The City of San Diego may face a $4.5 million fine for allegedly failing to make sure construction sites within city boundaries did not pollute local streams and lagoons, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWCB) announced.
The RWCB proposed the penalty Tuesday, saying the city had lax erosion control from 2010 to 2015, allegedly affecting bodies of water from Los Penasquitos Lagoon north of San Diego all the way down to the Tijuana River Estuary, south of San Diego.
“The San Diego Water Board put a lot of resources into collaborative, outcome-focused efforts to protect and restore areas like Los Peñasquitos Lagoon and Tijuana River Estuary,” said James Smith, San Diego Water Board assistant executive officer and prosecution team lead, in a statement. “Enforcement like this is the result of a major deviation from the expectations we had for those partnerships.”
The City of San Diego has an ordinance in place that requires erosion control at construction sites; it also specifies enforcement actions for violations. State regulations have been in place for more than 20 years.
“The Water Board expects the city’s commitment to water quality ordinances to be embraced more broadly by all city staff -- not just the planners who wrote them,” Smith said.
The alleged violations came to light when the Water Board was working with community partners and other officials to address a sediment problem affecting a salt marsh habitat.
An investigation found certain city departments were allowing construction sites near the Los Penasquitos Lagoon to skirt erosion control requirements.
Construction site erosion brings sediment downstream to local creeks and lagoons. The sediment can ruin habitat, create excessive tubidity, transport toxic pollutants and clog natural draining systems.
A hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 12, 2016. The City can chose to pay the penalty, propose a settlement or supplemental environmental project or to contest the penalty.