skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

La Jolla Cove Stinks. What Are The Options For Cleaning Up The Bluffs?

Evening Edition

Dave Gibson, the executive director San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, talks to KPBS about the options for cleaning up the stink at La Jolla Cove.

Aired 12/6/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Dave Gibson, executive director San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board

Serge Dedina, Ph.D. is the executive director of WiLDCOAST, an international conservation team that conserves coastal marine ecosystems and wildlife. He is the author of "Saving the Gray Whale" and "Wild Sea."


Seals, sea lions and sea birds inhabit the rocks along the sandstone cliffs a...
Enlarge this image

Above: Seals, sea lions and sea birds inhabit the rocks along the sandstone cliffs at La Jolla Cove.

The bluffs around La Jolla Cove have long been fenced off to people, allowing cormorants, seagulls and pelicans to have the place to themselves.

Everyone agrees, the unintended consequence -- bird and sea mammal excrement -- is making La Jolla cove stink.

This problem has made national headlines, and now the story line has shifted from the stench to the regulations that are preventing a solution.

But people don't agree what to do about it. The latest conventional wisdom on the topic says a fix is possible, but state regulators are slowing down the process.

Dave Gibson, executive director San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, told KPBS no one from the city of San Diego has yet reached out to him but said "we're always willing to work with people at the beginning stages of an issue like this."

"If they are contemplating needing a permit to spray something on the rocks, our doors are open to them to meet with them to discuss what we would have to do to develop the findings of fact we would need to base a permit on," he said.

Gibson said state and federal regulations, including the Clean Water Act, puts strict control over what the city can do at the cove.

"If they were going to be spraying something on the rocks, they would have to have a permit from us," he said.

He said the state also prohibits "discharges" into water, except in special circumstances.

But Gibson said if the poop is scooped up or swept up on shore instead of into the ocean, that might not require a permit.

Potential bluff cleaners would have to be careful not to get too close to the seals and sea lions, he said.

Gibson said Pier 39 in San Francisco faces a similar problem, but hasn't done much of anything about it.

Claire Trageser contributed to this report.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.


Avatar for user 'Gary1'

Gary1 | December 5, 2012 at 12:46 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

What are the options that are mentioned in the last paragraph? From what I have read in other articles, it would not be permissable to even wash it off with water. Of course, if there is a large rain storm, it would wash the area. The thinking is that if it is washed off, it would cause a lot of contamination of the ocean and shore. They should just bite the bullet one time and wash it off, then wash it frequently so that there is not as much material washed into the ocean. The bacteria level would not rise significantly on these frequent cleanings, and the area would be more pleasant.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'commus'

commus | December 5, 2012 at 2:23 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

So very much of the discussions of anything related to La Jolla coast much less all of the San Diego coast is useless as long as the Coastal Commission has any jurisdiction. Why? The commission web site shows its staffing as including a San Diego rep. Whose address appears to bein San Francisco. The there are L.A. Reps who are blank. It appears that the only reps are allin San Francisco. This lack of representation is unbelievable!
We now have the "Children's Pool" with the seals taking advantage of this MAN MADE haven for children and protected by environmentalists gone wrong, protecting what they call natural fauna that was not there until the man made break water. Solution---remove the break water and give it back to the sea. I'll give it 1 day and the seals will be gone. Without it they are unprotected shark food as nature intended. With it they attract sharks and make children shark food too.

Finally, remove the fence. If not get ready for yet another health hazard. Let the predators, including humans, do what is natural!!!!

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'SergeDedina'

SergeDedina | December 5, 2012 at 5:11 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Dave Gibson of the Water Board explained how the City of San Diego could work with the Board to file a permit and what would be required.

Gary-the issue of the storm is correct--I would wish I would have mentioned IT. I think the absence of large winter storms with big waves and north wind and a large tidal surge in the last few years has resulted in exacerbating an issue that could be dealt with naturally if we had large storms. Probably if we get some large storms some of the guano might be washed away. Last week's swell had a few waves but not the rain-tidal surge that would be needed to naturally clean the area.

Commus: Wildcoast would welcome removing the sea wall at Children's Pool--in fact I have recommended that. The fact is that shark populations are not seeking out harbor seals--white sharks are in the business of hunting down elephant seals which is why their migratory route is spread out between the Farallon Islands, Ano Nuevo and Isla Guadalupe. There is absolutely no evidence that the shark population in La Jolla is in fact increasing at all. Shark populations are declining worldwide.


Serge Dedina
Executive Director

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Pat Finn'

Pat Finn, KPBS Staff | December 5, 2012 at 7:53 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Commus: Esther Sanchez, an Oceanside City Council member, is listed as representing San Diego on the Coastal Commission. Scott Peters is listed as an alternate. I called Ms Sanchez at the number listed on the website and then at the Oceanside City Council for this story. I left messages, but never got a reply.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'commus'

commus | December 5, 2012 at 8:58 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Peters is a public member as what appears to be a Assembly Speaker Appointment. not the same as a commissioner and it also appears that Peters will be in Washington.

"Bruce Reznik (for Esther Sanchez)" lists an address of "45 Fremont St., Ste 2000
San Francisco, CA 94105, (415) 904-5200" it does not list Ester as a direct member.

To me, this, along with all the "vacancies" listed indicate a total lack of representation of for the south.

As far as the shark population. An increase in population is not needed to increase attacks. All that is needed is an increase in food.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Claire Trageser'

Claire Trageser, KPBS Staff | December 6, 2012 at 8:50 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Gary1, the story was updated after the interviews to explain the options Gibson mentioned. If you want to watch and listen to his full interviews, those are available as well. Thanks!

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user '2dalesdad'

2dalesdad | December 6, 2012 at 5:53 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Allright ...straight to the issue at hand...sea bird guanno is an additive that most organic gardeners pay Top Dollar to purchase, that said....the city could have a new source of revenue.....As everyone knows..La Jolla is chocked full of the two legged type..for that self-respecting sharks will come with-in 500yards of the no the smell is not from the kiddie pools...

( | suggest removal )