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Why care about stormwater?

By Jennifer Olim

Why care about storm water? After all, it runs off your driveway, along the gutter, and then disappears down the drain. But you do run into that water again when you splash across the creek on your canyon hike, surf, or watch your kids boogie board at the beach. Water that goes into the storm drain doesn't magically disappear into the Earth or get treated at the sewage treatment plant. Storm water flows into local streams and on to the ocean. Would you wash your car by the side of a pool, watch all the dirt and soap residue drain in, and then jump in for a swim? Would you take your grass clippings and leftover paint to the pier, dump them, and then go fishing? Whether the ocean is miles away or across the street, gravity carries pollutants within a watershed downhill towards our streams and beaches. A watershed is an area that drains, because of topographic boundaries, into a receiving body of water like an ocean or lake. Watersheds don't follow convenient political boundaries. For example, storm water in the Los Penasquitos Watershed may originate in Poway, Penasquitos, Del Mar, Carmel Valley, Mira Mesa, Miramar, Scripps Ranch, Sorrento Valley, La Jolla, and Clairemont - and then flow out at beautiful Torrey Pines Beach. Water flowing downhill from developed areas can collect all kinds of pollutants like pesticides, oil, metals, sediments, and bacteria. Not what people or the local wildlife appreciate having in our waterways!

The local Regional Water Quality control board is currently working on new rules to reduce pollutants in storm water runoff. The focus of the new approach is on achieving measurable water quality improvements within each watershed. Eight watershed management areas in San Diego County must develop plans with water quality goals. The updated process will give the Water Quality control board more time to regulate and more flexibility to work with governments, industry, and business to share data and goals. Development of the new storm water permits is a long process and Surfrider has been prominent, along with other environmental groups, in advocating for measurable, data driven improvement. We have to figure out how to achieve a new normal in our watersheds- normal should be clean water, without impairment and without beaches closed for days after a rainfall event.

How can we do our part to reduce pollutants in storm water? Landscape your yard in an ocean friendly/water wise way to reduce runoff and chemical use. It will also decrease water use and make your yard more friendly to birds and butterflies. Be vigilant about fixing sprinklers to reduce runoff into the street. Of course don't ever dump anything down the storm drain and keep debris out of the street. Encourage your community to develop in a way that provides naturally planted buffer zones that can soak up and filter storm water, rather than paving everything. By reducing dry weather flow into the storm drains and pollutants carried during rain events, bit by bit, we can help keep the entire watershed healthy. Thanks for caring about storm water!