Regional Water Quality Control Board Orders Cleanup of San Diego Bay

When outsiders think of San Diego, I am certain that the first image that comes to mind is pristine beaches and summertime all year long. This image is not entirely misplaced. In fact, writing this post makes me long for the year long temperate weather and vast array of outdoor parks, trails, and simply breathtaking beaches.

But conjuring up that image doesn't accurately capture the whole picture. In fact, as a first year law student, I had the immense pleasure and amazing opportunity to intern for the San Diego Coastkeeper (SDCK), an environmental water quality non-profit. During the course of my semester long internship, I wrote various demand letters and memoranda about different issues that Coastkeeper had decided to pursue.

One of my assignments dealt with the precarious situation surrounding the San Diego Bay. While a study had been conducted, and by the time I interned it was well known that the Bay was contaminated with toxic pollutants, and even who the Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) were, no action had been taken by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state entity responsible for safeguarding the water supply.

While I can't remember the particular circumstances surrounding my assignment, I know it dealt with the relevant state statutes and case law on the matter, and eventhough I knew relatively little about "the law" at the time, it seemed fairly clear that the odds were in our favor. Well, that was five years ago. And, comparatively speaking, my exposure to the issues was but a drop in the bucket when measured against the more than 20 year battle to clean up the Bay.

Thanks to facebook, this week I learned that the Water Board unanimously ordered a cleanup of 143,400 cubic yards of toxic sediments from the bottom of the San Diego Bay. As the SDCK's blog states:

San Diego Bay is listed under the federal Clean Water Act for 20 separate pollutants including sediment toxicity, copper, mercury, PAHs, PCBs, zinc, chlordane and benthic community effects. Due to the fish contamination from the pollutants, the Port of San Diego posted all piers along San Diego Bay with fish consumption advisories. However, because residents still catch and eat fish from the bay, they continue to be exposed to serious human health risks. The bay also plays a major role in San Diego County’s tourism economy, which depends on clean and safe coastal waters to attract visitors.

Justice Perseveres

Aside from having actually volunteered for this organization on this matter, I thought that this story was particularly encouraging, because it shows how perseverance can eventually pay off. Eventhough someone might have known more than 2o years ago that the contamination in the Bay exceeded legal limits, who was to blame, and who could resolve the issue, it was not immediately resolved. Instead, it took many many years, and probably at least double the amount of staff, volunteers, lawyers, scientists, and other willing participants to never give up hope that their actions might eventually rectify the situation.

Of course, the irony of the recent release of The Lorax movie is also not lost on the situation, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." Here's to a cleaner Bay!

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