Stormwater pipe dumping polluted urban runoff into a nearby creek

New Year, Same Stormwater Issues

On Thursday, February 17, the City of San Diego’s Stormwater Department gave an update on their work developing a long-term funding strategy for stormwater at the Environment Committee meeting. This update shared favorable polling data and reiterated the enormous need for a ballot measure to create a dedicated funding source for clean water.


Near two billion dollar Deficit

In June 2018, the office of the City Auditor released a report titled “Performance Audit of the Storm Water Division”. This report found a $459 million shortage in funding for critical stormwater needs. In just four years, that number has nearly quadrupled to almost two billion dollars. To add even more context, the total replacement cost for the City of San Diego’s stormwater system is $5.76 billion. San Diego’s Stormwater Department is responsible for operating and maintaining crucial stormwater infrastructure that keeps our streets from flooding and complying with water quality regulations to protect human and environmental health. San Diego’s stormwater system has been historically underfunded and neglected, leaving our communities vulnerable to poor water quality, flooding, sinkholes, property damage, and more.

Climate change is water change

On February 28, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report emphasizing the serious damage climate change is already causing and the need to prepare for increased heat, drought, flooding, and fires. It also discusses the limits of adaptation.

The latest IPCC report notes that climate change exposes existing injustice, hitting marginalized communities the hardest. The worst damage isn’t just driven by extreme weather–it’s the combination of climate disasters and poor (often discriminatory) planning and policies that put people in harm’s way.

Climate change is driving more extreme weather in communities across the country, including San Diego, from megadroughts to superstorms. In the West, rising temperatures melt snow, making soil and plants thirstier and increasing evaporation. Drought affects our water supply and affects water quality by concentrating contaminants and pollution in urban runoff.

The bottom line is we haven’t done enough to protect our communities and ecosystems from climate-driven destruction. By properly investing in stormwater infrastructure, San Diego can build climate resilience through nature-based solutions that reduce pollution, create local water supplies, reduce flooding, and build green spaces in our communities. We must act now to invest in dedicated stormwater funding to fix our failing and outdated infrastructure and implement nature-based solutions.

stormwater can’t wait

A City of San Diego sign "Flooded" installed on a flooded street

San Diego cares about clean water

The Stormwater Department shared the public opinion research findings at Thursday’s meeting. The data confirmed what we already know: San Diegans care about clean water. More specifically, San Diegans “valued the outcomes that could be achieved by stormwater funding” like:

    • Improving and protecting water quality
    • Protecting Marine Life
    • Reducing trash and pollution
    • Capturing stormwater for use
    • Preventing flooding
    • Preventing damage from failed stormwater infrastructure

The polling also showed that 61 – 71% of San Diegans would support increasing our stormwater fee to fund these outcomes.

Education is essential to stormwater’s success

The City of San Diego has not raised its 95 cents per month fee since 1996, which has left us far behind other major cities, many of which charge over 10 dollars. If the City decides to add a stormwater measure to the November ballot, it would require two-thirds of voters to pass. While councilmembers have been outwardly supportive of the need for a dedicated funding strategy, they have expressed concern over the high threshold needed to pass the measure.

As the report mentions, ongoing education and engagement for stormwater are essential to the ballot measure’s success. San Diego Coastkeeper and many other organizations stand ready to launch educational campaigns around the importance of clean water, clean beaches, and a well-funded stormwater system.

Stormwater funding is dire

The office of the Independent Budget Analyst added that while the Stormwater Department has made some progress by increasing efficiency and applying for infrastructure loans, there needs to be a dedicated funding source to fill the gap and pay back the loans.

“If the city does not pursue a ballot measure at this time, planning and funding for stormwater needs will become an even more important discussion as other stormwater funding mechanisms like WIFIA loans move forward. The council will need to consider many competing priorities in regard to stormwater and other important service level impacts in the future if additional resources are not sought.”
– Office of the Independent Budget Analyst

Our infrastructure is crumbling and the City of San Diego is largely failing to meet water quality standards meant to protect human and environmental health. San Diego must act now.

Clean Water Matters

The Stormwater Department will present at a General City Council meeting in early March. This meeting will be a crucial opportunity for the public to voice their concerns and support dedicated stormwater infrastructure funding. We must ensure the council continues to push forward towards a better San Diego.

Take action on stormwater infrastructure funding

Visit our dedicated Take Action on Stormwater Infrastructure web page to learn how you can help advocate in support of a dedicated stormwater fund.


Dive into San Diego’s history on stormwater management with our in-depth breakdown of the stormwater infrastructure funding issue.