Monterey Coastkeeper

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The Monterey Coastkeeper is a part of the a larger network, 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
    • 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
    • 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 Regional Water Quality Control Board 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.


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. “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.