Keeping Manure Out of San Juan Creek

San_Juan_Creek_1.JPGSan Juan Creek pollution threatens our communities

For years, horse manure and other harmful pollutants have discharged into San Juan Creek, contaminating water all the way to Doheny State Beach – one of the most polluted beaches in California. Contaminated discharges from horse facilities contribute to high levels of bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorus harming San Juan Creek, including critical habitat for Southern California Coast Steelhead – an endangered fish species. Kids run the risk of getting sick from splashing in the water contaminated by bacteria and by facilities that don’t satisfy standards for properly managing pollution.

Clean Water Act Violations at Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park at San Juan Capistrano and the Arizona Crossing

Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park at San Juan Capistrano is a 40-acre equestrian riding park in San Juan Capistrano that sits next to the San Juan Creek. Last year, we received complaints about polluted water coming from the Riding Park, and we launched an investigation to determine whether these discharges violated the Clean Water Act.

Our investigation uncovered multiple violations of the Clean Water Act at the Riding Park, Reata Park and Arizona Crossing areas — a manmade road through San Juan Creek. These include: 

  • Discharging pollution into the San Juan Creek – including greywater, sewage and trash
  • Failing to receive a dredge and fill permit for activities in San Juan Creek and onsite wetlands
  • Threatening local water quality by failing to properly regulate discharges under the stormwater permit 

Putting a Band-Aid on Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park’s Pollution Problem Doesn’t Work

In response to public complaints, the Riding Park’s operator – Blenheim Facility Management – and the City of San Juan Capistrano implemented quick-fixes that do not adequately address the problem.

For example, several wash racks used to clean horses after events are located adjacent to San Juan Creek and illegally discharged contaminated wash water directly into the Creek. These discharges contain pollutants contributing to excessive levels of pollution in San Juan Creek. To respond to state regulators, the illegal wash-rack discharges were redirected to temporary holding tanks. Coastkeeper has documented continued discharges from these holding tanks to San Juan Creek, meaning the same problem is happening, just through a more cloaked system.

Blenheim has also expanded its footprint beyond the Riding Park’s property line and into sensitive habitat areas along San Juan Creek. The Riding Park’s operators used dirt, sand and debris to fill portions of San Juan Creek and onsite wetlands without consulting with state and federal regulators and without obtaining necessary permits. Areas where the fill has occurred along San Juan Creek are not structurally sound and regularly slide towards the creek. Several of the Riding Park’s horse-wash racks and 3,000 gallon holding tanks are located in this dangerously unstable area.

The Arizona Crossing is a manmade road through San Juan Creek connecting Reata Park and the Riding Park. Located in protected and sensitive habitat, the un-permitted Arizona Crossing is composed of construction debris, asphalt, broken concrete, metal and corrugated pipe. Since construction, the Arizona Crossing restricted the flow of San Juan Creek, harming water quality and habitat. The Arizona Crossing was washed out during the 2017 winter rains, leaving a hazardous debris field downstream and the remnants of a failed road continuing to harm the creek.

Coastkeeper’s Response

Even after the City and Blenheim took some action, we continued to receive complaints from our members. Because no real, long-term solutions were put into place to protect our waters, Coastkeeper submitted a notice letter to the City and Blenheim at the end of March, intending to file suit over violations of the Clean Water Act occurring at the Riding Park and the Arizona Crossing. Coastkeeper's legal team met with officials of the City of San Juan Capistrano and then toured the riding park facility with City representatives and Blenheim representatives.

Because no clear plan to address the multiple issues was put in place, on June 2 Coastkeeper filed a Clean Water Act complaint in Federal Court against both the City and Blenheim. We are confident in our legal position to enforce the Clean Water Act and will amend our action as we learn more. We are committed to establishing meaningful, long-term solutions that meet all state and federal environmental laws in order to protect marine life and our families from harmful pollution.


Showing 17 reactions

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  • commented 2017-08-01 22:59:50 -0700
    So now, 4 additional “anonymous” complaints have been filed against Rio Vista Stables, Sycamore Stables, John Berney Equestrian and Equites Riding Club. Will Coastkeepers be happy when there are NO MORE HORSES in San Juan? Or when you have fleeced every stable in town?
  • commented 2017-07-28 10:20:27 -0700
    I have seen ALL of the documents and have copies of most…THAT DOES NOT MAKE THEM TRUTH!!! It simply means that someone (Coast Keeper) has filed papers and can say ANYTHING they want to and make ANY allegation you want to make up…..AGAIN, my complaint about you guys….you SPIN stuff really well but it is lies and this last post of yours is a great example. Just because YOU filed it does not make it real or the “TRUTH”!!!! AGAIN, I say let me know when you want the horse saddled up for you to ride your sorry butts out of town. You post this stuff like it is the “TRUTH” but is ONLY your opinion and you are willing to sue to get a $$$ settlement and go to the next one. Point made!!!!
  • commented 2017-07-26 20:40:26 -0700
    Hi Kathy Hobstetter,

    All complaints filed with the City of San Juan Capistrano are available to the public. Anyone can request them and see the truth for themselves.

    http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/sandiego/about_us/contact_us/records.shtml
  • commented 2017-07-21 13:28:03 -0700
    Coastkeepers…. referring me to YOUR article and citing it as “research” is way past laughable…IT A COAST KEEPER JOURNALISTIC WRITING THAT IS YOU POSTING YOUR OPINION AGAIN AND AGAIN, AND POSTING IT AS FACT!!!!!

