2013 water quality monitoring results



Watershed Average Score Score Range
Los Penasquitos Watershed 81 Good
San Diego Watershed 81 Good
San Luis Rey Watershed 79 Fair
San Dieguito Watershed 72 Fair
Carlsbad Watershed 64 Marginal
Sweetwater Watershed 64 Marginal
Pueblo Watershed 59 Marginal
Otay Watershed 49 Marginal
Tijuana Watershed 14 Poor

The Shipyards cleanup is finally about to start. 

After decades of studies, plans, negotiations, expert reports, technical reports, legal posturing, and public hearings, we are poised to see contaminated dirt removed from San Diego Bay.  This cleanup is a critical step towards healing our bay so that it can once again be safe to feed our families fish from the bay.

TSD-Clean-Bay-Project-Maphe cleanup is slated to start by September 17 so the dredging will continue through the fall and winter months, ending before the least tern nesting season, which starts April 1.

So how can you stay on top of the cleanup progress?  What if you live or work near the shipyards and need to contact someone with a question or concern during the cleanup?  Here's how you can stay informed:

1.  Attend a public meeting about the cleanup on Tuesday, September 10 from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. at Barrio Station, 2175 Newton Ave, San Diego, 92113.

2.  Fill out this survey.  You can mail it back to the shipyards at: PO Box 420785, San Diego, CA 92142  or email it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  The survey lets the shipyards know how you want to stay informed about the cleanup progress--by mail, e-mail, social media or public meetings.

3.   Check out the cleanup webpage.  It contains lots of good information about the cleanup, including information about the route trucks carrying the dredged dirt will take to the highway, and a contact page where you can leave a message or get on the mailing list or e-mail list.  Information on the website is in both English and Spanish.

4.   Call the cleanup hotline at (855) 817-4397.  It contains a cleanup update message in both English and Spanish and allows you to leave a message.


Tuesday, 30 July 2013 17:48

Mission Bay Revealed

Written by
san diego beachIn 1892, the women of ZLAC Rowing Club first set oar to water and later moved to the club's current location on Mission Bay. In 1995 San Diego Coastkeeper set about protecting our region's waters. On Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the groups joined to present a two hour exploration of the theme, "Is Mission Bay Gross." Four area experts reviewed Mission Bay’s ecological history, its current water quality, the City’s plans for maintaining and improving the health of the Bay and ways community members can get involved in finding and fixing problems.
• Rob Hutsel, executive director of San Diego River Park Foundation, discussed Mission Bay’s history (complete with some great old pictures & maps) and how it was transformed into one of the biggest recreational assets in San Diego. He revealed historical changes of the course of water flowing to the Bay from the San Diego River, and the Bay’s water circulation patterns throughout the year. His presentation to come.
• Dr. John Griffith, department head of microbiology of Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, compared Mission Bay’s water quality status with similar water bodies in the region. A water quality expert, he reviewed who does the testing, what kinds of tests are done, and what connects government water quality standards and human health. His presentation to come.
• Ruth Kolb, program manager at City of San Diego Transportation and Stormwater Department, discussed how Mission Bay got its bad reputation and how the City of San Diego has acted to improve the Bay’s water quality. See her presentation here.
• Mallory Watson, Community Engagement Coordinator at San Diego Coastkeeper, shared her expertise about current problems Coastkeeper sees affecting Mission Bay’s water quality and how community members can become involved in identifying and reporting problems and improving the water quality. See her presentation here.
At the end of the evening, we concluded that Mission Bay has come a long way from gross to great. Like with all water bodies that might suffer pollution, we suggest you check the Swim Guide for the most recent closure information before diving in. But the many swimming, boating and park recreational opportunities throughout the park are unique, fantastic and we'd say that today, Mission Bay is a Gem.
Join us at future informative events and volunteer opportunities by visiting the San Diego Coastkeeper calendar.

Water quality in Sabay sediment dredgen Diego Bay may start improving as early as September 15 of this year, when removal of the bay's toxic sediment, the ground beneath the water, is scheduled to begin. The cleanup is slated to remove 159,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from a 63-acre site near the NASSCO and BAE Systems shipyards just south of the Coronado Bridge. Those responsible for discharging the pollutants, including landowners and their tenants, are responsible for funding the cleanup.

