When the lights go down in the city and the sewage flows into the lagoon..

DSC01269-2Did you see the tons of stories on the sewage spill that released 1.9 million gallons of sewage into the Los Penasquitos Lagoon? One thing all of these stores have in common is mentioning the beach closures that resulted. None of them mention the effects of the spill on the inland water systems.

Our volunteer water monitoring team went out on Saturday for our monthly routine water quality sampling. What they found at one of our sites is truly sickening. The samplers describe first being hit with the smell of sewage and then noticing the normally clear water was a strange shade of grey. Dead fish were floating on the surface and washed up on the bank.

The sewage spill killed these fish and polluted the stream. Dissolved oxygen levels were about as close to zero as you can get, causing the fish to suffocate. Levels of fecal indicator bacteria and nutrients that are associated with sewage were so high they were above my ability to measure them. An example is E. coli. The San Diego Basin Plan sets a threshold of 406 MPN/100 ml. That means a healthy stream  will have no more than 406 E. coli bacteria in a 100 milliliter cup of water. My test tops out at 241,920 MPN/100ml. I don’t know exactly how much E. coli was in that stream, but it was above that. Ammonia and Phosphorus showed the same pattern. The values exceeded my capacity to test them. Check out this photo of my ammonia test kits:

Compare this with the results I got several months ago from the Tijuana River.

As far as I know, San Diego Coastkeeper’s volunteer water monitors were the first ones to notice the effects of the sewage spill. We collected evidence and made reports to the Water Quality Control Board and to the Department of Fish and Game.

Volunteers discovered the effects of the spill, volunteers collected samples and volunteers analyzed the samples in the laboratory. It is a community effort that found and documented the spill. This speaks to the strengths of our volunteer program and our role as the watchdog for the people of San Diego. In a time of shrinking government budgets and limited resources, we are the additional eyes and ears for the environment. Our mission is to “protect the region’s inland and coastal waters for the communities and wildlife that depend on them by blending education, community empowerment and advocacy.”

This is a perfect example empowering the community to protect our waterways.

I am proud of our volunteers!