    AGAIN, you don’t cease to amaze me. I want to see GOVERNMENT documents of citations and violations regarding your accusations….not YOUR opinion…..or AT LEAST BE HONEST AND STATE IT AS YOUR OPINION!!!!

    To continue to push and push your agenda (which is sue and settle and take the money and move to the next lawsuit) and state LIES as FACT is in my opinion a violation of simple integrity and honesty. IF YOU WOULD LIKE AN EDUCATION TO THE MEANING OF THOSE WORDS just go to a dictionary. The ONLY picture in your “research” you so proudly pointed me to, is a picture of the creek crossing damage that is recent and a result of the terrible rains we had this spring and to post that and claim it is a long time/unaddressed contaminate and public water quality danger to the public and Dana Point water quality is actually a COMPLETE LIE….but that is the way this mess started, with 2 friends of yours causing trouble with their lies, sending you as the henchman party and now you jump on their deceitful claims and go after the money. Just follow the money grab trail and it leads to your Coast Keepers.

    SHAME ON YOU….I CAN SADDLE UP A HORSE FOR YOU TO RIDE OUT OF TOWN ON ANYTIME, LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN ON BEING HONEST and riding out, we really don’t need your kind in these parts!!!!!!
  • commented 2017-07-20 17:53:27 -0700
    Hey Kathy Hobstetter, we want to assure you we did a thorough investigation and presented our research to the City. You can learn more about what we found here. http://www.coastkeeper.org/protecting_the_waters_of_san_juan_creek_protects_us_all
  • commented 2017-07-20 15:37:17 -0700
    Hi Steve Behmerwohld, thanks for the feedback and we’d like to help clarify. In any instances where we didn’t use the term “alleged,” that word was not necessary because we are simply referring to facts.
  • commented 2017-07-20 10:41:46 -0700
    OH DEAR LORD!!!!! Coast Keepers should be the poster child for misrepresenting and miss-stating facts!! WITHOUT A STUDY OF ANY KIND OR ANY DOCUMENTATION you use and make accusations, statements and innuendos as though you are speaking the truth and fact…. “We are using legal enforcement to stop the high amounts of pollution coming from the Riding Park”.. Where is heavens name do you have PROOF and documentation of the “HIGH AMOUNTS” from the Riding Park??? YOU DON"T!!! I think your best statement is “we are using the legal system”, YES YOU ARE. ANYONE can file a lawsuit or an unsubstantiated compliant and do insurmountable damage to a community. I go back to my statement..SHAME ON YOU, PLEASE GO AHEAD AND RIDE YOUR BUTTS ON OUT OF TOWN!!!!

    Shame on you!!! I will only finish this by saying, AGAIN, to everyone reading it….search Google and DO YOUR RESEARCH ON EXACTLY WHO THESE PEOPLE ARE, I sure would not want to be friends or neighbors with any of them!
    Kathy Hobstetter
  • commented 2017-07-19 23:16:31 -0700
    Coastkeeper, thanks for starting to attempt to use the term “ALLEGED”. When you state as fact, “after years of the City failing to adequately address the chronic water quality issue from the Riding Park”, you forgot to use “ALLEGED”!
  • commented 2017-07-18 17:44:36 -0700
    Thank you for your comment Steve Behmerwohld. Coastkeeper got involved in the fall of 2016 after years of the City failing to adequately address the chronic water quality issue from the Riding Park. Local residents and others notified Coastkeeper of the pollution and we performed our own investigation. After conducting multiple site visits and reviewing publicly available information from regulatory agencies, Coastkeeper confirmed the public complaints and uncovered additional violations of the Clean Water Act.

    To learn more about this effort to stop this serious water pollution problem, please see our follow-up blog to this post.

    http://www.coastkeeper.org/protecting_the_waters_of_san_juan_creek_protects_us_all
  • commented 2017-07-18 17:42:57 -0700
    Thank you for your comment Sara Shelton. We are concerned about all types of water pollution. To address those issues you mentioned we provide education and promote methods such as conservation. We encourage you to check out our other programs such as education or SmartScape to learn more.

