Environmental Health Coalition's Clean Bay Campaign began in 1987 with the goal to clean up, restore, and protect San Diego Bay as a clean and healthy multi-use water resource. Due in part to our strong advocacy and education efforts, regulatory agencies, elected officials, other non-profit organizations and the general population have since embraced this goal. EHC is reducing its efforts around San Diego Bay and will focus future attention to the Bay tidelands in our target communities of Barrio Logan and National City, and the completion of the following ongoing activities:
Prior to the 1900s, San Diego Bay was a fertile, shallow bay supporting tremendous biodiversity in its open water, salt marshes and mud flats. The Bay changed dramatically. Navigation channels were dredged. Mudflats and salt marshes were filled. Commercial, recreational, industrial, and military installations now cover most of the bayfront, especially in the northern portion of the Bay. More than 90% of the mudflats and 78% of the salt marshes were eliminated and those that remain are found mostly in South San Diego Bay.
Millions of gallons of raw sewage were dumped into the Bay starting in the early 1900's, and by 1960 the Bay was in a continual state of quarantine. When the Point Loma Treatment Plant became operational in 1963 and the Bay started to recover from the effects of sewage pollution, evidence of its toxic pollution was unmasked.
While the Bay started to look good on postcards, years of neglect, inadequate enforcement, accidents, deliberate dumping and the urban development of thousands of acres upstream took their toll on the health of the Bay. In 1987, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that the toxic pollution level in the bay was the sixth highest of 50 bays and estuaries across the nation. Later studies pinpointed the "toxic hotspots" around the industrialized bayfront adjacent to Barrio Logan.
The San Diego County Department of Environmental Health first documented human health risks from eating fish caught in San Diego Bay in a study published in 1990. Researchers found fish containing elevated levels of toxins like Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), mercury and arsenic. They concluded that pregnant women and very young children could be at risk.
In 2005, Environmental Health Coalition conducted a survey of fishers on piers near areas of contaminated sediments. Of the 109 fishers interviewed, 96 percent were people of color. Almost two-thirds of the fishers eat their catch and 41 percent said they regularly feed the fish to their children. Recent visits to the fishing piers confirm that little has changed. Families are still using the bay as a source for food.
There are 22 different agencies with varying responsibilities for the water quality San Diego Bay, but the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB), the San Diego Unified Port District, and the U.S. Military have greatest responsibility.
The Port was created by state legislation in 1962 to promote commerce, navigation, recreation and fisheries for most of the tidelands in the five cities around the Bay (San Diego, National City, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and Coronado). It is the landlord for the bayfront tenants and operates two marine terminals and two cruise terminals.
The RWQCB enforces both State and Federal Clean Water laws.
The Military presence in San Diego Bay began in 1919 and greatly expanded during and after World War II. It currently controls approximately 20% of the tidelands, including the largest naval base on the West Coat, the 32nd Street Naval Base.