San Diego’s “major metropolitan” newspaper is confused about stormwater
Posted by George J Janczyn on April 9, 2013
U-T San Diego, the local newspaper-in-decline, on Sunday published an editorial that would embarrass any self-respecting water journalist (“Go back to drawing board, water agency“).
The editorial claims that “A remarkable coalition of business, government and environmental groups is trying to prevent a disastrous leap into faith-based policymaking by a headstrong state agency” and “In a stunning collaboration, the environmental group Coastkeeper joined with the San Diego Building Industry Association in January to ask the state agency to slow down, develop alternatives and lean heavily on expert advisory panels. The message is loud and clear. The water quality board must delay this proceeding and start over.”
In fact, they are trying to do no such thing (and actually, the Water Reliability Coalition is San Diego’s true “remarkable coalition.”)
The truth of the matter is laid out by San Diego Coastkeeper’s Jill Witkowski in her reply to the U-T (reprinted here with her permission):
“With due respect to the U-T Editorial Board, you are wrong.
The hearings are set for Wednesday and Thursday, not Monday and Tuesday.
The standards that you suggest are “effectively impossible to meet” are not. In fact, the County and local cities have employed engineers to create a Comprehensive Load Reduction Plan, which includes a suite of options for the cities and county to implement that “are predicted to be effective” to reach the target pollution levels. These standards were developed during a multi-year process that began in 2003 and ended in 2010. The process involved scientists from the County and the City of San Diego, was peer reviewed by scientists from UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley, and the standards were approved by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the State Water Resources Control Board, and the U.S. EPA.
These standards use a “reference” location in the central coast to determine, under natural conditions, how many days would have unreasonably high bacteria levels. The result? About 1 out of 5 days. This means that, during wet weather, it’s acceptable for the bacteria levels to be too high for San Diegans to swim or surf 22% of the time. Any bacteria above that can be credited to human-caused sources, not the natural environment. We can and should control the bacteria we add to our oceans and beaches to protect human health.
Many studies have shown the correlation between urban runoff and human illness. A 2012 study showed an increased risk of swimming-associated gastrointestinal illness at urban runoff contaminated beaches. (source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22356828). Another study has shown there were higher risks for gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms when swimmers were closer to the storm drains, the source of urban runoff pollution into the ocean (source: http://www.tos.org/oceanography/archive/19-2_dufour.html).
Your editorial complains that people might actually be held accountable for their personal behaviors that add to our local pollution problems. While the cities and the County have the discretion on how they choose to get San Diegans to reduce the pollution they cause, ultimately the cities and the County are responsible for reducing our urban runoff pollution.
Finally, the UT needs to read the joint letter San Diego Coastkeeper and BIA submitted in January. It does not ask the Regional Board to “slow down,” nor does it ask the board itself to develop alternatives or rely on an expert panel. Instead, it asks the Regional Board to require the cities to identify alternatives that developers can use to benefit the watershed when on-site improvements become infeasible. It asks the Regional Board to require cities to involve environmental and engineering stakeholders when developing watershed-specific plans. And it asked the Regional Board to stagger watershed plan development, primarily so that one watershed could learn from another.
San Diego Coastkeeper will ask the Regional Board to approve the stormwater permit after removing a new provision just added on March 27 that violates the Clean Water Act.”
The U-T editorial writers should do a little background reading on the subject. They could begin with this brief from the National Research Council: