North County cities look at improving watershed quality

North County cities look at improving watershed quality
From left, San Marcos stormwater Manager Reed Thornberry, Encinitas environmental specialist Crystal Najera, and county program coordinator for the watershed protection program Nancy Stalnaker were among the participants in the Water Quality Improvement workshop. Cites are tasked to set own goals to improve the watershed. Photo by Promise Yee

REGION — The state adoption of the Regional MS4 Permit requires cities to improve the quality of their watershed, and in turn the quality of local creeks and coastal waters.

The idea behind the permit is to step away from the former one-size-fits-all approach that has traditionally required cities to adopt prescribed water-friendly practices, and tests that may or may not address their local storm water issues.

Carlsbad, Encinitas, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos, Solana Beach, Vista and unincorporated portions of the county make up the eight watershed management areas within the Carlsbad Watershed that stretches from south of the San Luis Rey River down to the San Elijo Lagoon.

New requirements ask cities to be proactive, take a good look at their storm water discharges, and set a common watershed priority and specific city goals to improve the quality of the watershed.

“Most watersheds have a singular outlet,” Mikhail Ogawa, principal with Mikhail Ogawa Engineering, said. “The Carlsbad Watershed has six outlets, and eight agencies involved.”

In November, cities within the Carlsbad Watershed decided to focus on bacteria as a watershed priority.

Cities met on July 17 to learn what should be included in city goals and strategies to meet the MS4 Permit requirement.

Examples of numeric goals were given, and water-quality improvement strategies were defined.

Numeric goals include quantitative bacteria reduction.

Strategies could include reducing the concentration of pollutants in storm water discharge, and prohibiting non-storm-water discharge.

Cities were encouraged to take risks and set big goals for the next five to 10 years.

“The water board wants to see measurable progress,” Laurie Walsh, Regional Water Quality Control Board water resource control engineer, said.

“They would like to see goals be a bit more risky.”

Determining a target and taking steps towards that goal was deemed acceptable.

“Try it out, fail, and learn from those failures,” Ogawa said. “Try different techniques. Try different frequencies.”

A list of Carlsbad Watershed waterbodies, conditions and assessments to characterize water conditions was provided, as well as a list of potential strategies to reach improved watershed quality.

“It’s time to focus on priorities,” Ogawa said.

“By fall 2014, we’ll have something meaty to review.”

The next steps will be for cities to draft goals and strategies by fall 2014. After that, cities will be asked to have a monitoring and assessment plan and management process written by spring 2015.

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