Community activists call for enforcement of clean water act and action on polluted runoff
Don't miss the
coalition of local organizations gathered at Tourmaline Surfing Park last month to mark the 25th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. The Act's main goals are zero discharge of pollutants into navigable waters by 1985, and swimmable and fishable waters by 1983. A quarter century later these goals have not been met. In fact, the most recent Environmental Protection Agency's National report on the state of our nation's waterways found that "40 percent still are not safe for fishing or swimming." While community activists, businesses, industry, and federal, state, and local governments work together to address water pollution problems, the federal law needs to be strengthened and better enforced.
A Prescription for Clean Water describes six challenges that we must undertake to help reach these goals:
· We must clean up and prevent toxic water pollution including polluted runoff, which threatens the health of our families.
· We must save America's wetlands because they can clean our drinking water, help filter pollution out of our waterways, protect our communities from floods, and sustain fish and wildlife.
· We must guarantee Americans their right to know whether our water is safe for drinking, fishing, or swimming.
· We must carry out our responsibility to protect America's lakes, rivers, and estuaries for future generations.
· We must enforce environmental laws more effectively to stop illegal pollution and make polluters pay to clean up their mess.
· We must spend what is necessary for clean water.
The number one cause of water pollution in this country is polluted runoff. The health risks and economic consequences associated with polluted runoff are serious. Wetlands destruction, urban sprawl, failure to include pollution prevention programs in local land use planning, and lack of enforcement of existing Clean Water Act standards all contribute to more runoff pollution. In San Diego, twenty-five years after the law was passed, many of our beaches and bays are posted with signs due to polluted runoff. Last year, San Diego experienced 270 beach and bay closures; at least 50 percent were due to polluted runoff. "Unsafe levels of bacteria levels have forced the posting of signs at Coronado's North Beach" said Steve Ogles, founder of Coronado Friends of the Beach. "The City of Coronado has also failed to comply with the Clean Water Act and continues to discharge without the required permits."
Moreover, San Diego Bay is still being polluted with toxins. "Discharge permits for industries near San Diego Bay have been expired for years, the Navy facilities are still unpermitted, and Navy vessels, the largest source of oil spills into the bay, are exempt from environmental regulation," said Laura Hunter, Clean Bay Campaign director of the Environmental Health Coalition.
There have been many Clean Water Act successes in San Diego. Since July 1996 the County Department of Environmental Health and the City of San Diego have been monitoring storm drain runoff and working to identify the upstream sources of pollution. The San Diego City Council allocated $565,000 to begin diverting dry weather polluted runoff into the sewer system.
Most recently, Assemblymember Howard Wayne's "Right to Know Bill" (AB 411) was signed into law, establishing statewide water quality standards that will help protect the health of beachgoers. Polluted runoff legislation (AB 1429) sponsored by Wayne also became law. We still face many challenges. "We need to strengthen the Clean Water Act to implement enforceable pollution prevention programs and establish minimum penalties for serious and chronic violations," said Donna Frye of Surfers Tired of Pollution.
Wetlands protection must also be increased. "Wetlands help absorb and filter out pollution. This helps keep our water supplies clean and makes our oceans safer to swim in," added Eric Bowlby, Co-Chair of the San Diego Chapter, Sierra Club Coastal Committee.
Community right to know provisions must also be strengthened. "When government agencies fail to enforce water quality standards, the law provides for the public to, in effect, step into the role of Federal prosecutor and bring 'citizen suits' against polluters," stated Ken Moser, Executive Director of the San Diego BayKeeper. That role must be amended to allow citizens to bring penalty actions for past violations.
By strengthening the Clean Water Act and by immediately starting work to clean up polluted runoff, we can ensure that our children will one day enjoy a Coronado, San Diego Bay, and Pacific coastline that is cleaner than the one our parents left us.
City of Coronado
San Diego Unified Port District
Assemblyman Howard Wayne
Kathy Stone, County Dept. of Environmental Health