We’re always in a drought. Seriously, people, I grew up here. There’s never been a time when it wasn’t important to conserve water. We watered our yards after 6 p.m., turned the faucet off when washing dishes or brushing our teeth and took brief showers. Some of that was mandated; some was common sense. And that’s what we need today: common sense.
Recently, the Fresno Bee reported state water officials saying that 2014 may be a real challenge for water supply in our state. “January through May 2013 were California’s driest in about 90 years of recordkeeping. Dwindling reservoirs should be a wake-up call to Californians.”
At the same time, 10News reported last week that the San Diego County Water Authority says that no water restrictions are needed in 2014 because San Diego should have sufficient water supply in 2014. Read CWA’s press release.
Despite the headline, the 10News story quotes the County Water Authority Board Chair saying, "We are in better shape than we were two years into the last drought, but we still need to practice smart water use no matter the weather."
Now, this is common sense. THIS is what should have been the headline. Or how about the new rebates offered to residents and HOAs through the County’s WaterSmart program. In 2009, we had water use restrictions, and residents responded by conserving. Not a little, but 20 percent. And in 2009-2011, we reduced our use by 14 percent. There's no reason to turn back from that. Here in San Diego, we use about 140 gallons of water per day per person. That compares to less than 50 gallons/day/person in Australia, where they have similar weather patterns and living standards. How can we say that almost triple their use is acceptable when we are draining the Colorado River, named 2013's #1 Most Endangered River.
Maybe San Diego reservoirs can handle the demand of 2014, but if we already know that 2015-2016 could be problematic, then how can we take the short-sighted view that we have enough water? Today, when we have enough water, when our residents have embraced water conservation, is the time for consistent messaging. We take almost half our water from the Colorado River and 20 percent from the San Joaquin Bay-Delta in Northern California. The Water Authority has taken a long-term view, committing to 30 years of water supply from the Carlsbad Desalination Plant and the City of San Diego is moving ahead with a decades-long commitment to build our water purification capacity (a.k.a., potable reuse or wastewater recycling). We must continue on the path of long-term security and diversification.
Groups like San Diego Coastkeeper that watchdog our water issues, agencies charged with providing our residents with sustainable, reliable water supplies and the news professionals who so often interpret information and shape residents’ thinking about complex issues, must give facts and offer commentary. That commentary must discuss and reinforce practices that will see us not just one year into the future, but five, ten and twenty years from now. So, when the County Water Authority says that we’re okay for a year, let’s look beyond the next 365 days and talk about the true value and cost of our water supply, and how we can conserve this year, and the next, to keep those balanced.
Photo credit Peter McBride
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.
The following blog about potable reuse was written by student attorney Courtney Cole.
For more info about our legal clinic, click here.
To learn more about water recycling, I recently toured facilities in both San Diego and Orange County that treat wastewater to better-than-tap quality. I'll have to admit, I had my reservations. What about all of the teeny tiny bacteria and viruses and...stuff? But that was before I knew how things worked.
Once biosolids are removed, the water undergoes a three-step process: microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and UV + H2O2. Microfiltration uses hollow fibers, similar to straws, with tiny holes (1/300 the diameter of a human hair) in the sides to remove suspended solids, protozoa, bacteria, and some viruses from the water. Next, during reverse osmosis, water is forced through the molecular structure of plastic membranes, removing dissolved chemicals, viruses, and pharmaceuticals. Water is near distilled quality after this step, but as an additional safeguard it is treated with a combination of high-intensity ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide. This destroys the DNA of any organism that might have made it past microfiltration and reverse osmosis. So much for my concern about the teeny tiny stuff.
An important part of the tours for me was the drink test. After hearing about destroyed DNA, my main concern was what the water would taste like. I hesitantly filled my test cup and raised it to my nose. It seemed fine, so I drank. Better than fine, the water tasted wonderful! It was clean and refreshing, and better than any bottled water I have ever had.
Aside from tasting great, recycled water has other benefits for San Diego. Over 80% of our drinking water is imported from the Colorado River or northern California, which uses energy and costs money. To address this, Coastkeeper advocates for potable reuse – a process in which highly-treated wastewater is added to local reservoirs to increase drinking water supply. Utilizing recycled water will help secure a local and reliable source of water for our city. And if I'm still here to write this blog post, maybe toilet to tap isn't so bad after all.
A few weeks ago I was invited to attend a workshop hosted by the EPA called Technology to Empower Citizen Scientists. About 60 people from NGOs and state and federal agencies got together to discuss how we can work better together and how new technologies can help, especially in the area of bioassessment.
