The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board focuses on sites where it can make the greatest difference and protect the largest groups of people. In recent years, the board has prioritized large sources of pollution, such as the San Diego Bay shipyards, sewer overflows, the Tijuana River and watershed-wide stormwater runoff rather than small sites that present less risk.

Jerry Williams self-reported stormwater pollution from his business to the state, as required by law. Environmental groups sued over the reports, and as the legal fight dragged on, Williams closed shop. Meanwhile, other businesses flout the law, don’t do the monitoring and likely make more in profit.

In recent years, San Diego water officials weren’t even looking at paperwork that showed which businesses were polluting local waterways. With no official enforcement happening, private attorneys and environmentalists have taken matters into their own hands, filing dozens of lawsuits against area companies for violating clean water laws.

Across California, there could be thousands or even tens of thousands of businesses dodging environmental rules and sending pollution into the state’s waters. Though an entire regulatory system exists to police businesses and keep water safe for residents and wildlife, the state doesn’t know how many unpermitted businesses are out there, or how much damage they’re doing.

For years, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board has tried to make cities clean up Chollas Creek. Now, thanks to a regulatory change, the board will wipe away the problem in part by redefining pollution instead of reducing it.

Common sense solutions can dramatically reduce the potential for people to come into contact with polluted waters, and can provide multiple benefits to the community.

Having learned its lessons years ago that it is best to lay out just how much money trouble it faces, the city of San Diego is warning investors it will have to come up with nearly $4 billion over two decades to comply with regulations on how it handles stormwater runoff.