Monterey Coastkeeper

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The Monterey Coastkeeper is a member of a large network called the California Coastkeeper's Alliance(CCA). The CCA represents twelve Waterkeeper organizations from the Oregon border to San Diego, of which the Monterey Coastkeeper is one. The Monterey Coastkeeper service area includes all of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties as well as portions of San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Benito Counties. The Monterey Coastkeeper was formed with the intent of tackling issues of water quality through policy advocacy and legal tools to ensure that the interests of development, industry and urban activity are kept in line with the environmental needs and wishes of the community it serves. From the beginning, The Coastkeeper (Steve Shimek) has been active in promoting effective government regulations, good public policy and an active community role in protecting freshwater and marine waters alike.

Water Quality Topics of Interest

  • Food Safety
    • Food Safety is a major concern to consumers in the United States. The 2006 nationwide outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 was traced back to bagged spinach being sold in supermarkets that was produced on Central Coast Farms. What has followed has been a rush by buyers and sellers of vegetables to try and ensure that the food being sold is “safe” for consumers. What is also troubling is that food “safety” measures have focused on pathogens and are ignoring the pesticides and chemicals flowing into our waterways, groundwater, and sometimes watering the crop itself.
    • Food safety is important however, pesticides kill anything near crops and can be a food safety concern as well. Food safety practices are sometimes in direct opposition to water quality and wildlife protection practices guarding against chemical pollution. Good soil and water conservation practices implemented with taxpayers are stopped without any empirical evidence. These practices were not only encouraged by farms organizations, but the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, many environmental organizations and the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
    • Many of the pathogen food safety practices are designed to sterilize fields and are not based on scientifically valid evidence. Poison bait stations line leafy green fields and are meant to kill rodents and anything eating the bait through bioaccumulation also including predators up the food chain. Poison stations have been seen within the field sprinkler line, the poisoned water running back into the crop. Monterey Coastkeeper is working to make sure that the interests of pathogen food safety are science based and balanced with environmental protection. There is still much debate as to whether any of the practices being implemented are effective in mitigating the risk of pathogen contamination on the food crops. The Monterey Coastkeeper is committed to documenting current changes as thoroughly as possible and influence the discussion among the various groups involved towards higher concern for chemical pollution, protection of our watersheds, and the natural areas wildlife associated with them.
  • Stormwater Management
    • One of the results of urbanization and development is urban runoff, also known as stormwater. Various pollutants such as chemicals from households and businesses, oil from cars, and pesticides from yards, parks and golf courses end up on paved surfaces. When it rains, pollutants are carried by stormwater directly into watersheds, which eventually leads to the ocean. Stormwater is the number one source of pollution to California's watersheds. The variety and toxicity of chemicals that end up in the water are harmful to wildlife and humans, and therefore needs to be regulated.
    • The Clean Water Act was passed in the 1970s to monitor and protect water quality throughout the US. Administered by the EPA, the CWA includes regulations on what various institutions (mainly industries and cities) are allowed to discharge into water. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) requires that cities of a certain size follow regulations to monitor and reduce the amount of pollutants that enter their waterways.
    • As a part of this system, cities are required to get a permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). One of the permit requirements is that cities design and implement a stormwater management program starting with a RWQCB approved Stormwater Management Plan (SWMP). Stormwater Management Plans are integral to ensuring that public organizations, businesses and citizens are educated about their role in keeping water clean. Stormwater Management Plans are required to include components addressing development standards, commercial and industrial facilities, municipal maintenance, public education and outreach, and more. A well written Stormwater Management Plan is an important tool in ensuring that cities are taking decisive action to minimize pollution in our waterways. The implementation of these plans have a tangible affect on the thousands of species in California that rely on clean water.
    • The Monterey Coastkeeper is an active player in establishing the correlation between water quality and ocean health. For this reason, The Monterey Coastkeeper has taken a proactive role in advocating for affective stormwater management along the Central Coast. Working alongside groups such as The Ocean Conservancy and The Natural Resources Defense Council, The Coastkeeper's umbrella organization The Otter Project played a key role in bringing environmental interests to the table in the creation of the Monterey Regional Stormwater Plan. The resulting document has since been held up as a model for the rest of the state.
    • Following the creation of The Monterey Coastkeeper, The Otter Project advocated for the improvement of the Salinas Stormwater Management Plan. Although Salinas is not a coastal city, it discharges pollutants into watersheds that flow directly into the Monterey Bay. Participating in public comment periods, writing letters, attending public meetings and working with other stakeholders in stakeholder committees, The Monterey Coastkeeper championed for the improvement of the Salinas Stormwater Management Plan, leading the RWQCB to raise the standard on required improvements of the plan.
    • Currently, the RWQCB is planning to undergo a process of rapidly assessing and approving over a hundred stormwater management plans in the next two years. The Monterey Coastkeeper, a project of The Otter Project, is gearing up to participate in the process to ensure that stormwater management throughout the state lives up to the high standard set by Monterey. The resulting management programs established by these policies will have significant ramifications for sea otters and everyone else who relies on clean, healthy water.
