Friday, February 17, 2012

Great Article by Gale Filter - San Diego Union Tribune

February 16, 2012
San Diego Union-Tribune

Clean, safe water should be priority for voters, By Gale Filer

In November, San Diego will elect a new mayor. Arguably, no city mayoral race has been as important for our city’s future as this one. As I see it, there is no more important issue for San Diegans than clean and safe water. Our mayoral candidates need to tell us how they will protect and restore fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego. And it’s up to you to understand the issues and use your vote to help select our next leader.
A recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that improved monitoring proves the severity of water pollution in California from 2006-2010. The more robust data identify a 170 percent increase in waters with toxic pollution; a 90 percent climb in sites with unsafe bacterial levels; a 76 percent jump in amount of trash fouling our waters; a 36 percent increase in waters tainted by pesticides, and a 24 percent growth in the number of fish that contain unhealthy levels of pollutants.

Here in San Diego, water supply and water quality are more than just environmental issues. As the Equinox Center points out in its 2012 Quality of Life Dashboard, “San Diego’s semi-arid climate means local water sources are scarce, yet our growing population, biotech and pharmaceutical companies and high-value agricultural sector depend upon a consistent water supply to thrive.” To give you some idea of how scarce our water sources are, Equinox reports “if we had to rely on our local resources alone, we could support our county’s 3 million residents at current use rates for only two-and-a-half months.”
To the above, add the fact that San Diego’s beaches are a key element in our way of life and regional economy. Our beaches attract tourists from around the world and those tourists spend approximately $7 billion a year at local businesses. San Diego water quality gets a “thumbs down” from Equinox because our water quality is getting worse, not better. Even more problematic is the fact that budget cuts in recent years have resulted in a lack of funding for water quality monitoring.
In September 2011, a San Diego regional blackout contributed to sewage spills of approximately 3.7 million gallons. Why? The city of San Diego did not have backup generators at its sewage treatment sites near Los Peñasquitos Lagoon and South Bay. As a direct result of San Diego Coastkeeper’s water quality monitoring and advocacy, city wastewater officials recently announced a $12 million strategy to prevent a repeat. San Diego deserves better, especially when one considers the number of days beaches were closed and cleanup costs resulting from the spills.
Add to that our single biggest threat to water quality in San Diego – urban runoff. This is water that flows over man-made surfaces in densely populated areas and drains directly into our water. It absorbs the materials on top of the surfaces including pollutants such as oil, grease, pesticides, metals, bacteria and viruses, and toxic chemicals. And then washes it all into our rivers, bays, lakes and ocean.
In Southern California, storm drains carry millions of gallons of polluted runoff to the ocean everyday. In San Diego, all public storm drains directly link to our beaches without any wastewater treatment.
Urban runoff isn’t just a coastal issue. It is one of the main reasons bodies of water throughout San Diego County fail to meet minimum water quality standards.
San Diego has serious water issues that cannot be ignored. We need strong and creative leadership in our next mayor who understands our water issues, and also has comprehensive and viable water quality plans. There is much at stake in the 2012 mayoral election, and it’s up to you as a voter to understand these issues and demand the next leader make them a priority.
Filer is executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper.

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