It’s a Dirty World Out There in the Water

by on September 21, 2015 · 1 comment

in Environment, Health, History, Ocean Beach

More from the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council Meeting of Monday September 14, 2015

By Lois Lane

The Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council meeting on September 14th featured a special guest speaker, Wayne Chiu, Water Resource Control Engineer for the Storm Water Management Unit, California Water Quality Control Board, San Diego Region (Region 9).

What he had to say was important to Sunset Cliffs, and also Ocean Beach.  As we all know, water flows down-hill, and particularly in the Peninsula communities; this means it ends up at the beach or in the bay.

This speaker was present because a Point Loma activist, Dr. Craig Barilotti, had requested that Sunset Cliffs Natural Park be added to the Regional MS4 (“Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems”) permit.  This was an area where many of the members freely acknowledged a lack of background information to make an informed decision.

The following is based on Mr. Chiu’s presentation:

For beach and bay communities, the Water Quality Board is the state agency.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) makes law at the national level, but policy implementation occurs at the state level.  This occurs through a series of MS4 permits.  MS4 permitting provides direction to the local governmental entities, which are then responsible for the action to implement the direction.

The scope of a single permit is large. The San Diego Regional MS4 Permit jointly covers 39 municipal, county government, and special district entities (referred to collectively as Copermittees) located in Southern Orange County, Southwestern Riverside County, and San Diego County.

San Diego city and county governments join other cities and entities – for example, the Port Authority, Lakeside, Santee, and San Clemente.    The Federal government uses the EPA, and Navy bases have their permits directly from the Federal Government.  The State Regional Boards oversee the other local implementations.

The City of San Diego is currently updating their Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP) – and it is this plan that Dr. Barilotti has requested to be modified to include Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

The final plan is due to be submitted by the City of San Diego by the end of September.  Although the MS4 states the standards for municipalities to meet, most do not fully comply with the permit.  Because of the difficulty of meeting the water quality standards, each entity is entitled to have a plan toward meeting them. Their WQIPs outline their plan for eventually coming into compliance in a priority order.  This is the document currently under construction for approval.

So many plans; such complex terminology.  What about the realities of pollution?  Why can’t we swim in our ocean all the time?  We don’t see many people swimming in the bay. The problem is again complex.  There are approximately 500 known pollutants, of which viruses, bacteria, and dog poop are only 3 examples.  The ultimate responsible party for all this is the local government.

Where was Ocean Beach in all this? Fortunately, the ocean itself has advocates.  Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, Coastkeepers, and Surfrider all advocate for clean water.

Ocean Beach, at Dog Beach and the mouth of the San Diego River have particular problems.  There is little naturally occurring water flow in the San Diego River.  Yes, ordinary flowing water is rainwater or runoff.  But if you are swimming at the mouth of the San Diego River, you are risking being in polluted waters. The only steady-state dry-weather flow from the San Diego River comes from upstream wastewater treatment facilities.

Mr. Chiu addressed the following specific points:

  • The MS4 permit addresses many issues that affect water-body quality including such things as street sweeping and trash management as well as more advanced issues like erosion and runoff control.
  • Sunset Cliffs Natural Park should be addressed in the San Diego Bay WQIP, but was not addressed in the draft.  Mr. Chiu has required the City of San Diego to address SCNP in the final version.
  • The Waterboard does not review project plans to assure MS4 compliance.  This is a co-permittee (city) responsibility.  Waterboard mostly responds to third-party reports of non-compliance.
  • Waterboard is most concerned with systems that affect water bodies shown on the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) list.  The Pacific Ocean adjacent to Sunset Cliffs is not on that list.
  • The newest MS4 permit will become effective at the end of 2015.

Note:  The next meeting of the WQCB is November 19, the schedule changed to the third Wednesday of the month to accommodate the Veterans Day Holiday.  The location is:   2375 Northside Drive, Suite 108 200 Civic Center, San Diego.  There is always public comment at the meetings.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lyle September 22, 2015 at 9:45 am

The WQIP ignored not only the Park, but also ignored most of the residential and business areas on the western slope of Point Loma in the Peninsula and Ocean Beach communities. Still, the MS4 permit, and associated BMP design manual, include significant general provisions that apply to all areas of the city.

One of the primary features of the permit is to encourage and require control of pollution at the source rather that trying to clean up dirty storm water just before it dumps into the Ocean. This is where we all come in since we are, by and large, the source. San Diego’s Think Blue campaign has been going on since 2001, yet I’m still seeing very basic problems of gutters full of cigarette butts, occasional piles of dog poop, people watering the side walks along with their chemical-laden lawns, etc. Streets and parking lots are the greatest source of storm water pollution, but a lot of that pollution comes from private property occupants and public facility users who continue to dump their stuff there.

When we wash our clothes, we deposit the resulting dirty water into the sewer, or water our plants with it. When we wash our roofs, lawns and streets, we dump it in the ocean.


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