  • Agricultural Runoff
    • Encouraging good farm practices and enforcing against egregious bad practices are the goals of the Conditional Agricultural Waiver Program, overseen by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. Until recently farm discharges were exempt from water quality standards. Now, California farms must have a permit to discharge wastewater. The “conditional waiver” is a group program designed to allow farms to avoid thecost and paperwork of obtaining an individual permit if they meet a set of prescribed conditions.
    • The Agricultural Waiver Program aims to educate farmers on good practices, thereby encouraging pollution prevention. The Monterey Coastkeeper has been working to support the Water Board both in the management of the current program, and in the development of a future waiver.
    • Following good agricultural practices to prevent water pollution and erosion provide an easy solution that is neither onerous nor cost prohibitive! Good practices include minimizing chemical application and limiting irrigation to use only what is absolutely necessary. Both of these actions provide not only environmental benefits, but savings to growers.
    • The Agricultural Waiver might seem unrelated to sea otters—but in fact the connection epitomizes the kind of multi-faceted management we must engage in if we truly wish to affect sea otter population stagnation. Conservation is increasingly moving towards ecosystem based management, and this includes identifying and controlling outside threats to the ecosystem—such as agricultural runoff. Preventing chemical poisons from weakening an iconic keystone species like sea otters is a pretty good place to start.
  • Monterey Coastkeeper Sues Monterey County Water Resources Agency To Protect Water Quality
    • On 21 October 2010, the Monterey Coastkeeper filed a suit against the Monterey County Water Resources Agency (MCWRA) alleging that the MCWRA is polluting the waters of the Central Coast and United States. The suit claimed that the MCWRA illegally discharged polluted waters that contained pesticides and nitrates in excess of protective standards. The suit also claimed that the MCWRA did not file a report of waste water discharge, as well as a failure in protecting public resources, and lastly created a public nuisance. The suit did not seek monetary damages but the suit did ask for the discharge of pollutants to stop. The Monterey Coastkeeper is represented by Stanford Law Clinic.
    • MCWRA collects winter rainwater in San Antonio and Nacimiento reservoirs and then releases that water during summer months for groundwater recharge. The vast majority of groundwater is used by the county’s farmers. MCWRA then collects agricultural wastewater in ditches operated and maintained by the Agency and dumps that polluted wastewater, sometimes using pumps, into the Salinas River, Elkhorn Slough, and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. “Monterey County Water Resources Agency controls the collection, distribution, and disposal of our most precious resource: water,” said Steve Shimek, Program Manager for Monterey Coastkeeper. “Monterey County Water Resources Agency is entrusted with protecting our public resources and they have failed us miserably.”
    • The nine member board of the MCWRA is made up of members appointed by the Monterey County Farm Bureau, Monterey Grower-Shipper Association, the County’s Farm Advisory Committee, five members appointed by the County Supervisors (one from each district) and a member appointed by the Mayor’s Select Committee. “The MCWRA is agriculture’s enclave in County Government,” said Shimek, “I can’t pollute; cities can’t pollute; industry can’t pollute. Why is agriculture allowed to pollute?”
    • Monterey County’s inland waters are polluted. The federal list of polluted waters identifies hundreds of surface water problems on the Central Coast: The heavily irrigated and farmed northern Salinas Valley – only a small sliver of the Central Coast -- has over one-third of the region’s listings (the Central Coast region includes Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo counties and portions of San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties).
    • The northern Salinas Valley uses more than 50-percent of all the Diazinon used statewide and the area around Salinas uses three-times more pyrethroid pesticides per acre than any other agricultural region in the state according to the Department of Pesticide Regulation. Pesticides are finding their way to surface and ground waters causing acute toxicity.
    • Intense agricultural production can also result in nitrate pollution caused by excessive application of fertilizers. Unlike pesticides, the amount of chemical fertilizer spread on Monterey County Farms is not known; however according to MCWRA the problem of nitrate pollution in the County’s groundwater has been known since the 1940s. MCWRA conducts water quality testing on hundreds of county wells to test for groundwater quality. In a separate action, the Monterey Coastkeeper has filed a public records act request seeking the groundwater quality information. Nitrates have contaminated surface and groundwater in vast areas of Monterey County. Some people drinking from small water systems (less than 15 connections) and domestic wells are very likely drinking and bathing in contaminated water and may be suffering the health consequences. The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board sent a letter to all city and county health officials in June alerting them to the pollution risks. According to the US EPA, “Infants below the age of six months who drink water containing nitrites in excess of the MCL [drinking water standard] could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue-baby syndrome.” In cities the expense to deal with the polluted groundwater has been transferred from agriculture to urban users who must pay their water companies for pre-treatment of the water before distribution.
    • “Agriculture needs to step up and clean up their mess; regulatory agencies need to regulate; and water agencies simply must protect precious resources for everyone,” said Shimek.
    • Monterey Coastkeeper spent the past two years attempting to work with growers and grower associations on new water quality regulations. Earlier this year Monterey Coastkeeper, together with San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, appealed a decision by the Regional Water Quality Control Board to extend an old and ineffective set of water quality regulations. “I’m not going to let up until our water is drinkable, swimmable, and fishable, the basic rights promised by America’s Clean Water Act and California’s Clean Drinking Water Act,” said Shimek.