Know Your H20, Low Impact Development
May 17 2013

Progressive Stormwater Permit Approved In San Diego

by Julia Chunn-Heer

On May 8th, 2013 the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) unanimously approved a new regional MS4 permit implementing a watershed-based approach to stormwater management with an increased reliance on Low Impact Development (LID). 

The stormwater permit update, which happens every five years, was not without controversy for the San Diego region. The proposed draft permit moved the region from individual permits for municipalities (copermittees) to a single regional permit with a watershed-based approach. Not only that, but after years of failed attempts to truly clean up local water bodies the new permit moves from “action-oriented” compliance to “outcome-oriented” compliance. If the water is not clean, copermittees are in violation. That shift was perhaps the greatest point of contention, copermittees were terrified of a flurry of litigation if they were not immediately in compliance, even though they have had more than 20 years to reach that point. In response to those concerns, a “safe harbor” clause was added to the draft permit.

The “safe harbor” clause would have given copermittees an alternate path to compliance; as long as they came up with a plan to one day be in compliance they would have been safe from enforcement action. Obviously, after years of waiting for clean water, the safe harbor clause was a poison pill for environmentalists, and it had to be removed from the otherwise strong permit. After three full days of public hearings (two in April and one in May), hearing countless hours of testimony from interested parties and public comment from more than 25 Surfrider activists, the Regional Board finally came to a decision late in the evening on May 8th. The RWQCB unanimously decided to approve the new regional MS4 permit without the “safe harbor” clause, and few other minor changes.

With an increased reliance on Low Impact Development (LID) the new regulations are a big step forward in actually achieving clean water standards. In the coming years, hopefully surfers and swimmers will have to worry less about ear infections, and will be able surf after it rains.  This is a huge victory as contaminated stormwater is the largest contributor to ocean pollution and the reason we are not supposed to surf for 72 hours after a rain event. Hopefully, Regional Boards across the county will follow suit and will implement equally progressive stormwater permits.

For more, check out these articles on the recently approved controversial stormwater permit:

Strict new stormwater runoff rules approved for San Diego KPBS San Diego
Regulators approve new standards on cleaning up stormwater Union-Tribune
New runoff pollution rules too costly? San Diego Union-Tribune

For information from the EPA about reducing stormwater costs through Low Impact Development (LID) click here.