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Gloria welcomes $37 million in federal funding for stormwater projects

A metal fence covered in debris falls into a flooded stormwater channel in San Diego, Jan. 22, 2024.
A metal fence covered in debris falls into a flooded stormwater channel in San Diego, Jan. 22, 2024.

Mayor Todd Gloria met with officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State Water Resources Control Board in Mission Beach Wednesday to announce $37 million in funding to upgrade the city's aging stormwater system.

As part of President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the city will receive a $32 million low-interest loan and $5 million grant, intended to reduce neighborhood flood risk and bolster the region's defenses for increasingly intense rain events.

The $32 million State Revolving Fund loan has a 1.7% interest rate.


"Upgrading our aging stormwater system is vital to protect our neighborhoods and environment from the increasing threat posed by climate change and severe weather," Gloria said. "This $37 million investment from the Biden Administration's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help address longstanding flooding issues to protect homes, businesses, and our natural resources, ensuring a safer San Diego for all of us."

A project specifically earmarked includes upgrading storm drain infrastructure in South Mission Beach dating to the 1940s that officials say is too small, resulting in regular flooding.

It will also restore curbs, gutters and curb ramps and resurface roadways.

According to the city, the funding is in conjunction with the $733 million investment commitment received in September 2022 for San Diego stormwater upgrades through the EPA's Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act — a federal credit program designed to promote improved water infrastructure.

"Improving stormwater infrastructure protects homes, businesses and our environment," EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Water Bruno Pigott said. "President Biden promised to strengthen communities across the country by investing in water infrastructure. He delivered on that promise with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and now $37 million is coming to San Diego to reduce the risk of flooding in South Mission Beach."


The funding comes several months after intense storms and inadequately maintained stormwater infrastructure compounded to cause flooding in multiple areas of San Diego, especially in the Southeast part of the city. More than $235 million in projects are in the works to bolster flood resilience and water quality improvements in the Chollas Creek watershed.

Despite these investments, San Diego has $1.6 billion in unfunded stormwater infrastructure upgrades citywide that are needed to reduce flood risk and prevent pollution, a statement from Gloria's office read.

"Basically, half of what we spend in the to run the entire city is the size of the gap we're dealing with just in stormwater," Gloria told KPBS. "That doesn't even address the roads, the sidewalks, the public facilities, the piers, the dams, all the other places where we're lacking. This is a generational challenge."

Most of the city's stormwater infrastructure is between 50 and 100 years old, Gloria said — past its useful life and not built for the current population size.

"With the impacts of climate change, we're going to be seeing more and stronger storms going forward. This makes this a very urgent issue," he said.

It's not just an issue of flood prevention. San Diego Coastkeeper's executive director, Phil Musegaas, said stormwater system upgrades are needed to improve water quality.

"In Mission Bay, we have 10 different locations that we sample, and every time it rains heavily, we see the effects," he said. "We see spikes in bacteria and metals and other pollutants that are directly related to our aging stormwater system and our sanitary sewer system that are not able to keep up with this precipitation adaptation and this climate change-induced changes in weather pattern."

To help meet the funding gap for stormwater infrastructure, Gloria is backing a proposed property tax on the November ballot that would cost the average household about $20 each month. It would take about 10 years to raise the required funds.

He said it's a need of which voters may be less aware than more visible needs like road repair.

"We don't always see our stormwater system or our wastewater pipes, the kinds of infrastructure that silently operates, out of sight, out of mind. But it faces the same deficit that our roads do," he said.

Construction is expected to begin in Mission Bay in spring 2025.