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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.
California Coastkeeper Alliance bridges the gap between regulations and practice by informing and engaging communities and businesses working to reduce stormwater runoff. CCKA’s 2012-2014 Polluted Runoff Campaign employed litigation, data and outreach to adopt enforceable statewide permits regulating municipal, industrial and construction stormwater to control stormwater and meet water quality standards. With the statewide permits now in place, CCKA continues to work with the State Water Board to improve California’s stormwater management through a ten year reform Stormwater Strategy. The Strategy includes numerous projects to improve monitoring and reporting requirements, promote stormwater capture and watershed management, and to improve water quality standards. CCKA is working with local Waterkeepers to challenge rollbacks to municipal stormwater permits that shield polluters from liability and weaken requirements to heal California’s sickest waters. California Waterkeepers’ citizen monitoring and investigations of industrial and municipal facilities illuminate pollution hotspots, spur immediate improvements to local water quality, and inform the development of better policies and regulations.