Surfing in Polluted Water. Can San Diego Fix Their Run Off Problems?


When it comes to our recreational sports we, as Americans, certainly love to get out and play (almost as much as the Aussies). So what happens when your beloved past time starts to make you sick? This is exactly what has happened to surfers in San Diego.

In a recent article in Surfer Magazine the amount of illness and infection that surfers in San Diego are suffering from is on the rise. The proximity of the one of San Diego’s wastewater treatment plants, Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Facility, is located in one of many desirable surf locations and cleans 175 million gallons of wastewater daily.  According to Surfer magazine article, The City of San Diego is the last in the nation to upgrade to the “secondary” level of treatment mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Not only was San Diego one of the last cities to get on board with these national standards, they also lobbied to postpone the upgrades.

While many initially thought that the much needed upgrades to the system were causing the illness in surfers, it turns out that storm runoff is the major contributing factor to pathogens contaminating the ideal surf spots. Many of the most beloved surfing locations in the San Diego area are located close to areas that experience high runoff.

Runoff and storm water has become such a problem in polluting our waterways that many municipalities across the country are reimaging how to deal with it.  According to the article,

“The City of Philadelphia is spending $1.2 billion on projects that are collectively called “green infrastructure.” Their initiative is comprised of thousands of small projects that aim to capture storm water in place and to filter it using processes that mimic nature—for example, rain gardens and bioswales, which use vegetation to safely absorb runoff. Washington, D.C., and New York are also on board. Portland is perhaps the most advanced.”

There are ways to help solve the issues that storm runoff can have on our communities. We can prevent pollution and disease from becoming major health issues but it takes investment, forward thinking and new technologies collectively to make the changes that can protect us all.

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