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November 29-December 6, 2006

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Courtesy Flush

For most, the first rains of winter offer an excuse to light up the fireplace, brew a cup of hot tea and relax. The 71 volunteers of First Flush, however, have no time for such luxuries. For them, the first downpour after a long dry season is relished as the perfect opportunity to jolt outside into the cold and wet.

The purpose of this group's reckless disregard for Mom's oldest piece of advice?

First Flush volunteers gather samples of runoff from storm drains leading to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) to be analyzed in labs for nitrate, orthophosphate, E Coli, metals and other materials harmful to the marine ecosystem.

If levels in any pollutant category have increased, they can usually be traced to specific activities and efforts can be made by the offending city to change the damaging behavior. If levels have gone down, cities know existing programs are working.

Bridget Hoover has been coordinating the volunteers since First Flush started seven years ago and has identified several pollution-prone "hot spots" that lead into MBNMS, a federally protected strip of ocean stretching the California coast from Marin to Cambria.

"We know where we have problems," says Hoover, whose volunteers collected samples from 25 locations this year from Oct. 4 through Nov. 9. "We are definitely focusing on those places to try to reduce the impacts during the First Flush."

Santa Cruz has consistently rated low in all categories besides orthophosphate, a naturally occurring chemical found in sewage, detergents and fertilizer. Hoover attributes part of the city's success to the Coastal Watershed Council, a city-funded group that provides financial, organizational and analytical support to First Flush.

The numbers for Santa Cruz are encouraging, but volunteers and experts like Hoover are working year-round to address problem areas with "targeted outreach" to further prevent run-off pollutants.

If prancing out into the nearest gutter during a rainstorm does not exactly strike your fancy, don't despair. There's still plenty you can do to reduce the pollution draining into our ocean.

"Anything you do outside, anything that gets applied in the yard, eventually gets flushed out into the ocean," Hoover warns. "Just have that mind-set, be aware and conscious, that it all ends up in the ocean."

To volunteer for next year's First Flush, call Bridget Hoover at 831.883.9303.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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