First, let me describe what bioassessment is. Our current water quality monitoring program looks at several very specific chemical concentrations in the stream. Among other things, we look at dissolved oxygen, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, and dissolved metals. Our rivers and streams are not to exceed very specific limits of these chemicals, and we directed our program's efforts to identifying if San Diego County’s rivers and streams are exceeding pollutant regulatory thresholds. Measuring these chemicals can give us a rough picture of stream health, but it isn't complete without bioassessment.
Bioassessment measures the health of the stream by measuring algae and aquatic insect communities. This gives us a more holistic view of the health of our waters. First, if the river is full of pollutant tolerant insects, but no pollutant sensitive species, pollution is most likely affecting stream health. Second, if algae are growing out of control, nutrients are affecting stream health. Chemical monitoring measures pollutants, then bioassessment measures the effects that those pollutants have on the aquatic ecosystem. We need more of these bioassessments in order to get a better picture of the health of our waterways. San Diego Coastkeeper will be starting our own volunteer-powered program next Spring '14.
What struck me at this meeting, which was attended by folks from all over the country, was how comparatively open California is in utilizing volunteer-generated data. We in California have a statewide database that anyone can upload into. We can also include our quality assurance data to show that the data generated is of good, useful quality. The Regional Water Quality Control Board as well as various municipalities around the county actively solicits us to send data to them so they can include it in their analysis and reports. The new draft of San Diego's stormwater permit has a section encouraging stormwater departments to partner with programs like ours to conduct special studies on water pollution. In short, our data is recognized for what it is: high quality and useful.
Unfortunately, most other states have put up roadblocks to utilizing volunteer generated data. For example, Ohio has this ridiculous law they call the “Ohio Credible Data Law.” Instead of letting the data speak for itself, volunteer data must pass various certification tests before it is considered. This is an expensive roadblock to utilizing good data. A certificate may "certify" one's data but it does not guarantee that the data is good. This is why it is imperative to look beyond a certification and directly at the quality assurance data to make a sound judgment about how useful one's data is.
Anyway, sorry for the mini rant. Most of the nation is not yet at a point where we can talk about cool, new technologies, volunteer-generated data is still sometimes relegated to the margins of the regulatory community. We in San Diego have it a bit easier- our data is actually used. So the morals of this blog are:
- Good job, California- by being open with volunteer data, we really set the bar for the rest of the country.
- Other states need to get their act together and stop putting up ridiculous roadblocks to volunteer-generated data.
- Keep your eye out for our new bioassessment program coming next Spring '14. We’ll be stomping around creeks and collecting bugs. It should be super fun.
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.
About a year ago I was surfing off the shore in La Jolla on a relatively quiet morning when a baby sea lion popped its head out of the water to check me out. “Cute!” was my first reaction. Then it started swimming closer. And closer. Finally, it got close enough to bump its nose to my neoprene encased leg. At that point, “cute” battled in my mind with “please don’t bite me; please don’t bite me” and “where’s your mamma and is she feeling nervous?” I never saw mamma sea lion and the baby hung out for a while then cruised off to explore something else. But all day I felt like my presence in the ocean had been approved. (Yes, I realize that’s silly.)
That encounter is what comes to mind when I read about the alarming increase in stranded sea lion pups washing up on our local beaches. More than 1,000 baby sea lions have been stranded in Southern California since the first of the year. Normally that number would be less than 100. The federal agency that oversees ocean related issues, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), took the step of declaring an Unusual Mortality Event for California sea lions. In 20 years, that has happened less than 60 times in the entire United States. Though researchers have no conclusions yet, "[t]hese strandings are accompanied by observations of underweight pups on the breeding rookeries, signs that typically occur in association with food shortage," said U.S. National Marine Mammal Commissioner and NMMF Scientific Advisory Board Member Dr. Frances Gulland. The increase in sea lions washing up on local beaches intensified over the Easter weekend and scientists have expressed serious concern since the traditional peak stranding season is just now beginning.
I took a call this afternoon from someone at Sunset Cliffs who found a stranded pup and didn’t know what to do. Although I spend my days at San Diego Coastkeeper working towards fishable, swimmable, drinkable water in San Diego County, I feel a little helpless about this. Luckily we have experienced partners who are the first-responders for this type of issue and are on the beaches right now to save the pups and in the labs trying to figure out how to stop the strandings. They need our support.
San Diego-based National Marine Mammal Foundation is helping rehabilitate the pups and you can help provide the funds they need to continue the work. Not only that, but the La Jolla-based Waitt Foundation issued a challenge grant in partnership with the San Diego Foundation that lets you increase your impact by joining a larger pool of funds.
Donations to the NMMF Emergency Fund will go directly to fund sea lion care and medical support. And please, if you see a stranded seal or sea lion, please do not approach or attempt to aide it. Contact our local stranding network or local lifeguards or harbor police. For live animals, SeaWorld responds (800-541-7325) and you find a dead animal, call NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center (858-546-7162).