During the cleanup, toxic sediment will be dredged from the bay bottom using a clamshell bucket specifically designed to minimize the spread of contaminates. Sediment will be dropped onto nearby barges and transported to shore, where it will be dried and mixed with a chemical compound to promote solidification. Sediment will then be tested to determine pollutant concentration (this may also be done while the sediment is still under water, a process known as in situ sampling) and will finally be transported by truck to the appropriate landfill disposal facility.

bay silt curtainsWater quality will be monitored both during and after the cleanup to determine its success. Monitoring stations will be located 250 and 500 feet from the dredge area, and a reference station will be located at 1000 feet to provide baseline measurements. A double-layered silt curtain will also be placed around the dredge area to prevent contaminated sediment from traveling into open water, which would compromise water quality.

Measures are also in place, and further plans are being developed, to reduce the cleanup's impact on neighborhoods adjacent to the project site. Once dry, toxic sediment may become airborne and endanger air quality. To protect air quality, the permits require dried sediment to be controlled while it is stockpiled on shore or being transported. Also, cleanup operations are scheduled to run 24 hours per day and 6 to 7 days per week*, so requirements are being designed to protect residents from the noise and air pollution associated with ongoing truck traffic.

San Diego Coastkeeper has been actively involved in determining the ins and outs of the cleanup since it was ordered by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board in 2012. Waterkeeper Jill Witkowski collaborated with other stakeholders to create a cleanup implementation plan and Coastkeeper's work in setting the terms of the cleanup's waste discharge permit was recently lauded by the Regional Board. Coastkeeper also submitted comments to the San Diego Unified Port District regarding the cleanup's coastal development permits, which were issued yesterday. The final permit that must be granted before the cleanup can begin is a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers. This permit is necessary when a project will add any material to or remove any material from waters of the United States. If all of the required permits are issued, the long-awaited cleanup of San Diego Bay will get underway this fall. Great news for those of us who love the bay!

* Dredging is scheduled to occur between September 15 and March 31 of each of three years to avoid the nesting season of the endangered California Least Tern, which lives within the project site.


Yesterday was a big day for San Diego Bay. The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a waste discharge permit for cleanup at the shipyard sites just south of the Coronado Bridge. This permit allows the cleanup to move forward and imposes requirements that will protect water quality while toxic sediment, the ground beneath the water, is removed from the bay.

The Regional Board called upon all dischargers listed in the Cleanup and Abatement Order to get involved in cleaning up San Diego Bay. Waterkeeper Jill Witkowski has collaborated with representatives from NASSCO and BAE Systems since the Order was issued in March 2012 and yesterday defended the work that those corporations have done to move the cleanup forward. The power of that collaboration was clear when NASSCO and BAE Systems supported all of the permit revisions that Coastkeeper proposed, which were accepted by the Regional Board.

Regional Board Vice Chair Gary Strawn thanked Coastkeeper publicly for the thoughtful, detailed comments that we submitted on the draft waste discharge permit. He appreciated our sharp eye in making sure that the permit was robust and followed the Order as well as the implementation plan developed by cleanup stakeholders.

The next step for the cleanup is to receive a coastal development permit from the Port of San Diego. Coastkeeper's involvement in the cleanup will continue when our legal team attends the Port's July 16 hearing on the issue. If you want to make sure San Diego Bay gets clean, join us at the hearing and say so!


Here is an update on the San Diego Bay Cleanup from student attorney Courtney Cole.
To learn more about our legal clinic, click here.


Toxic chemicals released during ship building and repair have accumulated in the sediment below San Diego Bay for decades, threatening aquatic life, aquatic-dependent wildlife, and human health. Last March, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board issued an order requiring those responsible for the discharge to remove the contaminated sediment and restore water quality in San Diego Bay.

San Diego Coastkeeper recently submitted comments on the cleanup’s Waste Discharge Requirements, regulations designed to protect water quality while sediment is being dredged. Our primary concern is that dischargers are required to conduct the cleanup in the manner most protective of water quality and the communities surrounding the project site. Also, protocol should be presented as clearly and specifically as possible to ensure that it is followed.

San Diego Coastkeeper has been committed to seeing contaminated sediment removed from San Diego Bay for over twenty years. Our involvement in the cleanup will continue when Coastkeeper’s legal team, with Waterkeeper Jill Witkowski at the helm, attends the Regional Water Quality Control Board hearing on July 10 to voice our concerns. If you want to make sure San Diego Bay gets clean, join us at the hearing and say so!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013 17:21

Download Our Swim Guide App

Written by

It’s 8 am on the first sunny morning you have seen in a while. All you can think about is loading up your surfboard and beach towel in your car and head to that new surf spot all of your friends have been telling you about. But what if it rained overnight? You've heard about recent water pollution issues, maybe one of your friends got sick from surfing a few weeks ago. How do you know the water is safe to swim in? Well, the solution is no further away than your smartphone.

