Forcing mega corporations to clean up San Diego Bay. Making city officials speed up their work on crumbling sewer pipes. Helping to usher in a new era of water conservation for the region with an unprecedented water-recycling plan.

San Diego Coastkeeper, a nonprofit with a handful of employees and a small boat, has realized these achievements with 20 years of dogged lobbying, diplomacy and litigation.

The group, which its members affectionately describe as “the biggest little environmental organization nobody’s ever heard of,” is marking its anniversary in a region that hasn’t always welcomed its efforts.

While Coastkeeper has provided a model for environmental activism, its future success could require its own evolution. After seeing its budget sliced in half because of the Great Recession, the group now hopes to rebuild while continuing its legacy.

“Threats always come from new and unexpected places,” said Coastkeeper’s interim executive director, Travis Pritchard. “To fix these problems, we can pull from our experience. But we must learn, be nimble and think creatively to develop solutions that will work for each unique problem.”

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