The San Diego Planning Commission Thursday approved a proposal by the city’s Storm Water Department to clear vegetation from creeks around the city, even though the plan acknowledges that it will cause storm water that reaches the coastal waters to be even more polluted.
The impetus for this project comes from flooding that causes problems in a few areas -- for example, some areas of the Tijuana River Valley, Alvarado and Grantsville areas in the San Diego River watershed.
The problem is that the plan identifies about 170 areas in the city for vegetation clearing and new road building in open space, including creeks where flooding has never been a problem, such as in the Gilman Canyon section of Rose Canyon. When challenged by the Friends of Rose Canyon, the city quickly removed those areas from the plan, causing me to wonder. If the city admits that these specific areas are not necessary for the plan, how were all of the sites selected?
Strangely, the plan does not include any hydrologic models that would allow us to predict what the effect of vegetation removal from our creeks will be, whether vegetation removal will solve property loss from flooding, or even whether it will cause worse flooding problems downstream. But, we can be sure that removing vegetation will decrease water quality because wetland plants and soil microbes have been demonstrated to clean urban pollutants out of storm water. Instead, the city will continue to use a method that has fallen into disfavor in the last century because of environmental degradation that it causes.
Other cities approach storm water management in a new way. Instead of speeding storm water to the ocean as fast as possible, they find ways to keep our storm water on the land as long as possible. This can be achieved by increasing the infiltration where the rain falls, by intercepting it on the way downstream with basins and wetlands, and by repairing eroded creeks so that the water spreads out, slows down, and sinks in. (Read more about this process here.)
Sadly, none of these alternatives are part of the approved plan.
Seven San Diego environmental groups (San Diego Coastkeeper, Costal Environmental Rights Foundation, San Diego Audubon Society, Friends of Rose Canyon, Sierra Club San Diego Chapter, San Diego Canyonlands, and California Native Plant Society San Diego Chapter) have called for the city to reconsider its plan and come up with a solution that will reduce flood damage and also have beneficial effects on the rest of our environment. This call has been ignored so far, it remains to be seen whether the City Council will answer it.
-- CARRIE SCHNEIDER