The Treasure Hunt for Beach Monitoring and Notification

advisory“Arrgghh, whar be thy treasure?”

Ever since the elimination of state funding for beach water monitoring and public notification (AB411) in September 2008, the County of San Diego has been on a treasure hunt to find replacement funding for the Department of Environmental Health’s (DEH) Ocean Recreational Water Program.  So far, they have done pretty well in securing other funds from the state. (And Coastkeeper is assisting DEH by posting the beach status on its website. However, these have been short term funds and the most recent will expire Jan. 1, 2011.  

The County of San Diego is now holding its breath and hoping the State Water Resources Control Board will adopt a resolution to fund beach monitoring and notification programs for the county health departments. Not surprisingly, considering the state budget, this is another short term funding source.

San Diego Coastkeeper, Surfrider Foundation, and WiLDCOAST met with County of San Diego officials last spring to address this issue. While we have worked with County staff to streamline and improve the cost-effectiveness of its monitoring program and have supported past emergency funding requests to keep the program going, it was with the caveat that the County develop a long term, sustainable and local funding source for beach monitoring and public notification. We want the County to stop the state treasure hunt and own up to funding this program. Everyone agrees the county beaches are integral to the status of the county as a Southern California icon of ocean recreation. Everyone agrees that millions of visitors and residents alike enjoy these beaches and that the beach-related recreation and tourism generate millions of dollars for the San Diego County economy. So why are we asking taxpayers in Eureka, Frenso, Bakersfield, Modesto and El Centro to pay for our beach water monitoring and notification program?   

And, sorry, but I do not buy the argument that the County cannot afford $300,000 a year for a well-funded beach water monitoring and notification program. Acknowledging how serious our current budget crisis is, all elected officials, including County Supervisors, love to point out the beauty and value of our coastal resources. It is time for them to put some money where their mouths are.  

How about looking for that treasure locally? Property owners in San Diego County pay an annual property tax assessment for vector surveillance by DEH, i.e., controlling mosquitoes, rats, and mice. While we appreciate the importance of vector control in monitoring and notifying the public of exposure and risk of disease, it is similarly critical to ensure people who enjoy our beaches are not taking an involuntary risk (by not having information on water quality).  How many tax payers would like some of this assessment to go toward beach water monitoring and notification? I know I would.   

To be fair, it is a matter of political will that rests with the County Board of Supervisors.  Supervisors Cox and Slater-Price have demonstrated the most leadership on these issues.  Maybe the remaining three supervisors need to hear from their constituents – the surfing, swimming, tide pooling, beach visiting, and kayaking voters like you.       

So, if you live in central San Diego, east county or north county, please go ahead and call them.

Dianne Jacob, District Two:  (619) 531-5522
Ron Roberts, District Four: (619) 531-5544
Bill Horn, District Five: (619)-531-5555

“Onward, to the treasure!”