Port of San Diego touts clean water initiatives

Preventing pollution from reaching San Diego Bay remains a top priority for one of the largest port districts in the country.

SAN DIEGO—Maintaining the cleanest water possible is one of the most significant priorities of the Port of San Diego’s environmental initiatives. This was the message of a nearly one-hour presentation and discussion, held between port district staff and the Board of Port Commissioners on May 14, on keeping pollution out of San Diego Bay.

Discussions were held last year on investments into the environmental future of San Diego Bay. Commissioners approved an allocation of resources to champion environmental programs and invest in long-term sustainability of the bay, according to port district staff.

Those resources, according to port district staff, would balance the environmental needs of the bay with boating and recreational interests. The port district’s programs focus on pollution reduction, resource management, sediment cleanup, water quality monitoring and stormwater planning.

“Bacteria, trash and heavy metals have been identified as priority pollutants for San Diego Bay,” port district staff stated in a report to commissioners. “Voluntary initiatives above and beyond compliance, regulatory efforts, management actions geared towards achieving programmatic goals, as well as outreach and community efforts all play an integral part in achieving clean water.”

Maintaining clean waterways in an urban area the size of San Diego, of course, does come with its challenges, commissioners acknowledged.

“It’s a constant battle to keep the water clean,” Commission Chair Garry J. Bonelli said during the May 14 board meeting.

There has been action and progress, however.

The port district, for example, implemented two bacterial monitoring programs. Receiving waters and storm drains are monitored weekly, according to port staff. The data is studied regularly to discover anomalies.

Monitoring has resulted in increased trash pickups and “no feeding of birds” signs at local parks; trash and bird waste at these parks are a source of bacteria, which eventually are found in the water.

“Long term monitoring of San Diego Bay’s water and sediment quality, as well as the evaluation of its aquatic life allows the District to understand current bay conditions, evaluate trends over time and measure progress towards programmatic goals,” port district staff said in a report to commissioners. “The district’s Regional Harbor Monitoring Program evaluates water quality, sediment quality and marine life in San Diego Bay.”

Legacy pollution remains to be a significant issue for the port district.

“Another environmental challenge is the remediation of legacy contamination, such as heavy metals and PCBs embedded in Bay sediment as the result of historical activities,” port district staff stated. “Removing pollutants and improving sediment quality enhances the long-term viability of bay ecosystems. Cleaning up legacy contamination is a time intensive, step-wise process that requires a collaborative approach between the District, regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders.”

Addressing legacy pollution is done in four stages: condition assessment (1 to 5 years); source investigation and solution development (3 to 15 years); remediation (1 to 3 years); and, post-cleanup evaluation (1 to 20 years).

The port district stated it is investigating sediment conditions at Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal.

Pollution prevention efforts also include public outreach and awareness. The port district has been pushing a hashtag – #ThatsMyBay – to engage the public on pollution prevention.

“Components of #ThatsMyBay extend beyond social media with live events to create additional opportunities for the pubic to learn about and get involved in pollution prevention,” port district staff stated. “#ThatsMyBay is well on its way to meeting and exceeding its goal of two million impressions in fiscal year 2020.”

Port district staff described the hashtag campaign as a “fresh take” on water pollution prevention.

The hashtag campaign represents what the port district believes is the most important element of the pollution prevention campaign: collaboration.

“The district’s approach to understand the extent of the pollution problem, followed by the implementation of programs to manage source control and facilitate reduction and/or elimination of pollutants have resulted in improvements to water quality in San Diego Bay over time,” port district staff stated in a report to commissioners. “Pollution prevention requires a collaborative approach that includes district-wide internal efforts, policy and regulatory initiatives, as well as community involvement.

“The district’s multi-faceted approach includes tracking progress via long-term monitoring, establishing and implementing effective goal-driven adaptive management programs, using innovative thinking and technologies, and harnessing the power of public engagement via outreach, collaborations and partnerships,” port district staff continued.

Commissioners commended port district staff’s efforts in developing pollution prevention policies and protocols, as improved water quality benefits everyone.

“There are so many different initiatives and things that we do. Nothing is as important as water quality,” Commissioner Dan Malcolm said. “Our mission is to provide a safe, clean area for the people of the state of California and the people who live here.”

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