Santa Cruz Chapter BWTF
August 12 2009 | Blue Water Task Force,
by Mara Dias
Posted: 08/08/2009 01:30:23 AM PDT by Dan Haifley, Santa Cruz Sentinel http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/rss/ci_13020624?source=rss
Irish philosopher George Berkeley once posed the question: if a tree falls and no one's around to hear it, would it really make a sound?
If he were alive today, he could also ask: Would our water quality be any better if nobody bothered to check?
Of course water contamination would exist even if people weren't looking for it. But people do pay attention, which helps make the quality of the water flowing through streams and storm drains to the sea safer.
Some who test water quality are volunteers, and some, such as surfers and farmers, have a direct stake in its outcomes. And, they are really good at it.
One project occurred on a Saturday last May when 224 volunteers took a snapshot of Central Coast water quality. Complementing that is a year-round effort by volunteers for Surfrider Santa Cruz.
Surfrider Santa Cruz is a chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an international nonprofit organization of surfers that burst onto the scene in the early 1990s after winning a water quality judgment against a pulp mill in Eureka.
Local Surfrider volunteers have adopted several area beaches that they monitor for levels of indicator bacteria E. coli and enterococci, which are organic contaminants. When levels of these indicator bacteria exceed California's established recreational standards -- 400 colonies per 100 milliliters for E. coli and 104 colonies per 100 milliliters for enterococci -- beachgoers have an increased risk for exposure o microbes that cause water-related illnesses.
Sarah Mansergh, volunteer lab coordinator for Surfrider Santa Cruz, says: "Overall, we have some pretty clean beaches. The Los Angeles-based Heal the Bay has even rated Natural Bridges and Twin Lakes beaches as A+' for not exceeding recreational standards at all in their recent water quality report."
The picture is not perfect, however. Mansergh says: "A few other beach areas aren't as healthy. San Lorenzo river mouth, Cowell's Beach, Schwan Lake and Capitola Beach still routinely show elevated levels of indicator bacteria." Why point out these flaws? To get some help.
And help for impacted areas is on the way. Funding has been secured for a San Lorenzo River project to help preserve water quality when flows are low or non-existent, as well as the Rio del Mar Esplanade sewer replacement project. Those improvements should result in better water quality at area beaches.
Surfrider's water quality team has 12 volunteers who collect samples for examination at their lab. More volunteers participate in beach cleanups, storm drain stenciling, education programs and the chapter's "Wipe Out Plastic Takeout" campaign to reduce plastics in our waterways.
Mansergh says, "Visit our Web site for upcoming events and resources, and what you can do to keep our beaches healthy. You can also do plenty on your own like not dumping into storm drains, planting an ocean-friendly garden and keeping those plastic bags and cigarette butts out of our waterways."
The Surfrider Foundation has local chapters including San Mateo, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Monterey -- each with a water quality program. Go to www.surfrider.org , click "Chapters."
My next column: agriculture in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary's watersheds.
Dan Haifley is the executive director of O'Neill Sea Odyssey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.