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With spectacular surfing, reminders on how pollution and sand reach the ocean

At the western terminus of the Escondido Creek, spectacular surfing at Cardiff State Beach in January reminded us how a clean and natural watershed makes for a clean ocean, and why the work of The Escondido Creek Conservancy is so vital.

As surfers carved across wave faces buffeted by offshore winds, Conservancy board member Richard Murphy was there to photograph them. What the pictures don’t show is upstream pollution that invariably finds its way to the beach.

“Once it gets into the storm drain system,” said Greg McBain, “it’s on its way to the ocean.”

McBain, a retired civil engineer who specialized in water and wastewater, is a former Conservancy board member. He consults with the Conservancy on our efforts to improve water quality in Escondido Creek.

Pollution, he said, often begins on the streets when motor oils, antifreeze, and other contaminants wash from the pavement into gutters and storm drains, and then empty into the creek.

A piece of trash, especially after a heavy rain, can travel nonstop from Escondido to Cardiff State Beach. Plastics, when absorbed by marine life, make their way up the food chain and can contaminate the seafood we eat.

Nitrogen compounds in fertilizer make for a green lawn but, when washed into watersheds, can cause algae blooms that deplete creeks and lagoons of oxygen, killing insects and fish.

“People need to act responsibly in terms of what they’re letting out into a storm drain or sewer,” McBain said.

So must government agencies. State and federal laws require local jurisdictions to prevent pollutants from entering watersheds. The most common prohibited discharges come from: irrigation runoff; trash; vehicle washing; hosing down or pressure-washing streets, sidewalks or parking lots; swimming pool discharges, or sewer overflows.

Residents can help by reporting suspicious discharges:

County of San Diego: 619-338-2073

City of Escondido: 760-839-4668

City of Encinitas: 760-633-2787

Back at the beach, rivers and creeks are “the dominant source of fine-grained sediment that enters the ocean,” according to a U.S. Geological Survey Report, and at many surf breaks, that sand improves surfing conditions. The damming and channeling of creeks and rivers alters the natural flow of sand, gravels and small stones, which has led to increased coastal erosion, flooding and property damage.  A natural creek bed, by contrast, would contain a balance of rock, gravels, and sand, which reduces erosion during flood events. The Conservancy’s work to preserve land within the Escondido Creek watershed reduces flooding and minimizes pollution which would otherwise ultimately end up in the San Elijo Lagoon and at the beach. The more natural a watershed is, the less erosion and over-siltation occurs, making for healthier and cleaner waters, and a better surf break.

In addition to basic hydrology, education programs offered by The Conservancy explain how trash and pollution upstream can damage habitats and oceans downstream. The programs emphasize taking action, such as litter clean-ups or letter-writing to corporations and government offices to appeal for solutions to litter, single-use plastics, and environmentally-harmful practices. The programs reach students at every elementary school in the Escondido Union School District. As a result, we have seen improvements to our creeks and beaches and expect that positive trend to continue.

But you don’t have to be a student to get involved. The Conservancy organizes litter clean-ups for all ages, as well as habitat restoration events, which benefit ecosystem health and, consequently, human health. Contact us today and join us for more beautiful beaches, cleaner communities, and a more prosperous planet.

For three decades, nonprofit The Escondido Creek Conservancy has worked to preserve and protect the Escondido Creek watershed in North San Diego County for wildlife and people alike. That includes water monitoring and hauling thousands of pounds of trash from the creek and its tributaries. In the City of Escondido, the Conservancy works with City staff to improve Reidy Creek, which drains into Escondido Creek, and is urging the creation of a new ‘Park with a Park’ at Grape Day Park to add new park space and create a natural drainage feature to clean storm water. For more information on the Conservancy’s work, see: Reidy Creek and Grape Day Park.

Open Richard Murphy’s surfing photos at Cardiff State Beach