Blue Water Task Force, Water Quality
July 07 2014

Marin County: sharing BWTF data to inform public policy decisions

by Mara Dias

Volunteer water testing groups around the country often struggle to make their water quality data useful in their communities.  Rigorous and expensive quality assurance protocols, training & documentation requirements prevent many groups from receiving state or federal certifications which would allow their data to be accepted by states or other regulatory agencies.This does not make their data any less relevant or useful locally.  The key is in communicating and sharing results to build community awareness and political will to find and solve the causes of water pollution.

Many volunteer-run BWTF programs have been very successful in finding appropriate ways to use their water quality data to engage in local planning and resource issues by effectively communicating their findings to present evidence of water pollution issues that need to be addressed.

The Marin County Chapter has been busy doing just that this spring.  In March the City of Mill Valley proposed to rebuild a boat dock in Bayfront Park that was destroyed nearly 10 years ago.   This new dock would increase recreational access for kayaks, paddlers, and others.  At a public hearling for this project, the Chapter Chair advised the City against opening up new access into the Bay without investigating the cause of the bacterial pollution that they have measuring at this site for 4 years.  Read more about this project and the City's unfortunate failure to heed Surfrider's warning here:  Marin News

Since then the Marin County Civil Jury released a review of the county's sewer systems where they called the County out for neglecting to properly maintain and repair their aging sewage infrastructure which is particularily suceptible to leaks and spills during rain events.   The grand jury recommended that local sewer agencies adopt tough rules that require sewer hook ups (or laterals) to be tested and repaired when homes and business properties are sold, and further that agencies need to consider financing tools and public services that will provide incentives for fixing leaking sewer lines. 

An editiorial in the Marin News called on the County to stop neglecting their underground sewage infrastructure and the impacted bay waters and find a way to pay for the necessary repairs.  The Marin County Chapter Secretary, Loren Moore, sumitted a letter to the editor in support, using their water quality results as evidence of local water quality impairments likely caused by sewage infrastructure failiures.  Read Loren's letter below. 

While this issue is nowhere near a slam dunk, the Chapter will continue to build community awareness of the water pollution problems that they have been documenting until enough political will is finally generated to take action and fix these problems.  View the Marin County's BWTF data here.

Leaking sewers is something to worry about

Special thanks to the 2013-14 Marin County Civil Grand Jury and to the editors of the Marin IJ (June 30 editorial, "Jury shines light on Marin's leaky sewers") for raising the issue of leaky laterals.

Surfrider Foundation Marin County has evidence of persistent high levels of bacteria in the waters along Bayfront Park in Mill Valley. Though we cannot pinpoint the cause, we suspect that it is due to leakage in the city's sewer lines.

As part of our Blue Water Task Force program, Surfrider Marin in cooperation with the Branson School tests for enterococcus (a bacteria that grows in fecal matter) at three Marin locations — Stinson Beach, Bolinas and Bayfront Park.

The water quality at Stinson and Bolinas is excellent. Our one troublespot is Bayfront Park.

We began testing there in 2010 after the Southern Marin Sewerage Agency had a spill of raw sewage into Richardson Bay. From October 2010 through June 4, 2014, we have conducted 61 tests — the number with high bacteria, 23; the number with medium, nine; and the number with low bacteria, 29.

Per our results, 38 percent of the time, the water quality at Bayfront Park is unsafe.

Surfrider Marin concurs with the grand jury that it is time for Marin's local sewer agencies to ensure that sewer lines are in good repair and as leak- and spill-free as possible.

— Loren Moore, Mill Valley, Surfrider Foundation Marin County


Marin County BWTF 2014 Data for Bayfront Park