Campus: San Diego State University -- August 25, 2004

SDSU Breaks Ground on Coastal Waters Laboratory

Researchers Aim for Facility to Become Premier Water Quality Lab in Southern California

Today San Diego State University, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the San Diego Metropolitan Wastewater Department (MWWD) celebrated breaking ground on an $8 million water quality research and analysis facility that SDSU researchers hope to develop into Southern California's main research hub for studying the health of the coastal marine ecosystem.

"When people think of San Diego, they picture its beautiful coastline, its great swimming beaches, and the San Diego Bay. But what they may not realize is that San Diego's coastal waters are increasingly threatened by pollution from urban runoff and other developmental pressures which can degrade beach water quality and diminish marine biodiversity," says Rick Gersberg, director of the SDSU Coastal and Marine Institute. "With this lab, we'll be much more closely linked to the coastal problems we're trying to solve and more able to focus on how to preserve our invaluable coastal zone resources."

The Coastal Waters Laboratory, a 40,000 square foot two-story building located on a site at the former Naval Training Center with access to San Diego Bay, will feature a research facilities and offices, an 11,500-square-foot outdoor marine biology aquarium and seawater system, plus facilities for divers and docks for SDSU's research boats. The schedule for completion is spring 2005.

Brian Hentschel, SDSU Assistant Professor and Marine Invertebrate Ecologist in the Biology Department can't wait to have access to the seawater system. "The seawater and aquarium facilities are a critical component of the new building, complementing our campus labs and allowing our research programs to grow. We believe the expansion of our marine facilities will make San Diego State University one of the premier marine biology programs in California," said Hentschel.

The Coastal Waters Laboratory is a product of many levels of collaboration that will continue after the complex is built. MWWD worked with the San Diego State University Foundation to facilitate development on land provided by the City of San Diego with the closure of the former Naval Training Center. In addition, SDSU and the USGS's Water Resources Division will share space in the building and work on joint projects. The Coastal Waters Laboratory also is being built next to MWWD's Environmental Monitoring and Technical Services Laboratory, which will enhance information exchange among the different organizations on water-related initiatives.

"The new Coastal Waters Laboratory is a model for partnership," U.S. Geological Survey Director Chip Groat said. "It will be a state-of-the-art facility that will greatly benefit the faculty and students of San Diego State University, the scientists and partners of USGS and the San Diego Metropolitan Wastewater Department. I believe that this is the right laboratory in the right place at the right time, and I commend the SDSU Foundation for the vital role they have played."

Gersberg, a professor of environmental health in SDSU's Graduate School of Public Health and a member of the San Diego Mayor's Clean Water Task Force, said the Coastal Waters Laboratory will be one of the first in California to look not only at water quality issues on the coast, but also explore inland sources of marine pollution that may originate in these watersheds far from the coast, but still can degrade coastal recreation and marine diversity. "To have the city, USGS and the university working together to form a "coastal-zone campus" focused on these coastal zone issues right here in the region makes eminent sense," he said.

SDSU's Coastal & Marine Institute, established in the early 1990s from its predecessor, the Center for Marine Studies, has a multifaceted mission: to study processes that affect the coastal and marine environment; to educate students and the public; and to provide advice on the wise use and management of natural resources. It also coordinates the Oceanography and Marine Studies degree programs at San Diego State University.

The Coastal Waters Laboratory will be the latest off-campus research facility affiliated with the Institute, joining the Pacific Estuarine Research Laboratory, which has operations at the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve near the international border; and the Center for Inland Waters at the Salton Sea.

SDSU's researchers will use the facility to help them look at bacteria and viruses in coastal waters and evaluate their risk to human health during swimming and surfing; analyze chemical pollution, such as from pesticides and metals, and their risk to wildlife, as well as monitor the health and function and diversity of the ecosystem - an effort that will be greatly facilitated by the new seawater system to be built at the new lab.

The Coastal Waters Laboratory will also serve as a home base for boats used in SDSU's diving instruction courses and marine biology research, and as a specimen collection facility to store and examine marine life organisms and specimens.

Pacific Cornerstone Architects designed the Coastal Waters Laboratory; the general contractor is Ledcor Petty Construction. The project is being financed with non-state tax exempt bonds.

SDSU is designated a "Doctoral/Research University-Intensive" by the Carnegie Foundation, placing it among the top 6.7 percent of higher education institutions in the U.S. SDSU faculty, with support from the SDSU Foundation, have received a total of more than a half-billion dollars in external funding through research grants and contracts in the last four years.

Contact: Jennifer Zwiebel, SDSU Marketing & Communications, (619) 594-4298,

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