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Ocean Decline And How It Affects San Diego

Aired 7/20/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

How does ocean degradation affect us locally in San Diego in terms of water quality, water temperature and levels, weather, seafood, and economy? What is being done and what can you do to address these issues?

A sign warning people not to swim in Imperial Beach after a sewage spill in January 2011
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Above: A sign warning people not to swim in Imperial Beach after a sewage spill in January 2011

How does ocean degradation affect us locally in San Diego in terms of water quality, water temperature and levels, weather, seafood, and economy? What is being done and what can you do to address these issues?

Bill Harris, Manager of Think Blue, A program of the City of San Diego

Pollution Prevention Tips from Think Blue

Gabriel Solmer, Legal Director, San Diego Coastkeeper

Pollution Prevention Tips from Coastkeeper

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

FUDGE: I'm Tom Fudge, filling in for Maureen Cavanaugh. And you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Today, we're going to wrap up our three part series looking at the health of the ocean. On Monday, we learned that plastic from the great Pacific garbage patch was ending up in the stomachs of fish. Yesterday, we got an over view of what's threatening the world's oceans. But how does all of this affect San Diego? Today we end our series by posing that question. How does poor water quality, the prospect of rising waters and rising ocean temperatures, affect us locally? And is there anything we can do about it? Joining me today, and they join me in studio, are bill Harris and Gabriel Solmer. Bill is manager of the group Think Blue. And thanks very much.

HARRIS: My pleasure, Tom. Thanks.

FUDGE: And Think Blue, by the way, is part of the city offing San Diego. And Gabriel Solmer.

SOLMER: Thanks so much, and as of this week, back to ED director with an interim in place.

FUDGE: Just legal director. I'll make that correction. 1-888-895-5727 is the number. Well, Gabriel, when we talked down to the ocean, things look pretty normal. What are some of the effects you'd like for us to think about?

SOLMER: It does look beautiful. And that's one of the things that we enjoy so much about San Diego is that we have this beautiful coastline, the beaches and creeks that lead up to it, and the lakes inland, and it's this gorgeous sparkling water. And it looks pretty great. But one of the things that we need to look at is the toxic materials that lie beneath the surface, and whether that is copper pollution from the paint that's on boat bottoms or plastics that make its way into marine debris in the ocean or really the figuring that we can't do because some of those fish are gone. It's all things that we don't see from the surface, but we need to pay attention to. That also goes for urban run off, the largest threat to water quality in San Diego, and indeed? Southern California. And those are things we have solutions for.

FUDGE: Bill, would you agree that urban run off is the largest problem facing the local ocean waters?

HARRIS: Yeah, absolutely. In San Diego and in fact throughout California we have a very urbanized coast. And when we get in San Diego the little rain that we do, it can wash an extraordinary amount of pollutants down to the ocean. Even in dry weather when we have over irrigation or spills. Whatever it may be mutants are the and pollutants.

FUDGE: Gabriel, you were talking about a lot of stuff that ends up in water, copper, and this kind of thing. But how does that affect us? How does it affect the fish we may eat? What happens when you put stuff like that in the water?

SOLMER: We see copper issues most recently from brake pads. Every time you stop your car, your brakes give up that little bit of dust, there's copper in the dust, through urban run off it finds its way into our waters. It finds its way into our fish, and it's toxic to those animals. The barnacles that get on your boat, the kind of paint that we have is designed to kill that growth so the boats move faster. Unfortunately that winds up in our water column, and also in the sediment, the mud and dirt below water surface.

FUDGE: Let's talk a little bit about the sea levels because of the things that I think we're talking about, there's over fishing, there's runoff, pollution, global warming. Global warming is a huge global situation, and it's hard to say what we can do just right here in San Diego to --

HARRIS: Oh, I don't know.

FUDGE: To solve that problem. But bill, do you have a view on that?

HARRIS: I think all these things are interconnected, frankly. And every single day we make choices. For storm water prevention, you can do seemingly simple thing. And they are simple. Keep your car tuned up so fluids don't leak out and drip into the gutter which can wash into the ocean. Same thing with your purchasing choices. You can choose things that are more ocean friendly. They're all linked together. And they have an impact not only to storm water pollution prevention, but climate as well.

FUDGE: I've seen your adds in the movie theatres where people throw stuff into the street. And you say, well, this ends up in the ocean. But when it comes to global warming, one thing that people think about in San Diego is rising sea levels. And again, if you go down to the coast and you look at the ocean, you sort of say to yourself, well, it looks like it's pretty much where it was yesterday. And it's kind of hard to imagine what might happen with that. Is that something you'd like to talk with a little bit, Gabriel?

SOLMER: Sure. And one of the things that coast keeper -- that we did, back in January when we had these king tides which are a natural phenomenon not related to global warming, about they show us a glimpse into our future. We can see what kinds of situations we're going to have when the sea levels do rise. And the problems that we're seeing are both for our human communities and for our wild willful communities. And they need a place to go. So building in these buffers, and think being 20, 30, even a hundred years in the future of where we want to build and what kinds of buildings we need to put in there, what kind of buffers, what kind of vegetation we should put in when we put in those model homes and where we should build them is important.

HARRIS: And this actually, this same sort of thinking is important now. When we get rain in, it's obviously not a direct equation to rising sea levels. But at the same time if we can be thinking about what we left on our lawn, how much pesticide is on our lawn, if we left trash out that might wash into our water ways, if we are -- as Gabe points out, building in such I way that when it rains, when we get water flow from high tides or global warming, isn't going to drag pollutants back into the water. We need to be thinking about these things every day.

