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Environmentalists Oppose New Stormwater Permit Rules

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Clean water advocates want to roll back a new requirement the prevents citizen groups from suing cities that are developing stormwater pollution control plans.

San Diego clean water advocates hope state officials will help them regain the right to take polluting cities to court.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board angered environmentalists when the panel adopted changes to a sweeping stormwater pollution permit.

Photo credit: City of San Diego Storm Drain Insert Pilot Study report

This curb inlet basket is one of the types of inlets used to filter stormwater directly at the drain.

That amendment keeps cities from being sued while they develop their stormwater pollution control plan. Matt O'Malley, a lawyer for San Diego Coastkeeper, explained that the change basically says that trying is good enough.

O'Malley said that's not what federal clean water rules say.

"We're all, right now, in noncompliance with the permits. Because they essentially require you to meet water quality standards. So they're saying you are not meeting those standards but you need a plan moving forward," O'Malley said.

San Diego County officials disagree. They said, in a statement, that progress is being made.

"The permit provision in question holds cities and counties, and therefore taxpayers, liable for pollution that is conveyed by stormwater systems into local water bodies such as rivers, lakes, or the ocean. What the Regional Water Board has offered in its recent permit amendment is not elimination of enforcement, but an alternative path to compliance for one specific permit provision."

The statement continued.

"The County and other municipalities have been making great strides over the last two decades to improve water quality through practical and innovative approaches to managing stormwater. We have recently collaborated with multiple agencies, the Regional Board, and the public to develop plans that are ready for implementation and will continue to improve water quality over time.

County officials said the prospect of facing lawsuits as cities work to develop systems that control stormwater pollution would only get in the way of their clean water goals.

That's not what O'Malley sees.

"As far as we're concerned, we're not meeting our water quality standards," O'Malley said. "And we don't think that cities and counties and jurisdictions are doing enough to meet their obligations under the permit. And this essentially gives them a pass if they come up with some sort of long term plan."

O'Malley said citizens groups need the right to sue so they can make sure enforcement goals are met.

The water board will likely consider the request to overturn the amendment early next year.

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Photo of Erik Anderson

Erik Anderson
Environment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI focus on the environment and all the implications that a changing or challenging environment has for life in Southern California. That includes climate change, endangered species, habitat, urbanization, pollution and many other topics.

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