Glossary of Eco Threats for San Diego Surf Spots


Sewage spills are a direct threat to water quality as surfers can get sick easily if you surf in poo.  Spills are also a big issue for marine life because animals often have nowhere to go to avoid spills, they really hit home.  Fish kills and algae blooms from increased nutrient loads can be common for large spills.
Sewage collection and treatment systems collect and treat wastewater flowing from drains (toilets, sinks, showers, washing machines, and dishwashers) inside your house and businesses. Unlike the storm drain system which relies entirely upon gravity flow, wastewater collection often uses pumps or lift stations to carry wastewater flows to treatment plants.  A good example of this is the pump station located just south of Windansea, which happens to be the namesake for Tom Wolfe’s book “The Pump House Gang”.
Sanitary sewers are always closed pipes, with vertical connections to sewer manholes situated along the pipe. If there is a blockage in the main sewer line (from grease, tree routes, or large objects flushed down the sewer) raw (untreated) sewage will flow out of the sewer manhole, down the street, into a nearby storm drain, and then directly into the ocean or a creek or river that leads to the ocean.
Back in 2000 there were 365 sewage spills in the City of San Diego alone.  Wow.  The Surfrider Foundation teamed with other local environmental groups to sue the City of SD for violations of the Clean Water Act.  The successful suit forced the City of SD to upgrade the sewage system infrastructure and do more preventative inspections and maintenance.  Since then spills have decreased over 80% to about 60 per year but we can’t be happy until there are zero.
What can you do to help?
Be a Surfrider member to officially show your support when we go to local, regional, state and national legislators and demand clean water.  Also, stay current on local issues and talk to your local city council representative when water treatment issues come up to voice your opinion.
Do not put cooking grease or oils down the kitchen sink.  Put them in a sealed container and dispose in the trash.
Conserve water.  The less water we use, the less water that goes through the sewage treatment plants.

For detailed info on coastal threats around the world visit Surfrider’s Coastal A-Z:
For current information on San Diego County water quality visit:

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