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Which bay is dirtier? San Diego or Mission?

“Day-O!” Most of the country’s bananas are offloaded in San Diego. - Image by Chris Woo
“Day-O!” Most of the country’s bananas are offloaded in San Diego.

San Diego’s big bay has been the hub of travel and commerce in the region since Western civilization arrived in California. It’s been fronted by heavy industry for over a century. It hosts four major military bases: North Island, 32nd Street, Amphibious Base, and the Submarine Base. Millions of travelers pass through the adjacent airport and cruise-ship terminal. Its shipping processes more than three million metric tons of cargo annually, including the bulk of foreign-built Hondas, Acuras, Volkswagens, Nissans, and Mitsubishis; and most of the country’s bananas. Until the 1963 opening of the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant, the city’s treated sewage was dumped directly into the bay, causing a quarantine in 1959.

“You’ve got an easy question with a complicated answer,” John Anderson, a senior geologist who’s spent nearly 30 years working on cleanup projects with the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, told me in mid-March. While he doesn’t offer concrete numbers concerning contaminants found in and around the water, it’s clear the Big Bay is far and away the bigger problem.

“San Diego Bay is of high concern for us,” Anderson explains. “We’ve got a legacy pollution in the sediments, we’ve got storm water discharge...but we also have emerging contaminants — things like estrogen, caffeine, all sorts of pharmaceuticals that get discharged.

“We’re moving from more visible to less visible types of contaminants. You don’t see the pollution — you might see some trash, but by and large the bay looks a lot better. But the contaminants reside in the sediments, absorbed into the silt and clay.”

Because of a long history of dumping of everything from sewage to waste from the tuna canneries that once lined the bay to discharges by the military, the list of cleanup projects, both completed and in progress, spans pages. A visit to the water board’s Geotracker mapping website fills the area surrounding the bay with hundreds of color-coded markers, each indicating a challenge to water quality.

Fish advisories are in effect at both San Diego Bay and Mission Bay, cautioning reduced or curtailed consumption of many species caught in either body of water due to elevated methylmercury and PCB levels.

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“Day-O!” Most of the country’s bananas are offloaded in San Diego. - Image by Chris Woo
“Day-O!” Most of the country’s bananas are offloaded in San Diego.

San Diego’s big bay has been the hub of travel and commerce in the region since Western civilization arrived in California. It’s been fronted by heavy industry for over a century. It hosts four major military bases: North Island, 32nd Street, Amphibious Base, and the Submarine Base. Millions of travelers pass through the adjacent airport and cruise-ship terminal. Its shipping processes more than three million metric tons of cargo annually, including the bulk of foreign-built Hondas, Acuras, Volkswagens, Nissans, and Mitsubishis; and most of the country’s bananas. Until the 1963 opening of the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant, the city’s treated sewage was dumped directly into the bay, causing a quarantine in 1959.

“You’ve got an easy question with a complicated answer,” John Anderson, a senior geologist who’s spent nearly 30 years working on cleanup projects with the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, told me in mid-March. While he doesn’t offer concrete numbers concerning contaminants found in and around the water, it’s clear the Big Bay is far and away the bigger problem.

“San Diego Bay is of high concern for us,” Anderson explains. “We’ve got a legacy pollution in the sediments, we’ve got storm water discharge...but we also have emerging contaminants — things like estrogen, caffeine, all sorts of pharmaceuticals that get discharged.

“We’re moving from more visible to less visible types of contaminants. You don’t see the pollution — you might see some trash, but by and large the bay looks a lot better. But the contaminants reside in the sediments, absorbed into the silt and clay.”

Because of a long history of dumping of everything from sewage to waste from the tuna canneries that once lined the bay to discharges by the military, the list of cleanup projects, both completed and in progress, spans pages. A visit to the water board’s Geotracker mapping website fills the area surrounding the bay with hundreds of color-coded markers, each indicating a challenge to water quality.

Fish advisories are in effect at both San Diego Bay and Mission Bay, cautioning reduced or curtailed consumption of many species caught in either body of water due to elevated methylmercury and PCB levels.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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