    To learn more about the chronic issues of operating a large-scale equestrian event center with out proper permits or best management practices, please see our follow-up blog to this post.

    http://www.coastkeeper.org/protecting_the_waters_of_san_juan_creek_protects_us_all
  • commented 2017-07-18 17:42:13 -0700
    Thank you for your comment Kathy Hobstetter. We encourage you to report the pollution you are documenting on your walk as it takes all of us doing our part to ensure clean water in Orange County.

    We are using legal enforcement to stop the high amounts of pollution coming from the Riding Park because contaminated water from horse facilities contributes to high levels of bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorus harming San Juan Creek, including critical habitat for Southern California Coast Steelhead – an endangered fish species. In addition, families run the risk of getting sick from splashing in the water contaminated by bacteria from facilities that don’t satisfy standards for properly managing pollution.

    Orange County Coastkeeper is a non-profit organization that fights for clean water in Orange County. Our enforcement efforts have resulted in more than $2 million going back into the community for local projects of other organizations that improve our environment and water quality.

    For more information, please visit our latest blog that has more information on the case.

    http://www.coastkeeper.org/protecting_the_waters_of_san_juan_creek_protects_us_all
  • commented 2017-07-18 17:39:43 -0700
    Thank you for your comment Maureen Auerswald. We are glad that you care about clean water as well.

    Coastkeeper decided to file its lawsuit after Blenheim and the City failed to adequately respond to the Coastkeeper’s “Notice of Intent” letters to both parties informing them of Coastkeeper’s allegations. The evidence of years of violations of the Clean Water Act, coupled with the City’s failure to take Coastkeeper’s allegations seriously, led Coastkeeper to move forward with its lawsuit.

    For more information, please visit our latest blog that has more information on the case.

    http://www.coastkeeper.org/protecting_the_waters_of_san_juan_creek_protects_us_all
  • commented 2017-07-18 13:11:53 -0700
    As a long time resident of Dana Point I love to be in the water on the water next to the water…I don’t want it to be anything but clean.

    I love and enjoy horses and for years have been part of this community. The local equestrian community cares about this issue… to state otherwise is just plain B.S. As other’s have pointed out Why go straight to lawsuits? Where’s the remediation suggestions?
    Come on be helpful and civil.
  • commented 2017-07-12 16:52:02 -0700
    Are you guys in “Coast Keepers” just plain off your old rockers!!!!!! This is obviously a very sad witch hunt full of lies and a really bad representation of THE TRUTH ABOUT businesses and people who truly are concerned about our coast and REALLY want to protect the water fairly and without bias. I am quite ‘old’ but take my walking stick and camera and have been for LONG walks on the riverbed where it runs right behind downtown San Juan Capistrano and down past CostCo, AND GOES ON INTO THE DOHENY BEACH ocean.

    IF you guys (Coast Keepers) are truly and honestly concerned about water quality you would have started there and you would have started there years ago! I have seen and taken videos and pictures of grocery store carts overflowing with rotting garbage laying sideways there, broken bottles, LOTS of plastic, LOTS and LOTS of trash IN the water that has obviously been there for many many months, dogs doing their ‘duty’ there, a kid letting their pet PIG play in the water, a homeless camp where the guys were sitting around and throwing cigarettes and garbage into the water and even a guy peeing down there. There are BIG heaps of very old trash, blankets etc that OBVIOUSLY washed down in the rains over the winter, you can see the water line from this years bad winter rain….etc. I could go on and on.

    You (Coast Keepers) filed a lawsuit simply and plainly to get MONEY and you think you are not transparent about it. Your intentions are clearly not in the best interest of the community or water quality…it is a plain and simple MONEY GRAB. As a resident of this area I am ashamed and saddened Coast Keepers is trying to represent me and others. We really don’t need you, your lies, your miss-representations and suggest you get on out of here.

    Shame on you!!! I will only finish this by saying to everyone reading it….search Google and DO YOUR RESEARCH ON EXACTLY WHO THESE PEOPLE ARE, I sure would not want to be friends or neighbors with any of them!
    Kathy Hobstetter
  • followed this page 2017-07-07 14:07:35 -0700
  • commented 2017-07-01 17:07:10 -0700
    Coast keepers are looking to blame horses for every bit of pollution. What about dogs in the creek or runoff from all the homes using pesticides and fertilizers. Get real…
  • commented 2017-06-29 19:40:19 -0700
    The first sentence from the Coastkeeper blog, says, “For years, horse manure and other harmful pollutants have discharged into San Juan Creek, contaminating water all the way to Doheny State Beach – one of the most polluted beaches in California.”. I’ve been informed that Coastkeeper only recently got involved in this issue. How can they say (as fact), that this problem has existed for years? Their statement about Doheny, being one of the most polluted beaches in Ca., is pulled from a four year old BLOG. If you look at current info: http://ocbeachinfo.com/danapoint/, you’ll see quite the opposite. Does Coastkeeper have any scientific study showing that ANYTHING from ANY equestrian facility in San Juan ever reaches Doheny?
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