September 20 – San Diego Coastkeeper’s Water Quality Report Provides Critical Insights for Addressing Stormwater Pollution

Scientific data identifies priority pollution problems in the county

SAN DIEGO, Sept. 20, 2012—Today, San Diego Coastkeeper, an organization that protects and restores swimmable, fishable and drinkable waters of San Diego County, released its watershed report that analyzes several years of water quality data. The comprehensive report examines water quality in four of the county’s watersheds—Los Penasquitos, Pueblo, San Luis Rey and Tijuana. Coastkeeper presented its findings as an important tool under the proposed stormwater permit to help watershed groups identify priority pollutants and strategies to address them.

“San Diego Coastkeeper’s data consistently point to ammonia, phosphorus and Enterococcus as the most prevalent pollutants in San Diego County,” said Travis Pritchard, Coastkeeper’s water quality lab manager. “The data also show that every watershed in the region struggles to meet the water quality health standards established by California.”

Based on an analysis of monthly water quality samples taken in nine of the county’s 11 watersheds, the report highlights the impacts of urbanization and water quality degradation due to development of natural spaces throughout the region.

For this reason, says Coastkeeper’s Waterkeeper Jill Witkowski, Coastkeeper encourages municipalities and regulators to use this information to identify priority pollution problems and effective strategies and tactics to improve local water quality.

This year’s water quality report closely examines four watersheds with water quality issues indicative of other watersheds that scored similar ratings:

  • Water Quality Index- Good: In rapid development since the 1970s, Los Penasquitos watershed currently has high levels of total dissolved solids and fecal indicator bacteria during both the wet and dry seasons. According to Pritchard, the primary culprit is the sediment transported by the flows, which increased by over 200 percent since the development started affecting the fragile lagoon 30 years ago.
  • Water Quality Index- Fair: In Pueblo watershed, nutrients, bacteria and trash are its major problems, which strongly correlate with increased development. Because this watershed is the region’s most developed with mixed residential, commercial and industrial areas, the dominance of hard, impervious surfaces drives many of the urban runoff problems in the creek and contributes to the degradation of water quality in San Diego Bay.
  • Water Quality Index- Marginal: San Luis Rey, on the other hand, is the least developed watershed. Half of the watershed contains open space for agricultural and residential purposes. Each accounts for about 15 percent of the watershed. The high amount of agriculture causes the high nutrient concentrations found in the watershed. The San Luis Rey River is home to historic steelhead trout runs, but habitat degradation (rather than chemical pollutants) threatens their dwindling number.
  • Water Quality Index- Poor: In contrast to other watersheds, Tijuana watershed comes last in water quality. Poor infrastructure across the border accounts for the vast majority of water quality problems in this system. Because Tijuana River flows into the ocean, the Imperial beaches become unsafe for human contact for much of the winter.

“Under the proposed stormwater permitting process, each watershed group and municipality would have an obligation to outline how it will minimize pollutants that reach our waterways,” said Witkowski about the report’s findings in regards to the MS4 permit. “Our livelihood depends on it.”

The proposed MS4 permit allows stormwater departments a year to write their Water Quality Improvement Plans and bring them back for 30-day public review. San Diego Coastkeeper has requested to have input as the plans are developed, specifically as the departments choose priority pollutants and select strategies to address them.

“Now that we’ve identified the pollutants and their sources in our report, developers and municipalities have the essential tool that will help them to identify water quality problems in their area and, more importantly, address them,” said Witkowski.

Coastkeeper’s entire water quality report can be read here. To learn more about San Diego Coastkeeper and its programs, please visit localhost/sdcoastkeeper.


SAN DIEGO COASTKEEPER: Founded in 1995, San Diego Coastkeeper protects and restores fishable, swimmable and drinkable water in San Diego County. Visit us online at