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Most Californians Live Near Severely Polluted Waterway

Photo by Roland Lizarondo / KPBS

Above: A new list from the state Water Resources Control Board shows several bodies of water in San Diego County are severely polluted, including parts of San Diego Bay.


Several bodies of water in San Diego County are on a new state list of severely polluted waterways in California.

— Several bodies of water in San Diego County are on a new state list of severely polluted waterways in California.

The state Water Resources Control Board is required to create a list of severely polluted waterways every two years.

The list is based on water quality monitoring data that show which waters are too polluted for swimming and other activities.

Several parts of San Diego Bay and many creeks and rivers feeding into the bay and the Pacific Ocean are on the list. Other areas include Lower San Diego River, several locations around Mission Bay and the Oceanside Harbor.

Bruce Reznik, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, said the number of polluted waterways in California increases with each new list.

"And yet the pace of adoption of these restoration plans is really at a snails pace," said Reznik. "We've adopted very few in San Diego and not that many statewide. And even when we do adopt them, they often have 15, 20 or even more years to comply and get the water body back to health."

Reznik said it will likely take "generations" to clean up the waterways in San Diego County and elsewhere in California.

"In the meantime, the polluted waterways pose a significant environmental threat but also a public health threat," said Reznik.

Reznik said the pollutants in the San Diego waterways range from fecal bacteria to pesticides.

More than 1,700 California beaches, rivers, lakes, and coastal waters are listed as severely polluted, or "impaired" this year.

Reznik said the 2008 listing was missed and the California Water Resources Board is now compiling the list for 2010 and 2012 simultaneously.

"If someone wants to find out which polluted waterways they may live near, they should check out the interactive map on the State Water Resources Board website," said Reznik.

Reznik said one reason the number of severely polluted waterways on the list has increased is because of more frequent water monitoring.

"But that said, reduced state and local funding for testing is a concern," said Reznik, who pointed out that San Diego Coastkeeper and other groups maintain volunteer monitoring programs.

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