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Water Board Proposes Fining San Diego $4.6 Million

The Tijuana River Valley and estuary make up the last intact coastal wetlands in Southern California.
Jill Replogle
The Tijuana River Valley and estuary make up the last intact coastal wetlands in Southern California.

A $4.6 million penalty against the city of San Diego was proposed Tuesday by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board for the city's alleged failure to ensure construction sites prevented the pollution of local waterways.

The allegations cover the time period from 2010 to 2015 and affected water bodies stretching across city limits from the Los Peñasquitos Lagoon to the north, down to the Tijuana River Estuary to the south, according to water board officials.

"The San Diego Water Board put a lot of resources into collaborative, outcome-focused efforts to protect and restore areas like Los Peñasquitos Lagoon and Tijuana River Estuary. Enforcement like this is the result of a major deviation from the expectations we had for those partnerships," said James Smith, the Water Board's assistant executive officer and prosecution team lead.


"The Water Board expects the city's commitment to water quality ordinances to be embraced more broadly by all city staff — not just the planners who wrote them," Smith said.

The city is alleged to have failed to take steps to conduct adequate site inspections, prevent sediment erosion and enforce its own water quality ordinances at private construction sites.

The Water Board found that the water quality ordinances adopted by the city council were not being applied in the field because inspectors were poorly trained in erosion control and unwilling, or unable, to take enforcement actions. It was also discovered that city departments could not coordinate basic activities to protect water quality, according to the Water Board.

The city's ordinances outline requirements for erosion control at construction sites and specify enforcement actions for violations.

The city of San Diego has three options for responding, including paying the penalty, proposing a settlement or supplemental environmental project, or contesting the penalty before the San Diego Water Board.