Plan to toughen rules over county's stormwater system discussed

New permits could cost billions for San Diego

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - San Diego's stormwater system may be changing and it may cost billions. On Tuesday, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board discussed a controversial plan to toughen the rules limiting what can enter the county's stormwater system.

Opponents argued they would love to make San Diego's water cleaner.

"Absolutely. It would be wonderful. But at what cost?" asked San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who said it will cost San Diego billions to comply with the new regulations. "It's the cost and penalties to comply with this that we're most concerned about."

Opponents also said it could fine residents thousands who have too much water runoff from their properties or do not clean up after their dogs in fear of the feces getting into the watershed.

"We might have to have poop police," said San Diego City Stormwater Department spokesman Bill Harris. 

He said San Diego would have to pull billions from other departments over the next two decades just to comply with the new regulations.

"Even if we cleaned up everything we could clean up there would still be pollutants left and we could get fined," he said.

San Diego Coastkeeper attorney Jill Witkowski said, "Every time this permit comes up: 'Oh, it's too expensive. Oh, we can't achieve water quality. Oh, it's going to bankrupt us.'"

She said it would not cost much more than it already does because cleaning the stormwater is not that hard.

"To have neighborhood pollution watches, get neighbors talking to neighbors about not washing their cars and about picking up after their dogs… it allows the cities, the co-permittees and hopefully in collaboration with environmental groups like San Diego Coastkeeper to come together to devise strategies to get residents involved in protecting the environment," said Witkowski.

No decisions were made Tuesday. Several more hearings will be held before the new permit is finalized.

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