City Audit Of Wastewater Program Reveals Shortcomings In Identifying Industrial Polluters
Speaker 1: 00:00 A city program tasked with preventing the flow of toxic sewer water into the Pacific ocean is failing to adequately identify industrial polluters. That's according to a new city audit, which also points to outdated methods of staffing issues as part of the program's failures. In recent years, joining me to discuss the findings of the audit is David Garrick, a city hall reporter for the San Diego union Tribune. David, welcome. Thanks for having me. So this program in question here, the industrial wastewater control program is tasked with overseeing industrial pollution and prevention efforts. How successful has it been in preventing this kind of pollution in recent years? Speaker 2: 00:40 Yeah. Well, according to the city, auditor, not as successful as it, as it should be, or is it as it could be. Uh, they apparently use sort of an outdated inefficient way of tracking who, uh, you know, which particular industrial businesses should be monitored. Uh, and, and w whether or not those businesses are complying is another other issue. Cause they have some staffing problems. So it doesn't, it doesn't sound like the program going on as well as it should be going. Speaker 1: 01:02 Does it seem like there's been a failure to properly hold industrial polluters accountable? Speaker 2: 01:07 I think so. I don't think it's necessarily letting anyone off the hook. I think it's just that when your program is inefficient and it's not finding the right people that need to be monitored, you're letting them off the hook by not really even starting the process. Speaker 1: 01:18 So what's been the reaction from lawmakers. I mean, have they indicated how they'd like to see the program step up its efforts? Speaker 2: 01:25 Yeah. This program has actually generated controversy in the past because it's sort of a separate issue that a separate audit found is that the fees that the city charges, uh, for these inspections are not that updated since 1984, which is a really, really long time. Uh, and it appears that it's just sort of a lack of, of prioritizations, why they haven't been updated. I mean, we, we tried to look and see if the industry had lobbied the city not to update them and we couldn't find any evidence, tangible evidence of that. So it appears that this is just hasn't prioritized updating the fees. Cindy says they're about to start doing that, but a lot of city officials now because of that last audit are more vocal about the fact that that needs to happen. We need to have enough fees being charged with the city can inspect these people businesses and make sure that they are compliant. Speaker 1: 02:09 And so, as you mentioned, those fees haven't changed in over 30 years. What are some of the other ways that this report indicated the program was outdated? Speaker 2: 02:17 Just how they find other businesses that Holly find businesses that they need to potentially monitor the County has a database of businesses and they didn't even use it. Apparently according to the audit to determine which businesses might be eligible or might need to be, uh, um, inspected. Uh, so just simple stuff like that. And also they have a lack of staff and if they are actually going to end up inspecting the number of businesses that they ought to be inspecting, which might be four or five times as many, we're not sure then they're really short-staffed because they can't even get all the inspections done. Now, even though they're doing a limited number of businesses, Speaker 1: 02:51 So why has the staffing been an issue? Speaker 2: 02:56 Sit with it. When the, when the response came from the cities public utilities department, they said COVID had created some turnover. Uh, they use sort of the ordinary, uh, you know, there's been a lot of turnover, a lot of flux, so they weren't really a specific, um, but it seems like right now the workload is low enough where the staffing is somewhere in the neighborhood of where it needs to be. But as the audit points out the workload, it shouldn't be much higher because there's a lot of industrial businesses that aren't being inspected. And one thing the audit pointed out, which is pretty important is that sort of creates an uneven playing field because if you're an industrial polluter and I'm an industrial polluter and we're in the same industry and you're being inspected and I'm not being inspected well, that's a leg up for me and my competition against you. Speaker 1: 03:37 Has there been a discrepancy in how the program monitors pollution based on federal versus local regulations? Speaker 2: 03:45 Yeah. Apparently according to the audit, they, they, they do a much better job of businesses that are subject to federal requirements. That means the clean water act, uh, basically that has to do with the volume of pollution that you, that you, that you put out, um, whether you're forced to comply with that when a particular industrial business is not subject to federal rules, because they don't produce that kind of volume and they're only subject to local ordinances, then it appears that the city program has even even more lax and sort of making sure that they're in compliance, at least according to the audit. Okay. Speaker 1: 04:17 The previous success of the industrial wastewater control program in preventing harmful chemicals from polluting our ocean water, um, has helped the city receive federal waivers relating to the requirement to update the point Loma sewer plant, uh, could the findings of this audit jeopardize those waivers? Speaker 2: 04:35 Yeah, the audits said it could, it, it wasn't really specific about how that process would work. You know, the federal government has been giving San Diego waivers for several years, uh, for upgrading that Ponoma plant primarily because the city has made of out, uh, to start recycling its sewer water into drinkable water and a program called pure water. Uh, but in addition, the city has gotten waivers in the past, partly because of this, because this program reduces the amount of toxic stuff like benzine or arsenic that gets in the water, which is a good thing. Uh, but apparently if the city says they're doing it and maybe they aren't really doing it at a high level, the audit says then maybe the city will lose the waiver. So that that'd be a huge jeopardy because the estimates of the costs that the city would incur to upgrade that point Loma plan or 2 billion, even $3 billion. So that will be huge burden for sewer and water rate payers. Speaker 1: 05:22 I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, city hall, reporter David Garrick. David, thank you very much. Thanks for your time.