Community activists call for enforcement of clean water act and action on polluted runoff

National Clean Water Network report cites ways to cleaner water

provided by S.T.O.P. - Surfers Tired of Pollution


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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.

Surfers Tired of Pollution present...

The 1997 Environmental Kooks and Dukes Awards

 The Kooks

City of Coronado

  • For failing to comply with the Clean Water Act by illegally dumping millions of gallons of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean at North Beach.
  • For polluting the only designated surfing beach in Coronado.
  • For spending $5.2 million of taxpayers' money to "Improve the storm drain systems." These "improvements" actually led to increased levels of polluted discharge, which resulted in contaminated water warning signs being posted at the beach since last August.

San Diego Unified Port District

  • For continued violations of the Clean Water Act including under reporting the volume of polluted discharge from the Convention Center.
  • For noncompliance with sediment cleanup orders.
  • For general disregard for the welfare, health, and input of community groups and residents.

U.S. Navy

  • For dumping live mortar shells, dummy torpedoes, and other assorted ammunition and debris on San Diego's beaches.
  • For operating facilities without the necessary Clean Water Act permits.
  • For being the largest known source of oil spills into San Diego Bay.

The Dukes

Assemblyman Howard Wayne

  • For listening and responding to the community on clean water issues.
  • For authoring clean water legislation (AB 411 and AB 1429) and providing the leadership necessary to garner the bi-partisan support that enabled these bills to become law.
  • For providing forums for the community to work towards solving polluted runoff problems both in San Diego and throughout California.

Kathy Stone, County Dept. of Environmental Health

  • For developing cooperative clean water efforts between community organizations and government agencies (for example, the Oceans Water Quality Survey).
  • For going above-and-beyond her job duties by actively working for clean water during her off-duty hours.