Tracking Bay Pollution

Pacific Grove, CA – Imagine a sunny Saturday afternoon and you're washing your car in your driveway. The water comes out of the hose, over your sudsy car, then down to the gutter that leads to a storm drain. At the other end of that drain, you'll find volunteers from Urban Watch. The group spends all summer monitoring storm drain outfalls into the Monterey Bay.

Anna Holden-Martz leads the group for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. "All this monitoring is because the cities are required to monitor the storm water, or the water coming out of their storm drain pipes during the dry season because technically nothing should be coming out of them during the dry season," said Holden-Martz.

But Urban Watch volunteers find that's rarely the case. They test the water at twenty drains from Carmel to Seaside. Most drains are tested twice a month. They're looking for common urban pollutants like metals, detergents and chlorine. Their findings go into a report for each participating city, which helps the cities meet both state and federal mandates.

Then it's up to people like Monterey City Engineer Tom Reeves to figure out where the pollution is coming from. "It's difficult to be honest with you. One would think at first blush, as I did at least, that it would be fairly easy to find the smoking gun and say that's the source of it, but what I've found is exactly the opposite," said Reeves.

Reeves says following the pollutants back up the drains can be like chasing a ghost. If he doesn't luck out by finding something like paint on the ground from a spill or a mis-routed sewage pipe, it's likely the contaminant has washed away.

But some of the sources can be stopped without any tracking, it comes down to some small choices we all make everyday that can reduce bay pollution. "It's making sure that you don't overfill your trash can, so that the birds pick away at the bags that are in your trash can, and then drag that stuff out on the street, and then it becomes a storm water problem. It's making sure that your car doesn't leak oil on the pavement, which ends up being a storm water contamination issue. It's endless, I mean when you go down the street and look at the stuff that's in the street or on the sidewalk, all of that's part of the storm drain system," said Reeves.

Which is why Reeves and Holden-Martz believe education is a big part of the solution. "I think there's a lack of awareness. I guess my hope is that if people knew what their everyday actions caused, they wouldn't do it," said Holden-Martz.