The Death of the Santa Margarita River

by Steve Parker , Electrical Engineer, Doctor of Pharmacy, Fallbrook , CA

Granite’s proposed Liberty Quarry, if allowed to proceed, will pollute and destroy the Santa Margarita River and no amount of “good intentions” will be able to prevent the destruction. The facts are as simple as slope, rain, gravity and pollution. There are thousands of documented similar cases with the same disastrous outcome. 17

The proposed quarry site is at 2000 feet msl (mean sea level) elevation, near the top of a twenty two mile long, continuous upslope from the Pacific Ocean . The last two miles of the upslope, from the Santa Margarita River to the quarry site is a very steep grade averaging 11.6%. 19 When a typical winter storm from the southwest comes through, the steep upslope causes the moist marine air to cool and condense as it moves east and rises. This produces rain. 20 In fact,

more rain is produced in the vicinity of the quarry site than anywhere in the area.

Mike and Susan Jurkoski live 1300 feet west of the quarry site at an elevation of 1400 feet msl. In a heavy rain year (about every four years) they get forty plus inches of rain. The last heavy rain year was last winter (2005-2006). A deluge of water poured from the quarry site and they have video to document the uncontrollable volume of water cascading downhill, to the Santa Margarita River.

Richard and Nita Delnay also live in the quarry vicinity at 1800 feet msl elevation. They have recorded over fifty inches of rain in a heavy year (about every four years, the last being winter 2005-2006). A simple linear extrapolation shows the quarry site gets sixty plus inches of rain in a heavy year (every four years). Sixty inches of rain is about four times the normal rainfall most local areas receive.


I have visited three of Granite’s operating quarries (Tracey, Indio , Chandler-Corona) and they are all very similarly situated: the lowest elevation in the immediate area, on the eastern or dry side of a mountain range and not in proximity to a major water source. The proposed Liberty Quarry site is quite the opposite: on the western or wet side of a mountain range near the highest elevation around and 1.25 miles east and 1600 feet above the Santa Margarita River. 19 Rain will carry the quarry surface pollution directly into the river. It would be difficult to imagine a quarry site that could inflict more damage than Granite’s Liberty Quarry site.

The quarry will be an active industrial site with thousands of truckloads of rock and asphalt being moved on a weekly basis. There will be surface pollution produced (diesel exhaust soot, asphalt residue, concrete residue, rubber remnants and more) and it will go downhill on the 11.6% grade, straight into the Santa Margarita River. In thousands of similar scenarios nothing has ever prevented runoff pollution. 17,19


  • Diesel exhaust particles (DEP) and diesel soot are two of the most serious pollution threats. 1,2,4,9
  • A significant portion of the DEP will remain within 150 meters of the quarry site and permeate all surfaces. 2,5
  • A City of Commerce rail-yard produces 153 tons of diesel soot per year and that may also approximate Liberty Quarry soot production. 13 If approximately 50% of the diesel soot remains at or near the quarry site that means about 76 tons of diesel soot on average will go into the Santa Margarita River every year.
  • Diesel exhaust contains over 450 different chemicals, over forty of which are known toxins. 14 The other 410 chemicals may also be toxic, mutagenic or teratogenic, they have yet to be tested. 15,16
  • The United States environmental Protection Agency has classified DEP as a likely human carcinogen. 2,15
  • The Southern California Air Quality Management District (AQMD) states there are 2400 hospitalizations and 5400 premature deaths per year due to DEP soot. 6
  • The California Air Resources Board states that DEP cause 70% of the state’s risk of cancer from airborne toxics and that DEP cause a 26% increase in mortality in people living near diesel pollution. 18
  • The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) states long term exposure to DEP possesses the highest cancer risk of any contaminant they evaluated. 15
  • The Clean Air Task Force calls DEP “one of the most significant public health risks out there”. 10
  • In addition to being carcinogenic, DEP are also mutagenic (causing chromosome mutations) and teratogenic (causing birth defects). 11,18
  • Diesel exhaust contains 3-nitrobenzanthrone, one of the most potent teratogens known. 9
  • Along with causing cancer, chromosome abnormalities and birth defects DEP cause many other health problems. 11,18
  • New evidence shows that when exposed to toxins the developing fetus is much more likely to develop an array of health problems later in life, including diabetes, attention deficit disorder, prostate cancer, fertility disorders, thyroid disorders, and obesity. 12
  • In California , diesel pollution related health costs are $18.3billion dollars per year. 18
  • On June 21, 2007 , Stephen L. Johnson, the EPA Chief, stated the current pollution standards are too weak to protect the public health and he recommended tougher limits on pollution. 9
  • It is a fact that there is no known safe level of exposure to DEP. 5


A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study published in 2003 states that forty percent of the headwaters of western rivers have been polluted by hard-rock mining. 17 This same study also identifies hard-rock mining as the largest source of watershed pollution in the United States .

It is not just a simple case of polluting a pristine river. The Santa Margarita River is the primary water source of the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Over fifty thousand military and civilian personnel depend on that water to be clean and safe.

The First Marine Division, based at Camp Pendleton , is one of our nation’s premier combat units and is a key element of any military rapid reaction scenario. Polluting the Santa Margarita River water supply will compromise the health and combat readiness of the First Marine Division. Granite’s Liberty Quarry will directly and adversely affect national security. Al Qaeda can relax, Granite will poison our own troops.

This is the West! Water has always been scarce and today it is probably our most precious commodity. Allowing Granite to pollute the Santa Margarita River is unconscionable.

Granite Construction is willing to risk the health, lives, livelihood and property of 350,000 residents to save some transportation costs on their products. 7 Granite is also willing to compromise the health and effectiveness of the First Marine Division for the same reason.

Granite’s extremely poor choice of a quarry site must not be allowed to degrade our entire area. Granite must find a different site.



  9. (A definitive work on diesel pollution, over 500 pages)
  15. http://oehha/ca/gov/public_info/facts/dieselfacts.html
  19. Temecula Quadrangle, 7.5 minute Topographic Series

1:24,000 USGS

20. U.S. Department of Transportation. Weather. Government Printing Office.


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