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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

Strict New Stormwater Runoff Rules Approved For San Diego

A sign warns beach-goers to stay out of the water because of contamination.

Photo by David McNew / Getty Images

Above: A sign warns beach-goers to stay out of the water because of contamination.

Toxins, sewage and trash regularly flow into San Diego's beaches and rivers by way of storm drains after a heavy rain. To combat the problem, San Diego Water regulators have approved strict new rules.

Toxins, sewage and trash regularly flow to San Diego's beaches and rivers by way of storm drains after a heavy rain. To combat the problem, San Diego Water regulators have approved strict new rules on storm water runoff.

Photo credit: San Diego County Department Of Health

2012 Beach Health Breakdown

Photo credit: San Diego County Department Of Health

2012 beach closure days in San Diego County.

The five-year Regional MS4 Permit, approved Wednesday, will require local governments across the county to reduce pollutants in storm drains, monitor clean-up results, and take action when goals aren't met.

Unlike previous permits in place since 1990, municipalities will be held accountable to reach clean water goals by using their own discretion to meet the mandated cleanup measures.

Storm water discharge permit holders have a wide range of cleanup strategies available, such as installing storm drain filters, street sweeping, increasing public awareness and using permeable street pavement materials to allow water to seep into the ground, said Wayne Chiu, water resource control engineer with the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.

"As we’ve developed our water sheds, we’ve created a lot of impervious surfaces," said Chiu. "We’ve got a lot of rooftops out there now, we’ve got a lot of streets and concrete cover on the environment, basically. All of that really concentrates pollutants and contaminants, makes it run off of the surface faster."

Chui said trash, bacteria and chemicals in storm drains pose a serious threat to human health and water ecosystems.

He said pollutants are tracked through a growing list, started in 1996.

"Back then there were maybe a couple dozen, now we’re up to more than 400 or close to 500 impaired water body pollutant combinations," said Chiu.

"We’re realizing that there are a lot more probems than we realized and a lot of that is attributed or partially attributed to runoff coming off of our developed areas," he added.

The approval followed a series of public hearings and workshops where environmental groups, businesses and local governments expressed input on the permit.

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