FUDGE: But global warming, rising water levels, the things you were talking about, Gabriel, sounded to me like they were reactive. In other words, if sea levels rise, here's what we have to do to the coast. Here's where we can build, and here's where we can't build. Here's what we should plant, and here's what we shouldn't plan plant. But that's reactive. That's assuming that the sea levels are going to rise.

SOLMER: Well, unfortunately that is a reality that we're looking -- all the models that we see show the sea level rise, especially in an area where we've got an inn closed bay, San Diego bay, we do have to look at that. Unfortunately the cities around the bay are looking at that fact. But we can be absolutely proactive as bill says. And there's a lot of local things we can do so this doesn't have to be an unsurmountable global problem.

FUDGE: Whenever I wash my car in my driveway --

HARRIS: Uh-oh.

FUDGE: I think about the ads that you have in front of the movies. If you pick 1 or 2 I think things that people can do to not contribute to the problem of urban run off, what would they be?

HARRIS: Let's go right to the car washing as an example. If you can wash your car, be sure that the soaps you're using, the rinse water you're using don't get into the gutter. That material can flow right into one of our storm drains, and even if it doesn't, if it dries in the gutter out front, the next big rain we get carries those pollutants right out to the ocean. The storm water system in San Diego is not connected to a treatment system. It flows from the storm drain near your home all the way to the ocean. Everything you do at your home, if it leaves your front yard, it gets into the gutter, it ends up in the ocean. If your car is dripping fluids because you haven't had it tuned up, that can end up in the ocean. These are things you can do every single day. Make sure your trash is picked up, pick up off your pet. The bacteria and pest waste is a big problem down at our beaches and bays. It's making those personal choices and staying conscious about what you are doing near your home that can make a huge difference.

FUDGE: You're listening to Midday Edition. I'm Tom Fudge, and my guests are bill Harris and Gabriel Solmer. Bill is director of the group Think Blue, which is part of the City of San Diego. Gabriel is legal director of San Diego coast keeper. If you want to give us a call, 1-888-895-5727. I want to talk about over fishing. Whose business is it to make sure that we're not over fish something is that state government? What has to deal with that issue?

SOLMER: It goes all the way up the line from you, me, your listeners, all the way up to the fish and game commission who over sighs this new program about marine protected areas to combat over fishing, all the way to the federal government that has new aqua culture provisions. So it really -- and then obviously globally because our oceans link us internationally. But this is something that we can absolutely work on legally. Marine protected areas which go on in San Diego, three new areas that will be protected, these reserves go into implementation October 1st. I can tell everyone, go out there and enjoy these marine protected areas. They're beautiful areas where we are protecting the whole ecosystem so that it can thrive and replenish so that you have that spill over effect, and you have more fish in the ocean that we can all enjoy.

FUDGE: What are some of the fish off the coast of San Diego or near the coast of San Diego that are endangered? Can either of you talk about that?

HARRIS: Well, it's not my specific area of expertise, but I think we've all heard that there are risks going on right now from things that we do is on the coast for the fish in our local waters. Again, it comes down to a matter of personal choice, down to that range of government options, it comes down to whether one of your guests on Monday said we are going to look at ourselves as being a clean ocean people or maintaining our connection to the ocean. So these things, making choices at home have the impact and feed into the kind of protected areas that Gabe is talking about.

FUDGE: And these marine preserves, are these -- Gabriel, are these preserves that were created by the City of San Diego? Again, I'm trying to get an idea of what jurisdiction deals with the issue of fish and survival of fish.

SOLMER: Sure. Of so this is a state wide process. The Marine life protection act actually called for the creation of these reserves. Like I said, we've got three in San Diego, and that implementation will start in October. Of all the way down to the border, a large one in La Jolla, right near the area of special biological significance that the city and coast keeper and Scripps all partner to protect. And then up on the coast near Cardiff, Swami's marine protected area, is one that we am to go and to enjoy. And those have different levels of restrictions on fishing. But the whole idea is to bring fish back to these areas have that whole ecosystem management so we're not looking at a species by species preservation. But that in addition to the sustainable fishing practices we can all practice will help that fishery recover.

FUDGE: A couple days ago, we talked about the garbage patch, this amazing 3567 of solid waste in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Bill, is that us?

HARRIS: It is us.

FUDGE: Are we the ones who are throwing all those plastic bottles into the ocean?

HARRIS: In one way or another, it is us. It's each of us. We make choices about what we purchase, those things come over on ships, some of them are lost, we pay the shipping companies, there are practices at sea that may not be the best. There are also just an amazing amount of solid waste products that make it into our local oceans. You after a big rain, you can go to malcahoise creek down by the naval ship yard, and you will see our own garbage patch covering part of San Diego bay. As we make purchasing choices, we gotta think about the life cycle. Make sure once you're done with it that you recycle it. You get if back into the product stream rather than throwing it out as waste.

FUDGE: Well, we'll have to leave it at that, I'm afraid. This is the day that we wrap up our series on Midday Edition about the oceans, and today I've been talking about bill Harris, and Gabriel Solmer. Bill Harris is manager of the group Think Blue, which is part of the City of San Diego. Bill, thank you very much.

HARRIS: My pleasure, Tom.

FUDGE: And Gabriel is legal director of San Diego coast keeper. Gabriel, thanks a lot.

SOLMER: Thanks so much.

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