Rick Erkeneff. Photo: Andrea Swayne
South Coast Water District Board of Directors member, Rick Erkeneff, takes time with the Dana Point Times to talk water. Photo: Andrea Swayne

Compiled by Andrea Swayne

As an avid surfer, South Coast Water District director and chairman of the Surfrider Foundation South Orange County Chapter, it’s safe to say Rick Erkeneff cares about and knows a lot about water.

We caught up with Erkeneff at his Dana Point home for a quick question and answer session on ocean water quality and our threatened water supply. Here’s what he had to say:

Dana Point Times: What should Southern California residents know about the drought and future water availability?

RE: The majority of our water supply comes from Northern California and the Colorado River, so we are not only at the mercy of decades of dry years but also north vs. south politics, agricultural vs. residential use, and the most catastrophic of possibilities, a large earthquake. Such an event could knock out the aqueducts that bring the water to our region leaving us without supply for months or longer.

DPT: What are three important things should SoCal residents know about ocean pollution?

RE: First, our local ocean water quality is most affected in areas where watersheds drain into the ocean. The majority of dry-season pollution is transported by streams and creeks in the form of “urban runoff” from overuse and misuse of water outside our homes and within our cities. The water that makes it to the storm drains transports toxins directly to our coastal environment. Everything from engine oil and pet waste to fertilizers and pesticides cause environmental degradation. Next, among plastic pollution, polystyrene (Styrofoam) makes up the overwhelming majority of what we pick up during beach cleanups. Third, off-shore “fracking” for natural gas, occurring right now in SoCal waters, allows for the dumping of highly toxic waste water directly into the ocean.

DPT: How are we in SoCal actually a bit ahead of the game as opposed to NorCal?

RE: With regard to the drought, SoCal learned a hard lesson from the drought back in the late 1970s and Southern California water agencies have been planning for dry years such as we are experiencing today. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in large water storage reservoirs, expanded use of recycled water programs, conservation projects and the conversion to low-flow highly efficient home appliances and landscape options. This is not so for Northern California. We are actually better prepared.

DPT: How are the issues of water availability and ocean water quality intertwined and why should we care?

RE: Our local ocean water quality is linked to urban runoff and the drought has brought efficiency to the forefront of the conversation. Our local communities, and those up the watershed, are actively drying up urban runoff. Beaches like Doheny have seen much improved water quality because of these dry years as people take conservation more seriously.

DPT: What can the average person do to affectively address both issues?

RE: The Orange County Water Smart Home Program offers the opportunity to certify your house as a Water Smart Home. Participating in a free home water survey will score your home’s water use efficiency and identify potential water savings needed. Recommendations will include money- and water-saving rebates and no-cost activities that can help you become more water efficient. I encourage everybody to schedule a free survey. You can find out more about the Water Smart Home Program at www.mwdoc.com/services/watersmarthome.

Rick Erkeneff has served as a volunteer for the Surfrider Foundation South Orange County Chapter as chairman for more than a decade and was elected to the South Coast Water District board of directors in 2012. He can be reached by email at rerkeneffscwd@gmail.com.

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