On a normal day, I encourage you to donate to San Diego Coastkeeper to help us continue our work. Today, I am sharing this information because when that baby sea lion nuzzled my leg, I took away the message that I am welcome in its home and have a responsibility to protect it any way I can. Today, donating to the NMMF Emergency Fund is what we can do.
All photos credit: Marine Mammal Care Center (Fort MacArthur)
Last week, San Diego Coastkeeper and Think Blue San Diego hosted their second set of professional development workshop for the 2012-2013 academic year. During the two-day event over 20 elementary school teachers from San Diego Unified School District were trained to use Project SWELL in their classrooms effectively.
Thanks to our three fantastic professional development instructors, countless students will be exposed to the hands-on lessons that center around the preservation and betterment of our local waters.
Project SWELL was developed through a ground-breaking partnership between San Diego Coastkeeper, Think Blue (the City of San Diego) and the San Diego Unified School District. Project SWELL is a school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the San Diego region's waterways. Project SWELL helps teachers empower students about water quality issues and helps them to understand how to improve the condition of San Diego waterways.
Each SWELL unit of study (grades K-2 and 4- 6) consists of five or six age-appropriate, standards-based lessons that build student understanding of San Diego's aquatic environments and emphasize the actions that students can take to improve them.
More information about Project SWELL can be found on our website: www.projectswell.org.
Who: The contest is open to all high school students and all college students in the cities of San Diego, Coronado and Imperial Beach.
What: Create a 30-second Public Service Announcement
When: Entries due April 10, 2013
Where: All contest entrants will be recognized, and the finalists' films will be shown at a special “Red Carpet Premiere” at the IMAX Theater at the Rueben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park
Why: The film contest creates an opportunity to engage students directly about the importance of using water wisely, allowing the creativity of the students to inspire the rest of our community to use water more efficiently.
Theme: Storylines must use one of the following “how-to” messages:
How to “waste no water” by planting native or California-Friendly® plants.
How to “waste no water” by using a rain barrel.
How to show that “wasting no water” is important to San Diego’s economy.
How to create a sustainable world by “wasting no water.
Calling all students in grades 1-6! The City of San Diego Public Utilities Department is looking for the next Picasso. This year's theme: tell us how you, your family, your school, or your team “wastes no water.” Fill in the blank: _____ wastes no water and draw a picture of how they use water wisely.
Water is one of our most precious resources and using it wisely is part of keeping San Diego sustainable. A certificate of participation will be given to every student who creates a poster. Prizes for the winners will be presented at a San Diego City Council presentation.
Recognition: Prizes will be awarded at a San Diego City Council presentation in May 2013. Winning posters will be featured in the 2014 Water Conservation Poster Calendar. Winning posters will also be on display throughout San Diego, including:
City Administration Building – Lobby: May 2013
San Diego Watercolor Society Gallery: June 2013
San Diego County Fair – Kids’ Best Art Exhibit: June 2013
Prizes: Gift cards will be given for each grade level for first place, second place, & third place. An overall winner for the Recycled Water Category will also win a gift card.
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.
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.
An aquifer is an underground layer of rock, gravel, sand or silt through which water can easily move. This water can be extracted for human consumption through the use of a water well. Aquifers provide natural filtration that helps to purify the groundwater flowing through them. However, not all contanimants are rendered harmless by this purification process, and some pollution can still be found in the groundwater, making it unsafe to drink.
You can make your own model of an aquifer from things found in your grocery store. To start you need the following:
- Blue/red food coloring
- Vanilla ice cream
- Clear soda pop (7-Up, Sprite, etc)
- Small gummy bears, chocolate chips, crushed ice or other material to represent sand and gravel
- Drinking straws
- Clear plastic cups
- Ice cream scoop
- Fill a clear plastic cup 1/3 full with gummy bears, chocolate chips, or crushed ice. This represnts sand/gravel in your aquifer.
- Add enough soda to just cover the candy/ice.
- Add a layer of ice cream to serve as a "confining layer" over the water-filled aquifer.
- Then add more "sand/gravel" on top of the "confining layer."
- Add a layer of sprinkled over the top to create the porous top layer (top soil).
- Now add the food coloring to the soda. The food coloring represents contamination. Watch what happens when it is poured on the top of the "aquifer."
- Using a drinking straw, drill a well into the center of your aquifer.
- Slowly begin to pump the well by sucking on the straw. Watch the decline in the water table.
- Notice how the contaminants can get sucked into the well area and end up in the groundwater by leaking through the confining layer.
- Now recharge your aquifer by adding more soda which represents a rain shower.
- Eat and enjoy your aquifer!
Lesson adapeted from the Groundwater Foundation.