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San 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.