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New storm water permits may help reduce water pollution

CARLSBAD — At the Carlsbad Watershed Network’s Aug. 13 meeting, stakeholders expressed hope that changes to regional storm water permits will help local agencies decrease pollution within the Carlsbad Watershed. 

The Regional Water Quality Board recently adopted new requirements for its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, which holds cities and other agencies responsible for ensuring there are no pollutants in the storm water released to local water bodies under the 1972 Clean Water Act.

The Carlsbad Watershed Network meeting’s panel of local water quality authorities expressed that the previous permits were not effective in cleaning local water sources, but that the new permit, which took effect on June 27, showed promise in addressing water quality issues.

“I think the reason the permits haven’t worked in the past is that they fail to acknowledge that the problems are from all of us,” said Luis Parra, project manager for Tory R. Walker Engineering, Inc.

He said that the old permits focused too much on placing strict, preventative regulations on new developments rather than correcting water quality problems that have accumulated from decades of development.

Numerous roads as well as commercial and industrial areas were built without runoff treatment before the permit even existed, Parra mentioned as an example. The previous permit requirements did not address such pre-existing development.

Jill Witkowski, a “waterkeeper” for the activist organization San Diego Coastkeeper, agreed.

“The way that we have developed in the past, we didn’t really consider the fact that when you pave paradise and put up a parking lot that is going to lead to pollution problems,” she said.

She said that agencies now are tasked with the challenge of undoing problems caused by 100 years or so of damaging development and water usage habits, and meeting the requirements of the old permits was not doing the trick.

Under the previous permit system, agencies were required to perform a broad list of tasks that did not specifically address the needs of individual watersheds, she explained.

“We weren’t seeing cleaner water,” she said.

Both Parra and Witkowski said that the permit’s new requirements grant agencies much more flexibility to address the specific needs of their local watersheds.

With the new permit’s requirements, agencies are currently charged with developing a Water Quality Improvement Plan to identify water quality priorities for their local watershed.

But despite perceived improvements to the storm water permits, agency representatives voiced concerns over continuing challenges of bettering water quality.

Mo Lahsaiezadeh, an environmental officer for the city of Oceanside, said that his biggest challenge in implementing projects to improve water quality in the Carlsbad Watershed, which Oceanside is a part of, is obtaining sufficient funding from the city.

He said that politicians in his city were more likely to fund fire prevention projects than water improvement projects because there is more support for projects with immediate results rather than water improvement projects, which can take decades to show progress.

“City politics happen, budgets happen, so it’s important that we create projects that can be achieved, that can be measured,” said Witkowski.