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San Diego Water Quality Databases Track Pollution In Inland Watersheds

Evening Edition

Aired 1/28/14 on KPBS News.

Tracking water quality upstream from the ocean is now possible thanks to San Diego Coastkeeper web portal. The site aims to make complicated water testing information easy to understand.

Clean water advocates are making it easier to track water quality along San Diego County's rivers and creeks. San Diego Coastkeeper's new website gets freshwater quality data out on the web in a way people can use it.

The Sweetwater River slices through Bonita in the southern part of San Diego County. The river does not always carry water, especially in a drought year like this one. But when water flows, chances are good that pollution is riding along.

Golf course runoff in this river valley carries nitrates and pesticides. That earns the river marginal water quality marks and that is not good for the ocean.

"By far the vast majority of ocean pollution, starts inland," said Travis Pritchard, program director at San Diego Coastkeeper. "It starts 15 miles inland or 20 miles inland. When it rains, everything just gets washed out to the sea as quickly as possible."

Keeping ocean water clean is a priority for San Diego County.

Mark McPherson works for the Department of Environmental Health. He said beaches are an economic engine that attract tourists. Those travelers bring money.

"We want to have clean beaches to bring those people in for economic viability," McPherson said.

Ocean waters are monitored closely for pollution and the same now happens inland.

Coastkeeper's new Water Quality Database tracks and interprets watershed information and presents it in such way that anyone can understand it.

"We want people to realize what the problem is," Pritchard said. "If they have a problem, is it nitrates? Is it phosphorus? Where do the nitrates come from? What effect do they have? And our data portal will walk you through all of that."

The San Diego and Los Penasquitos Rivers generally get good marks. The Sweetwater River is considered marginal and the Tijuana River gets poor marks.

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