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San Diego County to seek out federal money for stormwater improvements

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Posted at 12:41 PM, Apr 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-27 15:41:44-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to seek out federal money to fix stormwater infrastructure as a way to better protect beaches, creeks and rivers from pollutants.

Supervisors directed Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer to pursue funding for management and better infrastructure in unincorporated areas and also work with regional partners. The item passed on consent.

Officials say more than $2 billion is available to protect bodies of water, courtesy of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that Congress passed in November.

While the county invests around $50 million per year to deal with stormwater runoff, it needs an additional $50 million to make needed repairs, officials said.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, who formally proposed seeking more money, thanked community members for their feedback.

"This stormwater investment is really, really important," she said, adding that the San Diego region is facing a crisis in terms of protecting its water sources from toxins and bacteria with aging infrastructure.

Funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, a federal/state partnership, will be increased through 2026, according to Lawson-Remer's office. That money can be used for pollution control, tracking emerging contaminants and negative-interest loans and loan forgiveness.

In a statement after the vote, Lawson-Remer said the county has worked diligently to keep up with changing stormwater requirements, upgrade infrastructure, treat water runoff from urban areas and address climate change, but faces challenges because of limited funding sources.

Environmental advocates strongly endorsed better stormwater management during Wednesday's public comment period.

Amy Steward, president of the nonprofit Emerald Keepers, said modernized storm drain infrastructure is critical for both human and animal life, and also important to the San Diego region's tourism economy.

It's time for society to clean up polluted waterways, "as we're all connected," Steward added.

Mitch Silverstein, Surfrider Foundation policy coordinator, said the board needed to "seize the moment" with improved funding, especially as the climate crisis worsens.

"When we treat the ocean like a trash can, we (jeopardize) our own health," Silverstein said. "The status quo sucks for our ocean, our county and our beachgoers."

Lucero Sanchez, policy coordinator with SD Coastkeeper, said the county heavily relies on imported water sources, which creates vulnerability. Sanchez said stormwater projects will enhance security, improve water quality, create jobs and connect communities.

"I'm glad to see the board addressing this crisis," she added.

Madison Coleman, a policy advocate with Climate Action Campaign, said heavy rain also pollutes neighborhoods and is a dangerous health risk. Increased funding "can turn a liability into a regional asset," Coleman added.

Supervisor Nora Vargas said that along with better stormwater systems, the county also works with regional partners to reduce pollution in the Tijuana River Valley.

Matt O'Malley, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, said in a statement that more erratic rainfall means "our systems are being inundated and failing," and that sewage systems leak into nearby stormwater pipes and waterways.

"Our communities have a right to clean, safe water," O'Malley said.