Clean-up of San Diego Bay Finally Ordered After 20 Years of Delay by Polluters

by on March 15, 2012 · 4 comments

in Environment, Health, San Diego

Regional Water Quality Control Board Unanimously Adopts San Diego Bay Cleanup

The Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) on Wednesday, March 14, unanimously ordered a cleanup of the 143,400 cubic yards of toxic sediments from the bottom of San Diego Bay. After a 20-year battle, the polluters will be held accountable, and the bay will have a chance to return to a cleaner state.

In addition to celebrating the long-awaited cleanup order, San Diego Coastkeeper and Environmental Health Coalition (EHC)  asked the Regional Board to require that the cleanup actually achieve the alternative cleanup levels that the Regional Board staff has determined is safe for public health and environment.

“The Regional Board should be applauded for finally acknowledging this pollution and the harm it causes to human, environmental and economic health,” said Jill Witkowski, legal director at San Diego Coastkeeper. “It’s about time that we make those responsible for the pollution clean up their mess.”

 San Diego Bay is listed under the federal Clean Water Act for 20 separate pollutants including sediment toxicity, copper, mercury, PAHs, PCBs, zinc, chlordane and benthic community effects. Due to the fish contamination from the pollutants, the Port of San Diego posted all piers along San Diego Bay with fish consumption advisories. However, because residents still catch and eat fish from the bay, they continue to be exposed to serious human health risks. The bay also plays a major role in San Diego County’s tourism economy, which depends on clean and safe coastal waters to attract visitors.

 “This toxic pollution at the bottom of San Diego Bay prevents it from being safely fishable,” said Environmental Health Coalition’s Laura Hunter. “The cleanup is great news for the communities surrounding the bay. This cleanup action will reduce pollution in the bay and is an important step toward improving a food source for many families that fish it to feed their children.”

 Unfortunately, as approved, the cleanup order includes some loopholes that may let the responsible parties leave more sediment pollution in the bay than the analysis shows is safe.

  “The best way to illustrate the gravity of this situation is to look at mercury levels in the bay,” said Witkowski. “Currently, the Regional Board found mercury levels in San Diego Bay that are unsafe for human and environmental health. But given the loopholes in this cleanup plan, the cleanup will be considered a ‘success’ even if the mercury level is exactly the same as it is right now.”

 Coastkeeper and EHC will continue to monitor the process to ensure that the bay is cleaned and the cleanup plan is executed in a manner that reduces impacts to communities. Both organizations suggested steps to the Regional Board that it can enact to protect the community during the cleanup process while it achieves safe cleanup levels.

To find out more about San Diego Bay, Coastkeeper and EHC’s work on the cleanup, visit Coastkeeper’s website .

SAN DIEGO COASTKEEPER: Founded in 1995, San Diego Coastkeeper protects and restores fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego County. Visit us online .

 ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH COALITION: Founded in 1980, Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) builds grassroots campaigns to confront the unjust consequences of toxic pollution, discriminatory land use, and unsustainable energy policies. Visit us online .



{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

JEC March 15, 2012 at 11:06 am

Unfortunately it doesn’t do enough. This piece-meal approach in the end will cost more and do less than the alternatives; embrace all the bay, especially the heavily polluted south bay region and gain economies of scale; do more cost less, overall. And compel Western Salt to comply with the requirements of the State Lands lease and return the land to it’s original 1920’s condition. In the end will we notice benefits from the $70 million spent? Will the water quality actually improve? No it won’t and the RWQCB doesn’t believe so either. This $70 million cleans the mud, not the water. And before someone rushes forward to point not the connection, ask how the polluted sediment next door to the shipyards will be kept in place? 143,000 cubic yards of sediment is an area 268 yards square by two yards deep. Or less than 15 acres out of a few thousand. This look like a case of irrational exuberance.


Chris Dotson March 16, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Thanks to you (and the rag) for pointing out the broader spectrum and providing the descriptions needed for us to envision what has been accomplished by the vote. Of course “something” is better than nothing but . . . ? I guess it is easy to get 100% of the vote to purchase a band aid, and some will be able to add to their rhetorical list of citations. I can hear it already! “My voting record is clear on this important environmental issue . . . “. I wanna know what they’ll say to their grandkids one day when the children ask us “What did you do, grandpa?”. To be sure, their generation WILL ask.


Alan March 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm

sounds like this will in effect nothing but the $70Million Dollars half of the money paid for the management of the project. The entire bay is polluted and cleaning up 268 sq. yds. two feet deep is not doing anything to clean the bay. All of the Ship Yards should have to clean up the areas thay have themselves polluted and pay out of the profits they have made. The U.S. Navy should also be held accountable for the damage that they have caused of the 100 or so years they have been dumping toxins into the bay. As we all know the system of the government that we live in has no desire to spend money out of the war coffers for the cleanup of the bay which has almost exclusivly distroyed .


JEC March 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm

The U.S. Navy is the invisible player in this game. You’re right, since the 20’s thru the 60’s the Navy, along with most other folks, used the south bay as a trash can. A 1998 Study by NOAA found San Diego Bay the second most polluted in the country. And that study stopped at the Chula Vista Marina, leaving the areas further south, near the discharge of the power plant and the old Seaplane port at Emory Cove untested. The Salt Pond, in an act of cynism, have been declared Historical Structures to be preserve and future generations, thereby avoiding the unpleasantness of forcing Western Salt to live up to their lease and return the land to its original condition and dodging the risk of revealing the extent to which the south bay is pollluted. Ninety years of accumulated alkaloids is toxic but the current plan is to open the ponds to the bay and let the south bay water desolve those alkaloids even though the south bay water is already hyper-saline. The South bay doesn’t flush and the fresh water once spilling in from the Sweetwater and Otay rivers is long gone. A thousand acres of the bay contains containmented soil. Taking care of 15 acres is better than nothing but lacking. The bay water quality is poor and will continue to be poor. The ocean side of the Silver Strand State Park has traffic backed up for a half a mile on a summer’s Saturday; the bay side is empty, almost always. Very few actually swim in the bay by choice. The $70 million will employ some folks and help the economy. And it will make a small step toward the eventual goal – a Clean San Diego Bay from top to bottom.


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