The new Swim Guide App designed by the Ontario Waterkeeper for the Waterkeeper Alliance is your guide to finding out which beaches are safe to swim. This app covers more than 400 beaches in California alone and 3000 beaches and swimming destinations nationwide and gives you up to date pollution ratings. Data for San Diego County comes from the County Department of Environmental Health each morning, and San Diego Coastkeeper updates the status of all beaches county-wide.swimguide

The Swim Guide also provides a historical and special status providing there are any unusual conditions at your particular location. This is an awesome way to check water quality before you head to a lake, beach, or river for a swim. If you are at a location and you see signs of pollution or debris, the app even allows you to report the problem to your local Waterkeeper. The app however, does more than just tell you about water quality.

With Swim Guide, you can discover new spots (beaches, parks, and lakes) based on your location, bookmark a place that looks interesting, and even get directions to that place. The interactive map gives you a visual representation of waters in the area. When I heard of this app, I immediately downloaded it, and did a bit of exploring. The coolest part about this new guide is the descriptions of the spots featuring history, culture, and suggestions for how to make the best of your trip here. As I was scrolling through locations near me, I found tons of spots that I had never even heard of. Who knew Leisure Lagoon at Mission Bay Park was an excellent spot for bbqing or tossing the Frisbee around? Or that the north side of San Dieguito River is great place to bring your dogs?

This app is extremely user friendly and even simpler to download. You can go to the App store and search swim guide or go to http://www.theswimguide.org/download.php to download or even use it from the web. Did I mention this app is completely free? That’s right all of this information at your fingertips and it does not even cost a penny. If you love to hit the beach or do a little exploring this app is a must!

On Wednesday February 6, I had a chance to speak at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in a lecture series on the anniversary of Rachel Carson’s landmark book Silent Spring. I had my first experience with Carson’s book in an Environmental Ethics course in college. Carson described Silent Spring as a cautionary fable which talks about what will happen if we don’t think about how we are impacting our environment. This book, with its new ideas and revolutionary environmental message, went a long way in launching the environmental movement and regulating the chemicals industry.

Take DDT for example. Back in the 50s, DDT was developed to protect children from disease-carrying insects like mosquitoes. It was so “safe” that people were literally stood in front of it and were physically fumigated, while children’s wallpaper was laced with Daffy Duck-n-DDT. However, it was learned that DDT is a bio-accumulating organism that could work its way up the food chain—posing significant risks to other species besides insects, like birds and eagles.

Although it was banned in 1972, over 1.2 billion pounds of DDT had made its way into our waterways— killing unintended victims of our ecosystem like the water flea. Even once it was replaced with Diazinon, when we use these pesticides on our plants, we encounter the problem of urban drool.

Urban drool occurs when chemicals run off our plants, streets and sidewalks, and into our storm drains. Since our storm drains go directly into our waterways without any processing, chemicals like Diazinon (and other “ safe and organic” alternatives from chrysanthemums) act as poisonous toxins to aquatic organisms.

So how can we stop urban drool from contaminating our waterways?

  • Only use what you need.
  • Adjust your timing and water distribution on your sprinkler system.
  • Sweep up grass clippings, don’t throw them down the storm drains.
  • When you wash your car, wash it on your lawn or take it to a professional car wash that will capture the water that runs off your car and send it to the storm sewer.
  • If you can’t teach your dog to pick up after itself, pick up after it yourself!
  • Support local businesses and buy organic plants!
  • Don’t fertizile your lawn before it rains, so it can fully soak in before any runoff might occur.
  • Soak up any oil spots on your driveway or street with cat litter.
Monday, 12 November 2012 14:09

San Luis Rey Watershed

Written by

This is the last part in the series of results from our water monitoring lab. If you haven’t read our watershed report, head over here and check it out. In this final entry in our series, we take a look at the San Luis Rey Watershed.

san_luis_rey_2Photo Credit Shannon Switzer, girlchasesglobe.com

The San Luis Rey Watershed splashes down from its headwaters in the Palomar and Hot Springs Mountains before hitting the ocean at the shores in Oceanside. The San Luis Rey watershed lies in the northern reaches of San Diego County. The watershed stretches across 560 square miles, making it the third largest in San Diego County. The San Luis Rey Watershed may be big, but its human population is one of the smallest. Unlike many of its southern neighbors, the San Luis Rey Watershed contains very little urban landscape. Vacant/open space takes up half the watershed, while agricultural (cattle grazing, nurseries, citrus and avocado groves) and residential each account for about 15 percent of the watershed. Local jurisdictions occurring within the watershed include the cities of Oceanside, Vista, and Escondido, and the counties of San Diego and Riverside. The territories of six federally recognized  Tribal Indian Reservations also overlap with this watershed.

