The Water Quality Protection Program Has
California's Central Coast is a magical blend of rocky shorelines, meandering streams, fertile farmland, and majestic sea. This area's relatively clean waters contribute enormously to the health of its marine ecosystems. Consequently, developing a plan to keep these waters clean has been an important element of the Sanctuary's program in its first five years.
Effective water quality management extends beyond the ocean, up into the mountains and valleys where rainfall and irrigation water begins its journey down streams, rivers, wetlands, and out to the ocean. The pollutants this water collects along the way &emdash; and pollution from boating activities, sewage outfalls, and offshore oil spills &emdash; all need to be addressed.
But how do you take a mass of independent water quality programs (over 100) and varied stakeholders, and create an effective clean water program for the Sanctuary region? That is the challenge that has been undertaken by the twenty-seven federal, state and local agencies, public groups, landowners, and businesses who constitute the Water Quality Protection Program (WQPP).
"We use a consensus-based process," explains Tami Grove of the California Coastal Commission. "We develop partnerships and pool resources. To do that, we need to search for common ground &emdash; so that everyone has an interest in seeing the program succeed, and everyone wins when it does."
The WQPP has completed three detailed Action Plans so far: Urban Runoff; Monitoring, Data Access and Interagency Coordination; and Marinas and Boating. Implementation has begun on all three Plans.
Polluted urban runoff is a concern in populated coastal areas. Rainfall carries spilled oil, metal particles from our cars, garden fertilizers, pesticides, litter, and other materials through storm drains directly to rivers, streams, and the Sanctuary without stopping at treatment facilities. To address this issue, the WQPP has worked with the region's cities, public and private groups to develop a detailed Action Plan, and is now implementing strategies from that Plan.
The cities of Monterey and Santa Cruz, the California Coastal Commission, and the Sanctuary are developing a model urban runoff program. Elements include public education, technical training, storm drain inspections and mapping, a storm water management program, and sedimentation and erosion control programs. "It's really a good thing &emdash; particularly for small towns that don't have the luxury of employing experts in all these areas," explains Bill Reichmuth, Public Works Director for the City of Monterey. "It provides a `cookbook' for these towns to be able to put together a strong water quality program at minimal expense."
One of the WQPP's teaching tools to help illustrate urban runoff is a "watershed model." Using koolaid and cocoa as simulated watershed contaminants that flow through urban and agricultural areas, it has helped over 5,000 children and adults see how runoff flows into the Sanctuary. Other urban runoff educational materials from the Sanctuary include posters and brochures tailored to customers of auto parts and home improvement stores.
The ability to monitor water quality conditions comprehensively over time and use the data to make effective management decisions is a priority of the WQPP. To achieve this goal, the WQPP worked with agencies, monitoring experts, and nonprofit organizations to assess existing monitoring programs in the region and develop a plan to strengthen and coordinate their efforts. Building on this plan, the Regional Water Quality Control Board has begun to develop a regional monitoring program, and the Center for Marine Conservation and the Coastal Watershed Council have initiated a parallel effort to coordinate and standardize training for local citizen monitoring groups.
Improving interagency coordination is an ongoing process. Currently, the WQPP is re-shaping its existing committees to form a Water Quality Coordinating Council. "This centralized body will provide long-term coordination of water quality efforts in the Sanctuary region and oversee implementation of our various plans," explains Dr. Holly Price, WQPP Director.
Boater-generated impacts on our harbors and marinas include toxics from anti-fouling paints, oil and gasoline, solid waste and marine debris thrown overboard, and boat sewage. The WQPP worked with harbormasters, the boating community, and resource agencies to develop an Action Plan which addresses these issues. Some of the approaches it identifies include: public education, bilge waste recovery and disposal, hazardous and toxic materials management, and improving vessel maintenance and underwater hull cleaning practices.
Save Our Shores is implementing the first of the strategies by developing a bilge waste oil disposal system for three local harbors. The program has placed receptacles and oil-absorbent pads at the harbors and developed a used oil pad disposal system and a boater education program. The Sanctuary and the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments also produced boater education cards which identify pump-out locations at all four Sanctuary harbors and provide other pollution control tips.
Standing in a strawberry field or among a herd of cattle, the Sanctuary may feel far away &emdash; perhaps almost irrelevant. But the agricultural community and those focused on water quality share many concerns. For example, erosion steals farmers' top soil and increases maintenance costs; and the resultant sediment and associated chemicals can damage the area's rivers, harbors, and marine waters. So finding ways to limit erosion can benefit farmers and help keep the region's water sources clean.
Over 150 people attended initial workshops co-sponsored with local Farm Bureaus and Resource Conservation Districts to develop recommendations on agricultural water quality issues. Committee members drafted approximately seventy strategies from these workshops, addressing topics such as education and technical assistance, improved agency coordination, runoff control, grazing, and wetlands. The WQPP is also developing ways to make landowners' lives easier when it comes to obtaining permits for practices which protect water quality.
WQPP outreach focuses on raising awareness about the link between land and sea, encouraging participation in the planning process, and identifying ways people can enhance water quality. Projects include approximately fifty presentations annually, a newsletter, brochures, citizen's guides to the technical plans, watershed stewardship workshops, media stories, and a watershed video. A watershed educator's committee has also been established to coordinate and build on existing education programs in the region. The program's Project WET workshops, organized with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, exposed educators to a variety of classroom watershed activities and provided them with a curriculum and activity book, Spanish translations of activities, and an urban runoff poster.
The WQPP has chalked up many important achievements so far, but there is a lot still to be done. Future plans include completing Action Plans for agriculture, wetlands/riparian issues, and point sources, achieving full implementation of all plans, and completing establishment of a Water Quality Coordinating Council.
Sanctuary designation five years ago was due, at least in part, to this region's clean water. The WQPP is playing its part in keeping our marine ecosystems clean and healthy for the next five years and beyond, but it is everyone's responsibility. Remember the critical link between land and sea, and make sure your daily actions are having a positive impact on the Sanctuary.
For more information: WQPP: Dr. Holly Price, (408) 647-4247; Water Quality Education: Kip Evans, (408) 647-4217.
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Last modified on: June 14,