While good appointments might seem like an esoteric issue, it is central to the efforts of groups like Coastkeeper to protect and restore San Diego’s waters for the health and welfare of our local communities. Nowhere is this more evident than the lack of leadership and bumbling (and I’m being kind) process that has resulted in a decade-long delay in even approving a cleanup plan for San Diego Bay. While neither time nor space allows me to go through this issue in great detail, I will summarize to the best of my ability.

First, it is important to recognize that San Diego Bay, which was once a calving lagoon for the California Gray Whale, was identified in a 1996 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study that examined the health of 18 inland waterways as the second most toxic bay in the nation. In the draft 2006 303(d) listing of impaired waterbodies (those not meeting federal standards), there are 22 separate proposed listings for the bay for criteria ranging from benthic community effects, sediment toxicity, copper, mercury, PAHs, PCBs, zinc and chlordane, and the board is considering a bay-wide listing for PCBs based on 11 of 11 fish samples exceeding allowable levels for PCBs.

This contamination poses a serious public-health and environmental threat, and has prompted the Port of San Diego to recently begin reposting all piers along San Diego Bay with fish consumption advisories. These postings are especially critical in light of the Environmental Health Coalition’s recently released “Survey of Fishers on Piers in San Diego Bay,” the first survey of San Diego Bay pier fishers and their fish-consumption patterns, it documents that people are consuming fish in quantities that can damage their health.

Unfortunately, more than 15 years after the Regional Water Board requested shipyards to participate in a study to determine if sediment cleanup is required with in their bay leasehold; 10 years after NOAA and the State Water Board released studies that identified toxic hotspots in the bay; seven years after the Regional Water Board first issued a proposed cleanup plan that was later deemed insufficient by a panel of sediment toxicology experts; six years after the Regional Water Board directed staff to move ahead with selecting a more protective cleanup plan; three years after the Regional Water Board was supposed to issue a cleanup plan according to its own internal strategic planning document; and nearing two years since the staff proposed a fairly protective cleanup plan for the bay; we are still waiting for the board to adopt a cleanup plan (with no end in site) while sustenance fishers continue eating contaminated fish in levels that potentially threatens their health.

I’ll be posting next about where we are in the process, and what you can to help …


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