Monday, August 4, 2008

San Diego Coastkeeper

Pete Amaro shares his experiences:

Hello from California! I have been working for the summer as a legal intern at San Diego Coastkeeper, an environmental nonprofit working to protect San Diego’s beaches and watersheds through water-quality monitoring programs, public outreach, and legal advocacy. Coastkeeper is a part of Waterkeeper Alliance, an umbrella group with 179 member organizations worldwide.
Most of my tasks as a legal intern have involved stormwater and wastewater issues. I began my summer by creating a database of stormwater-related ordinances for all the municipalities and public agencies in San Diego County. Coastkeeper hopes that a centralized collection of various municipal codes will simplify its monitoring and enforcement work, as well as encourage updating stormwater codes throughout the county (they range from detailed and stringent in larger coastal cities to skeletal in smaller inland suburbs.) I have also had the opportunity to do field investigations: along with another legal intern, I surveyed targeted businesses in the city of Chula Vista to look for violations of both stormwater codes and industrial NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permits. We reported potential violations to the city’s stormwater hotlines, allowing Coastkeeper to also ensure proper compliance and follow-through by city officials.

I have also been working on Coastkeeper’s campaign on IPR (indirect potable reuse), a water recycling method popularly referred to as “toilet-to-tap.” The mayor of San Diego has resisted efforts by the City Council to implement a pilot project, and as a result, Coastkeeper has mounted an aggressive campaign to both sway the mayor and shift public opinion, which currently discounts water recycling in favor of desalination projects. I have done research to counter the city’s claims regarding the technical and financial infeasibility of an IPR project, and in June toured a facility in Orange County that recently began converting treated wastewater into drinking water. I was able to sample the finished product, and am happy to report that I am still alive and well.
This week brings an exciting opportunity to testify before the California Coastal Commission during their three days of meetings in Oceanside. I will speak in support of a staff report recommending denial of a proposed bayfront development in Monterey. This testimony, in addition to my other projects, has allowed me to become quite familiar with California’s complex environmental regulatory system; as I plan on returning home to California after graduation, I am especially grateful for the opportunity to begin refining my knowledge of California’s environmental legal framework.

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Equal Justice Foundation

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