Polluted Runoff Campaign

Credit: Kris FrickeTackling Polluted Runoff

California Coastkeeper Alliance’s Polluted Runoff Campaign aims to address polluted runoff - the single greatest source of contamination to California’s waters.  Rainfall, sprinkler and irrigation systems, and other sources of water flow over streets, buildings, yards, golf courses, parking lots, and other “hardscapes,” picking up pollutants and dumping them directly into our storm drains, which then transport the wastes untreated to our rivers, streams and ocean. Stormwater carries trash, oil, pesticides, dirt and other pollutants to the waterways we use for fishing, swimming, and drinking.  Most storm drain systems discharge directly into the nearest waterway, which eventually flows to the ocean. For example, more than 50 rivers, creeks and estuaries drain into the Monterey Sanctuary and proximate marine protected areas.  In an average year, stormwater runoff carries over six million gallons of oil into California waters from our roads and sidewalks—the equivalent of over 110 Cosco Busan oil spills. 

Clean coastal areas, beaches, rivers, and bays are a big part of what makes living in California special. They also fuel California’s coastal and ocean economy.  Yet too often residents and visitors cannot enjoy our iconic rivers, coast and beaches because the water is contaminated with polluted runoff.  Due to stormwater pollution, our state struggles to meet water quality standards set to protect human health, and too many waterways throughout the state are unsafe for fishing, swimming and drinking.  In 2011, eighty-three percent of California rivers and streams assessed were considered "severely polluted,” many due to the uncontrolled discharge of stormwater pollutants.  Absent more effective representation of California’s watersheds and communities in stormwater permit processes, our ocean, bays, and rivers will continue to deteriorate over the next decade. 

Stormwater capture is one of the most effective strategies to control stormwater pollutants from entering our waterways, and is also a sustainable water supply strategy.  By advancing the use of low-impact, “green” infrastructure and development patterns that slow stormwater flow and allow it to sink and recharge basins, California will achieve the dual benefits of sustainable, low-energy water supplies and fewer contaminated waterways.  This approach, known as “low-impact development” (LID), mimics natural processes to maintain the natural hydrology of an area, significantly reducing the level of storm water-caused pollution and increasing groundwater recharge. Watch a video by the San Francisco Estuary Institute to learn more about the innovative techniques cities are using to reduce runoff.

undefinedCCKA Is Taking Action

In 2012, CCKA and the California Waterkeepers officially launched the two-year, statewide Polluted Runoff Campaign.  The campaign yielded  immediate, and dramatic public engagement in the stormwater permit processes, and resulted in measureable improvements to the permits.  In June, CCKA coordinated input from Waterkeepers, Clean Water Act attorneys, and scientific experts to submit comments on the statewide Construction Stormwater Permit, requesting a timeline be set to develop and reincorporate numeric limits into the Permit.  In September, CCKA  submitted comments on the Caltrans Stormwater Permit emphasizing the importance of adopting numeric limitations, strengthening monitoring requirements, and ensuring that Caltrans was consistent with California's Areas of Special Biological Significance Protections.  In October, CCKA submitted comments containing an unprecedented outpouring of support and interest from the public regarding the statewide Industrial Stormwater Permit.  This prompted the State Water Board to re-develop the Industrial Permit to be more enforceable and require better data collection.  

In 2013, CCKA is working with the State Water Board to finalize the statewide stormwater permits, and is beginning new stormwater projects.  In January, after years of advocacy to develop a strong Municipal Stormwater Permit (Phase II Small MS4), the State Water Board incorporated many of CCKA's comments and adopted a Phase II Permit with the strongest stormwater capture controls in the nation.  With the Phase II Permit adopted, CCKA turned its attention to implementation at the regional level, submitting comments in support of the Central Coast's innovative new stormwater capture standards.  The standards, which are based on natural hydrology, were adopted in July and could be a statewide model for the next generation of stormwater permits.  Over the summer, CCKA turned its attention to the State Board's Final Draft Industrial Stormwater Permit.  Along with detailed legal comments to strengthen the Permit, CCKA helped generate over 6,000 public comment letters requesting the State Board improve its regulations on industrial stormwater pollution.  CCKA also began advocating for stronger stormwater regulations at the federal level.  In July, CCKA worked with a national coalition to file petitions urging the U.S. EPA to exercise its authority to safeguard rivers, lakes, and streams from polluted runoff from existing commercial, industrial, and institutional sites that are currently failing to adequately control their pollution.

CCKA and California Waterkeepers will continue to ensure that stormwater regulations continue to measurably reduce stormwater runoff to California waterways, and require LID practices that slow and sink stormwater flow and create local, low-energy water supplies.  CCKA is also continuing to bridge the gap between regulations and practice by informing and engaging communities and businesses in work to reduce polluted runoff.  Finally, our organizations’ citizen monitoring and investigations of industrial and municipal facilities are illuminating pollution hotspots, spurring immediate improvements to local water quality, and informing the development of better policies and regulations.