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Posted: April 21, 2021 at 12:26 pm

Photo by Ray Hiemstra

We are thrilled to announce the return of our Spotlight segment!

As our Swim Guide Affiliate program continues to grow, we would like to share the exciting and diverse work that other affiliates in the community do with all of you.

For this Swim Guide Spotlight, we reached out to Ray Hiemstra from Orange County Coastkeeper to learn more about their industrial sites and stormwater sampling.

Orange County Coastkeeper affiliate profile

Where: California, U.S.

Number of regions: 1

Number of sites: 66

Sampling season: Year round

Sampling frequency: Once a week

Swim Guide Affiliate since: 2012



*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Or: Tell me about yourself and your relationship with Orange County Coastkeeper.

Ray: My name is Ray Hiemstra. I am the director of programs for Orange County Coastkeeper. I’ve been working at Coastkeeper for about 20 years. Before this position, I worked in the dairy industry, working at industrial plants and processing facilities.


Or: So you replaced one liquid for another?

Ray: (Laughs) Kind of; I am Dutch, so I think I was destined to work with dairy in some way or another. Throughout my career, I did everything from receiving milk, processing, pasteurizing, and even making yogurt. I worked on every step, and that gave me a lot of insight into industrial operations.


Or: That’s very interesting. During your career, did you notice any failures or issues to do with water pollution?

Ray: Absolutely, several issues come to mind. Our company was actually sued by an environmental organization once. Even though there are regulations about what kinds of chemicals or milk products can go down the drain, there is very little enforcement. Failures do happen.


Or: Tell me about Orange County Coastkeeper’s water monitoring programs.

Ray: There are two components to our water data collection. The first is the surrounding water monitoring, which is focused on the creeks and rivers in our watershed. The second is the industrial stormwater monitoring. This is used to identify and confirm pollution from significant polluters in our area.

We knew that to be successful in our litigation efforts, we need robust and reliable water contamination proof. That is why we started collecting water data directly from the source, rather than just using reported data.


Or: Right, that makes sense. And once you identify the potential polluters, you don’t test for the same thing on every site, correct?

Ray: Correct. The main sectors we investigate are housing developers, metal recycling companies, mining operations, sand and gravel operations, and waste haulers. Each of those has different polluters. For example, for the sand and gravel, we test for PH. With the clay mines and metal recycling facilities, we look for Aluminum, Copper, Zinc, Iron, Lead etc.


Or: So when you have a big enough rain event, the teams go in their Batmobiles to test the sites?

Ray: (Laughs) We joke about that. We have the Coastkeeper van, and we joke about doing the monitoring with that van. But essentially, that’s how it works. We hired and trained employees, specifically for this type of monitoring.

I would like to add that what we are doing is perfectly legal. We collect water samples from public streets. If a facility discharges stormwater into the public system, we are within our rights to collect a sample and document what we find.


Or: What happens with this data once it’s collected?

Ray: We are always ready to take polluters to court with our findings. Although, a more preferable result for us is when the company is interested in cleaning up their act.

I collected samples from one particular spot, and when we gave them notice that there was possible litigation. They actually gave us a tour of their facility. We ended up working together and advising them about how to improve their practices. That is a real win-win for us.


Or: Would you recommend targeted sampling to other Waterkeepers?

Ray: Absolutely. It is a powerful tool in litigation. I would recommend starting with your surrounding water, though. It’s essential to start with monitoring your creeks and rivers. Once you have an understanding of where the problems are, you can start doing the targeted sampling.

I would also encourage monitoring programs to really look for the sites that are not being monitored by their health units, but are being used recreationally. It is vital to keep an eye on those sites and keep them as safe as possible.


Or: That is an excellent point as well. Thank you so much for taking the time doing this interview, Ray. I truly enjoyed our talk.

Ray: Great! Me too. It was nice to meet you. Take it easy.



Thank you again, Ray Hiemstra, for the fantastic work you do at Orange County Coastkeeper. I would also like to thank Cristina Robinson, the education coordinator at Orange County Coastkeeper, for making this interview possible.

If you would like to be featured on the Swim Guide spotlight series, or you know of an exciting water conservation program you would like us to future, please contact Or Denemark at or@swimdrinkfish.ca.

 
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