Rigorous new study finds significant water pollution from cattle ranching at Point Reyes National Seashore


For immediate release: September 1, 2022


Scott Webb, Turtle Island Restoration Network, (707) 921-8211, [email protected]

Laura Cunningham, Western Watersheds Project, (775) 513-1280, [email protected]

Chance Cutrano, Resource Renewal Institute, (415) 928-3774, [email protected]

Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185, [email protected]

Jack Gescheidt, Animal Advocacy, (415) 948-0057, [email protected]

Rigorous new study finds significant water pollution from cattle ranching at Point Reyes National Seashore

POINT REYES, Calif. – The most rigorous independent report on water quality ever conducted at Point Reyes National Seashore has just been released by the Turtle Island Restoration Network – and finds that water pollution dangerous to public health and the environment persists at Seashore. The report, produced by geoenvironmental engineer Douglas Lovell, documents consistent and significant pollution of water quality in this unit of the national park caused by subsidized private ranching.

The report comes a week before the California Coastal Commission is set to vote on whether to approve a water quality strategy prepared by the National Parks Service to address chronic water pollution caused by ranching. private in the West Coast’s only National Seashore. The Commission unanimously rejected a previous draft this spring.

Point Reyes is one of the few national parks that allows cattle ranching. Ranchers lease 28,000 acres, more than a third of National Park Service land in Point Reyes, where they graze 5,000 cattle and dairy cattle. The National Seashore is an hour’s drive from San Francisco Bay and received some 2.5 million visitors last year.

“The level of pollution is staggering, especially considering it’s happening on the California coast and in a national park,” said Scott Webb, director of advocacy and policy for the Marin-based Turtle Island Restoration Network. “I don’t care if it’s commercial agriculture or natural gas development, we have to stand up to private industry that continues to profit from the destruction of public lands, stop it.”

Lovell’s 2022 report is the first independent report that has surveyed all dairies with a sample large enough to meet current testing protocols. It found that eight popular destinations in the Drakes Bay, Drakes Estero, Kehoe and Abbotts watersheds had levels of bacteria that exceeded state standards. Some bacteria concentrations were more than 170 times higher than health standards for fecal coliforms.

The study found that wading, swimming, kayaking and other forms of water recreation in Kehoe Lagoon and Drakes Estero carry unacceptable health risks, as does shellfish harvesting in Drakes Estero. The study identified the discharge of livestock manure as the cause of the pollution.

“This water quality data should be of concern to everyone who knows and loves Point Reyes,” said Chance Cutrano, director of programs at the Resource Renewal Institute in Marin. “Environmental and regulatory issues continue to worsen at Point Reyes National Seashore, and this report reinforces the growing consensus that cattle and dairy farming in the national park is unsustainable.”

The report is the latest new information revealing the depth of substantial water pollution occurring in the National Seashore:

  • A Heal the Bay report published in June 2022 gave many seaside beaches an “F” grade due to poor water quality.
  • Inspections conducted by Marin County Environmental Health Services at two private dairy ranches found raw sewage was being discharged into the National Seashore and accumulating under the ranch workers’ quarters. Further inspections by the Marin County Environmental Health Department found that septic systems were substandard — or nonexistent — at 7 of 16 ranches inspected.
  • Last July, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Board released its 2022 Confined Animal Inspection Reports, which identified the need for immediate corrective action at 4 of 6 dairies operating in the Seashore.

These results are consistent with the last time the National Park Service tested water quality, from 1999 to 2013. The results were used in a 2017 report released by the Center for Biological Diversity that ranked Point Reyes National Seashore in the top 10% of the United States. places most contaminated with faeces.

“Manure, fecal coliforms and E. coli runoff from cattle farms earned Point Reyes National Seashore a high spot on the ignominious list of America’s Craziest Places for 2017,” said Jeff Miller. , a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “This level of water pollution, which threatens aquatic habitat and public health, should not be happening anywhere, and certainly not in a national park.”

This new report expands on Lovell’s 2021 Water Quality Report, which found unsafe levels of fecal bacterial contamination in surface waters that significantly exceeded state water quality guidelines. The Western Watersheds Project commissioned Lovell to sample five sites that the National Park Service stopped monitoring in 2013. State officials found the results concerning, but suggested more data was needed to draw conclusions.

The new report analyzes 125 samples, collected from 14 monitoring events and conducted by more than 30 rigorously trained volunteers who were supervised and led by Lovell between October 2021 and January 2022. It followed the quality testing methodologies of the defined by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Board, California State Water Resources Control Board and US Environmental Protection Agency.

“For years, the problem of water pollution on Seashore coves and beaches has lingered, affecting salmon and marine life,” said Laura Cunningham, California director of the Western Watersheds Project. “Manure management is not working and runoff after torrential rains is contributing to human health risks in National Seashore creeks and the ocean. The Park Service needs to do better.

The Coast Commission has tried to hold the Park Service accountable since April 2021, when it gave conditional approval to the park’s controversial plan to extend the leases of 24 commercial cattle and dairy operators for 20 years. To gain Commission approval, the Park Service had to submit a water quality strategy by April 2022 to address pollution in the National Seashore. At this last meeting in April, the Commission voted unanimously to reject the previous version of the plan because of its inadequacy.

“This latest report, the most comprehensive water quality test in a decade, shows once again that having thousands of private cows in one national park unit is a bad idea,” said Jack Gescheidt, consultant Tule Elk for In Defense of Animals. “Millions of gallons of annual cattle feces and urine inevitably end up in park waterways where an unsuspecting public wades, paddles and splashes. Point Reyes is the antithesis of the pristine haven for wild animals — and visiting humans — that the public expects in America’s national parks.

On September 8, the Coastal Commission will consider the Park Service’s second attempt at a water quality strategy, which could have massive ramifications for the future of the Seashore.

Link to water quality report

Link to media

Photo credit must be given to Sarah Killingsworth, (415) 314-6977, [email protected]


Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) is a global non-profit ocean conservation organization based in Olema, California, whose mission is to inspire and mobilize people around the world to protect marine biodiversity and the oceans that sustain all life on Earth.

The Resource Renewal Institute (RRI) is a Marin County-based nonprofit environmental organization that combines education, advocacy, organizational development, and sustainability analysis to leverage the global adoption of long-term environmental management strategies. for the benefit of natural resources, wildlife and society. .

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places.

Western Watersheds Project is a non-profit environmental conservation group that seeks to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and advocacy legal.

In Defense of Animals is an international animal welfare organization based in Marin County, California, with over 250,000 supporters and a 39-year history of fighting for animals, people and the environment through education, campaigns and practical rescue facilities.


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