In what appears to be a case of locking the barn door after the horses escaped, construction sites in the city of San Diego are facing tougher government enforcement over state-mandated stormwater controls including fines and even stop-work orders.

That’s the result of a settlement San Diego officials entered into with water quality regulators that will require the city to pay $3.2 million and step up policing of development. The agreement was reached after the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board brought a civil liability complaint against the city for alleged violations of its stormwater permit last year.

The regional board went back to 2010, well before the state passed its latest iteration of the Construction General Stormwater Permit, with its alphabet soup of requirements (SWPPPs, QSDs, BMPs, QSPs, etc). Investigators with the water board then found numerous construction sites with unstable earthen embankments and little erosion control. While city inspectors had sometimes citied developers for the violations, enforcement efforts were limited to the notices.

The issues persisted through 2014 despite repeated notifications by the water board to the city. That year, the board did an audit of the city departments that do construction stormwater inspections.

Investigators found that developers were not subject to escalating fines by the city, and said the municipal enforcement division was understaffed, with some employees unaware of the basic stormwater requirements for construction sites.

As part of the settlement agreement, city officials said that as of last fall they have rolled out a new enforcement protocol that includes fines and the ability to stop construction if a developer is repeatedly out of compliance. The city as also said that contractors that repeatedly violate stormwater regulations will be barred from bidding on city contracts.

Additionally, the city will pay more than $1.6 million to the State Water Resources Control Board Cleanup and Abatement Account. In addition, it will spend an equal amount on several environmental projects, including:

  • $630,000 for restoration of the Los Peñasquitos Lagoon.
  • $225,000 for improvements on the San Diego River.
  • $72,400 to help restore a section of Chollas Creek.
  • $682,932 for a bio-assessment tool to prioritize areas for future water-quality projects.

The upshot for contractors will be stiffer enforcement efforts from the city and the opportunity for more work to clean up these waterways. As long as you are in compliance with the state’s construction permit it should be business as usual, in the new normal of California’s complicated water regulations.

By Dave Sorem, P.E. ECA Government Affairs Chairman email: [email protected]