Ocean and coastal water quality
Beachgoers and wildlife need the same thing – clean ocean water. A relaxing day enjoying California’s waters can easily be undone by beach closures or widespread harmful algal blooms. With California’s coastal and ocean waters extending from the top of the watersheds to the deep waters off the coast, the Ocean Protection Council has made improving water quality a top priority.
The ocean is usually the end point of land-based pollutants that flow from coastal watersheds. Nearshore impairment of water quality can result from municipal sewage discharges, industrial waste discharges, dredge spoils, and agricultural and urban runoff. When water quality is poor, the ability of coastal ecosystems to support healthy fisheries, aquaculture, recreational opportunities, and other beneficial uses is undermined. The OPC is working to improve water quality through assisting agencies who enforce pollution control, encouraging new approaches to reduce non-point source pollution from land and point source pollution from vessels, eliminating harmful impacts from once-through cooling at power plants, boosting water quality testing programs and warning systems, and reducing marine debris.
Objectives of the Ocean and Coastal Water Quality Section of the 2006 – 2011 OPC strategic plan:
Objective 1: Enforce Pollution Controls
To reduce pollution, we must improve how California’s water quality laws are enforced. Several agencies have responsibility to keep our water clean but they may be hampered by funding or conflicting legislation. The OPC seeks to coordinate and support the agencies and their programs to enforce existing water quality laws. For example, the OPC is working with the Department of Fish and Game and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to support overlapping goals of improving water quality and protecting fish, wildlife and other coastal resources.
Objective 2: Innovation
Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, California has made great strides in reducing point source pollution from industrial and other operations. Yet, there has been less progress in reducing pollutants from non-point sources, such as storm water flows from heavily paved urban environments, construction sites, and agricultural operations. Innovative approaches are needed to continue to clean up our waterways. To that end, the OPC has supported expanded use of low-impact development through a 2008 resolution and accompanying projects.
Objective 3: Once-through Cooling
In California, 21 coastal power plants use once-through cooling, a process in which large volumes of seawater are drawn into the power plant to condense steam created during electricity generation. When this occurs, small organisms such as plankton and larvae are drawn into the cooling system and killed, and larger fish are pinned against the water intake screens. Warm water is also discharged back into the ocean, which harms the resident sea life. The OPC has supported the work of the State Water Resources Control Board to eliminate once-through cooling in California since 2006 with the passage of the first OPC resolution.
Objective 4: Water Quality Testing
Planning to enjoy a day at California’s coast can be ruined when a beach is closed from contaminated ocean water. Rapid indicators of pathogen contamination could provide for more timely notice of beach closures and openings. The OPC has targeted predicting harmful algal blooms (HABs) as one of the first improvements to water quality testing off the California coast.
Objective 5: Marine Debris
The accumulation of land-based litter and ocean-based derelict fishing gear in the ocean has garnered much attention in the media. Scientific studies have found more than 260 marine species suffer from marine debris by ingestion, starvation, suffocation, infection, drowning, and entanglement. Risks from toxins and contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) associated with marine debris are a growing research area. The OPC began to address marine debris and toxins with a 2007 resolution that seeks to reduce ocean and coastal debris and its impacts to ocean ecosystems.
Objective 6: Vessel Pollution
Ships are a vital part of the ocean economy from commercial transportation to recreational use. California’s myriad of ports and harbors host pleasure craft, cruise ships, and oil tankers, all of which can act as individual sources of pollution to the sea. The OPC seeks to reduce and eliminate pollution from vessels such as developing effective alternatives to anti-fouling hull paints.
Initiatives and Funded Projects
Enforce Pollution Controls
Department of Fish and Game/LA Regional Water Quality Control Board MOU on Enforcement
Low-Impact Development (LID)
Once Through Cooling
Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)
California Sea Grant project
Master Environmental Assessment on Single-use and Reusable Bags
Derelict Fishing Gear Pilot Project
Contaminants of Emerging Concern Workshop