Our water quality index scored this watershed as “Fair." Pollution sources in this watershed include residential and commercial activity, but this watershed also contains a significant amount of agricultural activity, a source of pollution that is more challenging for regulators and local governments to abate. Excess nutrients (nitrate and ammonia) are driving this low index score. I suspect that past and current agricultural fertilizers are contributing to this pollution.

Oncorhynchus_mykissLike many other rivers in southern California, the San Luis Rey River suffers from habitat degradation. Historically, this river was home to abundant Steelhead Trout. Like it’s salmon cousin, steelheads are born in freshwater streams and migrate out to sea. The steelhead return to their place of birth to spawn future generations. Dams and hydromodification have blocked these fish from their ancestral home.

We partner with the Golden State Flycasters to monitor the San Luis Rey River. Coastkeeper provides equipment and analysis, and the Golden State Flycasters do the rest. In addition to supporting flyfishing throught the county, the flycasters are working hard to protect and restore habitat that sustains healthy fish populations.

Thanks for following along as we explored watershed health in the five part Watershed Report series. We hope you'll continue to pay attention to the health of our waters and explore volunteer and advocacy opportunities with San Diego Coastkeeper.


Wednesday, 07 November 2012 14:02

Pueblo Watershed

Written by

This is part 3 of a 5 part series of results from our water monitoring lab. If you haven’t read our watershed report, head over here and check it out. In this third part, we are going to take a look at the Pueblo watershed.

The Pueblo Watershed is San Diego County’s smallest, and most urbanized, watershed. This roughly 60 square mile watershed drains into San Diego Bay. The Pueblo Watershed runs through the heart of the City of San Diego and it’s boundaries overlap with portions of the Lemon Grove, La Mesa, and National City. The main creek running through the watershed is Chollas Creek, which has two main forks that run through the most densely populated part of the City. As a result, we have altered and lost much of it’s native habitat. Chollas Creek is straightened, channelized, or driven underground in various places.

Prior to development, the watershed supported a coastal scub habitat that was home to plant and animal species that were tolerant to the long dry seasons we have in San Diego. Much of this habitat has been developed away, transforming to heavy and light industry, parking lots ans strip malls, and houses with irrigated landscapes. Chollas creek itself was straightened, channelized, or driven underground in various places through pipes and culverts.

The extensive hydromodification of the creek has resulted in the loss of almost all of the natural habitat associated with the creek. In fact, the creek is so altered that nearby residents often don’t know there is a river flowing through their neighborhood. Now, only the tributary canyons offer some habitat for animals like the threatened Cactus Wren.Pueblo_Trash_Credit__NASSCO

In general, our monitoring program found the creek has high levels of ammonia, phosphorus, fecal bacteria and trash. These pollutants are signatures of dense urban development. During the rainy season, these pollutants are carried from inland sources into the creek and out to the bay. The nutrients contribute to an excess of of algae growing in the creek and the trash contributes to our marine debris problem. For an good visual of how nutrients can affect water quality, check out this youtube video I made last year. Look at what a difference of a few drops of fertilizer can do water quality.

Fortunately there are a number of organizations trying to reverse this declining trend. Groundwork San Diego, Chollas Creek; The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation; and San Diego Canyonlands are working to restore the watershed’s natural hydrology and habitat. See what they are working on here . The Environmental Health Coalition is working hard on environmental justice issues in the area which will help abate some of the problems the area’s residents face by living so close to industrial and transportation centers.

Local municipalities are a part of the solution, as well.The city of San Diego has developed the Chollas Creek Enhancement Plan to guide it's and other organizations efforts for repairing the creek. The local cities have also developed an urban runoff management plan for watersheds draining into San Diego Bay that sets up the programs for reducing the urban pollution.

There is a lot of work to be done in this watershed. It's going to take many years of effort, but I have a vision of a vibrant creek supporting native habitat with parks and trails right in the middle of our city.

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