct people over to the Water Board’s site, which is full of lengthy PDFs that do nothing but confuse the average citizen.
In their current Community Relations Plan, the group acknowledges, “the community needs to have access to information and have the opportunity to understand how the remedial action may affect them.” Acknowledging that is great, but making sure it happens is the only thing that matters.
The Shipyard Sediment Site Group needs its own website, one that’s constantly updated with information on everything the group is doing. Simply sending out newsletters doesn’t get the job done. The “Potential Community Relations Tools and Materials” in the current Community Relations Plan lists advertisements, information displays, blogs, comment databases, presentations, briefing packets, and a website to name a few. Where are they?
The Shipyard Sediment Site Group is starting to make progress, and Coastkeeper is appreciative that they’ve been responsive to our feedback. But without a strong community relations plan, the public, who are the real stakeholders, has no way of giving their input in this case. The public needs to be able to see the changes that are happening, and comment on them. This is a two-way street.
What do you think the Shipyard Sediment Site Group can do to better increase community input?
On Saturday, more than 200 community members descended upon Otay Valley Regional Park for San Diego Coastkeeper’s 5th annual Walk the Watershed event. What is a watershed you ask? A watershed is the ecosystem in which we all live including the wildlife, surface waters, water, water quality, and of course, our neighborhoods.
Participants had the opportunity to learn about San Diego’s watersheds at the education stations along the education tour through Otay Valley Regional Park, culminating in ice-plant removal as the restoration project.
It was definitely a joint effort to make Walk the Watershed a success. Partner organizations included the Unified Port of San Diego, Metropolitan Water District, WiLDCOAST, Elementary Institute of Science, Otay Valley Regional Park and park rangers, City of San Diego, County of San Diego, City of Chula Vista, Allied Waste, The Girl Scouts of San Diego County, REI, and I Love a Clean San Diego, and of course the group of rock star volunteers.And what event is complete without tamales, a dance performance, and a few words from San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox and Council Member David Alvarez? The best part is, it was free to the public! Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning learning about your environment, meeting organizations in the community that care about preserving and protecting your environment, and breathing in the fresh air.