Thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – of California businesses are polluting streams, bays and the ocean, but state environmental regulators don’t know how many companies are doing how much damage.
In places like Logan Heights or National City, industry-filled neighborhoods send metals and toxic chemicals into the water, helping to ruin it for humans and poison it for marine life.
An entire regulatory system exists to prevent this – to keep businesses honest, residents safe and fish alive. That system is a mess.
At the beginning of last year, the city of San Diego estimated that 2,400 businesses here were operating without the necessary water pollution control permit. Many business owners may not know they’re violating the law; others are trying not to get caught.
At the end of the year, fewer than 400 businesses in San Diego had the permit.
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There seems to be a certain mindset that you should be able to run a business (or a home) in such a way that contaminants you create can run into (and pollute) public waterways (and the water table). A basic concept of the Clean Water Act appears to have been intended to refute that mindset. One can view the proscription of allowing your business to pollute as over-regulation. One can conversely view this proscription as a simple principle that your business model cannot include shortcuts that pollute the property of others. I subscribe to the latter.
This is nothing more than a massive money grab as it is almost impossible to control the rain and what it picks up on the way to the creeks, rivers, bays and the ocean. You can't filter trillions of gallons of water that fall in very short periods of time, besides that, it doesn't rain much here. In the end, with all the regulations, permits, and such, contaminants will still reach the ocean. Contaminants dilute in the ocean within a few days, you can't control the rain ...
Interesting story . It is certainly true that parking lots may have very small amounts of toxins swept away with the rain into the storm drains but compared to the water and toxins that land on the street my guess is that it is a small percentage. ( this would not include the roof water which is easy and inexpensive to catch and filter.) One could calculate the private parking land vs the city property and find this ratio. I suspect the city may sometimes captures and filter the streets , but I am guessing they do not capture most of it, especially during heavy rain days when the storm drains go straight to the bay. It would be interesting to know.
New building permits have required this capture in recent years as you report. It is extremely expensive for individual properties to capture the parking lot water requiring under pavement holding tanks in most of San diego's mesas where the soil doesn't perk well or where there is a necessary amount of open space to make filtering on the surface feasible.
I would really like to see a comparison of the cost to filter individually verses up grading the city storm water system itself to capture the run off more completely.
I hope your dig into this in Part 2 and 3
@Ted Smith Thank you for this comment. You're right that parking lot pollution is relatively small, but it's still about 6% of the zinc and copper pollution in the heart of San Diego. The data is a bit old, but for the Chollas Creek watershed, here's the estimates of copper (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3234000-Technical-Report.html#document/p49/a331014) and zinc (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3234000-Technical-Report.html#document/p50/a331017) going into the water from various sources. There's also a later report that supplements that information with more about aerial deposits of copper (https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/aerdepstudyphaseiii.pdf) and is part of the suite of similar studies from various jurisdictions that helped prompt a law to reduce copper in brake pads (http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov:80/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=200920100SB346).
I've talked to BIA a bit to get their thoughts on your last point and hope to get to that debate over who pays for what in the very near future. This series alludes to the construction permit but focuses mostly on the industrial permit.
@Ry Rivard @Ted Smith Thanks Rye, I didn't mention that after the private parking lot water is filtered, it then is discharged on the street or alley where it travels a block or more picking up the pollutants again. All regulation has good purposes but should be viewed with the understanding that the impacts can work contrary to other good intentions. In this case density is often impacted which one could argue, adds more cars trips ( and pollutants) to the total toxin quantities. Open space requirements to provide the areas to filter water gracefully replace parking which reduces unit counts. And the cost of the filtering systems in a current project I am working on is about $2000 per unit which of course is one of the many costs of regulation that we all pay in higher rents.
Please don't misunderstand. The central thesis of the requirement, asking businesses who work with pollutants to clean up their act, is important. But sometimes, well many times, there is foolish over reach in regulations.