NOAA 2003-R412
Contact: Glenda Tyson
NOAA News Releases 2003
NOAA Home Page
NOAA Public Affairs


NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Coastal Watershed Council released a report today that shows high concentrations of pollutants were detected in Pacific Grove, Monterey, Capitola and Santa Cruz, Calif., storm drains following last fall’s first major rain storm event. Monterey Bay is one in a network of Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) national marine sanctuaries.

The report, titled “First Flush,” showed that accumulated oil, chemicals, and litter runoff flushed from streets and other impermeable surfaces were found in the rain water samples going into NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The water quality sampling was conducted at 19 sites by an extensive network of volunteers with the sanctuary’s Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network and Coastal Watershed Council.

Samples were analyzed in the laboratory and compared to the findings of previous “First Flush” events. Metal concentrations, such as copper, lead and zinc, have increased every year at the majority of sites. Bacteria and total suspended solids were also higher than previous years. Sources of these metals may include brake pads, copper piping, building materials and pressure treated wood.

Some examples of impaired water flows include:

  • The site located at Soquel Creek at Capitola Village in Santa Cruz had the highest reported lead concentration of 92 micrograms/liter. This level is three times higher than the state water quality objective of 30 micrograms/liter.
  • The Asilomar site in Pacific Grove, and the outfall site at Merced Avenue and West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz reported copper concentrations of 340 micrograms/liter. This is 11 times higher than the state water quality objective of 30 micrograms/liter.
  • The Steinbeck Plaza site in Monterey, and the Lover’s Point site in Pacific Grove had the highest average orthophosphate (a form of phosphorus commonly found in detergents) concentrations for all three years. This year, Steinbeck Plaza’s concentration of 3.15 parts per million was 20 times higher than the state action level of 0.16 parts per million. Lover’s Point initial sample reported 2.64 parts per million.

“While these results are not conclusive as to a certain contamination problem, some preliminary conclusions can be drawn that require further investigation,” said Sanctuary Superintendent William J. Douros. “Additionally, these results have occurred over three years, and are not a one time, single phenomenon. In all cases the sanctuary is working very closely with local agencies to further investigate the causes of the contamination events.”

Storm water runoff in coastal urban areas has been known to produce significant toxicity to early life stages of aquatic organisms due to the presence of trace metals. Effects include reduced reproduction, developmental deformities and mortality. Toxicity analysis of three different test marine organisms indicated that the water from the 2002 “First Flush” was toxic to the test organisms resulting in impaired reproduction or mortality. Preliminary findings identify copper and zinc concentrations as possibly contributing to the toxicity.

“An important next step will be additional testing by the state of California’s Marine Pollution Studies Laboratory to help us better pin down the causes of the toxicity,” said Bridget Hoover, Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network Coordinator. “Each city also had at least one site that warrants upstream monitoring to locate the source of contamination. It is important that we work together to solve these problems, as well as educate the general population that all of our actions contribute to the quality of water flowing off our streets.”

This was third annual “First Flush” monitoring event in Monterey and Pacific Grove and the second annual event in Capitola and Santa Cruz. Unlike household sewage, storm drain pollution is not cleansed by sewage treatment plants and is one of the largest sources of pollution throughout the country.

The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network is a consortium of approximately 20 citizen monitoring groups that monitor the health of the Sanctuary. The network was established in 1997 and has since provided support, training, and a central forum and database for citizen monitoring programs. “First Flush” is a collaborative effort involving the network and the Coastal Watershed Council. Funding is provided by the sanctuary, and the cities of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Capitola and Santa Cruz.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stretches along 276 miles of central California coast and encompasses over 5,300 miles of ocean area. Renowned for its scenic beauty and remarkable productivity, the sanctuary supports one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems, including 33 species of marine mammals, 94 species of seabirds, 345 species of fishes and thousands of marine invertebrates and plants.

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP) seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, 13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources. In addition, the NMSP is conducting a sanctuary designation process to incorporate the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve into the national sanctuary system.

NOAA Oceans and Coastal Services (NOAA Oceans and Coasts) manages the National Marine Sanctuary Program and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation’s coasts and oceans. NOAA Oceans and Coasts balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards.

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

On the Web:


NOAA Oceans and Coastal Services:

Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network or see “First Flush 2002":

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary: