Precedent-Setting Action to Protect Our Coast & Ocean from Stormwater Pollution

November 17th, 2020

California is home to a vibrant and unique coast that attracts millions of visitors each year – and this has proven especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic as families sought out rest, relaxation, and clean, smoke-free air by visiting the beach.

Though too often, California’s cities and towns struggle to meet water quality standards designed to protect human health and our environment, leaving our rivers, coast, and ocean polluted and unsafe. Stormwater – the water that runs off our streets and paved surfaces each time it rains – is one of the single greatest sources of contamination to California’s urban waterways and neighboring beaches by washing pollutants from our yards, streets, industrial facilities, construction sites, and other developed sites into rivers and into the ocean. This regular discharge of toxic metals, bacteria, plastics, and trash into local waterways impacts the health of aquatic ecosystems and makes nearby rivers and beaches unsafe to use and enjoy.

Los Angeles is one of many regions in California that consistently experiences beach closures and advisories due to the health impacts of polluted stormwater runoff, preventing residents and visitors from enjoying local beaches.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Board has explored a number of collaborative solutions to curb this pollution problem – but has weakened permit requirements over time, leaving Los Angeles’ waterways, beaches, and ocean plagued by ongoing pollution without an end in sight. The Regional Water Board’s solution was to give polluters a number of “safe harbors” for their pollution without any assurance that stormwater would be captured and treated or that pollution would be prevented from reaching the channels, streams, and rivers that flow to Los Angeles’ beaches and the ocean. By continuously allowing permittees to push back permit requirements, the Los Angeles Regional Water Board only deferred action and failed to make sure that permittees were on a rigorous path to actually improving water quality for the beaches that millions of Californians and visitors enjoy – or are barred from enjoying – each year.

Today, the State Water Board took a much-needed and precedent-setting step to hold Regional Water Boards and their permittees accountable for permit timelines and required schedules by overturning the Los Angeles Regional Water Board’s proposed program – thanks to a petition filed by Los Angles Waterkeeper and its local partners. By finding that the old program lacked “clear, enforceable commitments” – leaving permittees, the Water Boards, and the public alike confused about the actual plans and actions required to improve water quality – the State Water Board has overturned the problematic program to protect Los Angeles water quality from stormwater pollution by ensuring interim milestones and a clear schedule is upheld to protect Los Angeles’ coastal ecosystems and beach-goers from ongoing pollution.

This precedent-setting action sends a clear message to other Regional Water Boards that stormwater can be, and should be, collaboratively managed to protect California waters for all to enjoy – and critically, that clear timelines need to be set and enforced to make sure that California’s water quality objectives do not merely remain goals – but result in actual improvements we can tangibly see and enjoy.

California Coastkeeper Alliance and its local Waterkeepers hold polluters and our government accountable for the water we all rely on. Stay informed of our work by subscribing to our monthly newsletter or become a member of CCKA to directly support clean water now – and for years to come.

Categories: Coastal Water Quality, Happening Now, Stormwater, Waterkeepers at Work