On Thursday, November 18, the City of San Diego’s Stormwater Department presented a year-end report and a funding strategy update. Their overall message reemphasized the enormous need for a dedicated funding source. This update sets the stage for San Diego’s fight for clean water to continue in 2022.

Funding Needs are Growing Rapidly

Stormwater Funding has Failed to Keep Pace
The City of San Diego’s Stormwater Department receives less than 1/3 of their average annual funding need.

Despite increased efficiency and multiple funding sources like grants, loans, and fees, the Stormwater Department receives less than one-third of its average annual operating budget need. In another update, the department stated, “Over the next 20 years, $6.7 Billion in investments are needed to make our stormwater system safe, reliable, and in compliance with regulations.”

The gap between the year’s success stories and the laundry list of repairs needed is increasing. Among the completed projects, the department listed 79 spot repairs, 43 replaced or rehabilitated parts, and four channels funded for maintenance. In contrast, they recounted the growing number of underfunded and incomplete projects, including over 2000 known pipe failures, 282 remaining parts requiring attention, and 200 channels requiring maintenance.

Their message was simple: We know where the failures are, we know how to fix them, we stand ready, but we lack the resources.

Fortunately, a ballot measure could be the light at the end of the storm drain. The City’s recent round of public polling continues to show favorable results. It’s clear that with community outreach and public education, a stormwater ballot measure is very likely to pass.

Quality of Life and Economic Health Are Impacted

Laurel Street Pipeline Repair
A previous pipeline repair near Laurel Street.

The department highlighted the impacts of systemic neglect and underfunding are worsening and are already impacting our lives today. “Bubble gum and shoestring should not be the way we’re holding together a stormwater system for a city that is so dependent on our bays, on our beaches, and that is vulnerable to flooding,” said Committee Chair Elo-Rivera.

While a ballot measure would impose a parcel tax, Councilmember Von Wilpert pointed out San Diego is already paying exorbitant prices for emergency repairs, often at a higher rate. The City is not only forced to spend more money on expensive emergency repairs but is also subject to increased fines, property damage, lost tourism, and more. The City could create a more cost-competitive bidding process to address future emergency repairs and failures with proper funding.

San Diego Needs Safe Clean Water Now

Cabrillo Heights rain garden green infrastructure
Rain gardens in neighborhood parks, like this one in Cabrillo Heights, present future green infrastructure opportunities.

Years of stormwater system neglect have led to increasingly unsafe water and polluted urban runoff, beach closures, Clean Water Act violations, and a lack of climate resilience. Emergency repairs to our stormwater system are costly and take funding away from other capital improvement projects.

This campaign will reach a critical milestone at the next Environment Committee meeting in January. The City Council will see the proposed language and vote on whether or not to include the stormwater measure on the upcoming ballot in November 2022.

  • According to the Stormwater Department, the following program goals will serve as the framework for the proposed ballot measure.
    • Improve/protect water quality
    • Safeguard from flooding
    • Prioritize green infrastructure
    • Modernize infrastructure
    • Revitalize our waterways
    • Capture stormwater for local supply

We need a dedicated stormwater funding revenue source, or we risk spending even more money on band-aid solutions in the future. Clean, safe water for San Diego addresses climate change and puts communities first. Ensuring stormwater projects are adequately funded enhances water security, improves water quality, reduces flood risk, mitigates climate change, creates green jobs, beautifies neighborhoods, connects communities, and fulfills legal obligations.

Want to learn more? Dive into our primer on stormwater infrastructure funding.

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