San Diego makes huge investment in stormwater infrastructure with EPA loan
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria on Tuesday signed off on a loan with the Environmental Protection Agency to fix up the city’s aging storm drain system.
The loan will allow for up to $733 million to be invested in stormwater infrastructure projects over the next five years. It's one of the biggest infrastructure investments in recent years. The mayor's signature kicked off the first installment of $225 million.
The loan will fund more than 80 projects.
“Our storm drain system is largely underground and out of sight, but the implications of this aging infrastructure failing are massive – from serious flooding in our neighborhoods to pollution of our bays and the ocean,” Gloria said in a statement. “While replacing storm drains and upgrading pump stations doesn’t capture the public’s attention like fixing potholes, these major investments in critical infrastructure are incredibly important to our neighborhoods and quality of life.”
That was demonstrated last weekend when the remnant of Hurricane Kay brought some much-needed rain to the region.
“After a rain like the one we had this weekend, we see a lot of visible and invisible pollutants like pet waste, plastics, metals, other chemicals from runoff,” said Lucero Sanchez with the San Diego Coastkeeper, an environmental group dedicated to protecting the region’s waterways.
She said it's a start, but because of the $274 million deficit in stormwater infrastructure each year, the city needs to come up with a long-term solution.
"Yes, $733 million is a lot, but ... it's only a drop in the bucket when it comes to the stormwater infrastructure we need," Sanchez said. "It's continuing to grow every single year.”
The city has a $1.4 billion dollar stormwater infrastructure deficit. The EPA loan will cover roughly 49% of the deficit. The rest of the 51% will come from grants, loans and "other financing methods," according to the city.
Bethany Bezak, interim Stormwater Department director, said the low-interest loan will help improve residents' quality of life.
“What will be funded under this loan include pipe repair projects, pipes in the ground that have failed, stormwater restoration, rehabilitation, watershed projects that will really benefit ultimately the environment and the citizens of San Diego,” she said.
The projects funded will help reduce pollution in the waterways.
The EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) was established in 2014 to promote improved water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. The city of San Diego was one of 60 municipalities qualified to apply for the loan in 2021.
“By investing in its water infrastructure, EPA is helping San Diego protect its communities from potential flooding and prevent runoff of untreated stormwater into local waterways.” EPA deputy assistant administrator for water Bruno Pigott said in a statement.
Projects funded by the $733 million loan include:
- $552 million to replace aging metal pipes with reinforced concrete pipes that last for 100 years;
- $91 million for revitalization and restoration of watersheds to improve water quality;
- $36 million for green infrastructure projects to remove pollution and support greening of urbanized communities;
- $30 million to upgrade pump stations that are critical to preventing neighborhood flooding; and
- $24 million for the rehabilitation and replacement of deteriorating stormwater infrastructure.
The city won't be expected to pay back the money until decades later, Bezak said.