Clean coastal areas, beaches, rivers, and bays are a big part of what makes living in California so great. They also fuel California’s tourist-driven economy. Yet too often residents and visitors cannot enjoy our iconic coast and beaches because the water is contaminated. Our state struggles to meet water quality standards set to protect human health and the environment, and too many waters are unsafe for swimming, drinking and fishing. Contamination from stormwater at Southern California beaches sickens approximately one million swimmers every year, resulting in public health costs of $21 million to $51 million. This is due to our failure to control stormwater runoff—the single greatest source of contamination to California’s urban waterways.
Stormwater runoff is a major cause of water pollution in urban areas. When rain falls on our roofs, streets, and parking lots in cities and their suburbs, the water cannot soak into the ground as it naturally should. Stormwater drains through gutters, storm sewers, and other engineered collection systems and is discharged untreated into nearby water bodies. Stormwater runoff carries trash, bacteria, heavy metals, and other pollutants from the urban landscape directly into our rivers, streams, and ocean. Higher flows resulting from heavy rains also can cause erosion and flooding in urban streams, damaging habitat, property, and infrastructure.