Our Regional Water Quality Control Boards regulate discharges from medium and large municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) through the Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino and Sand Diego MS4 Permits. These permits are issued under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Program and are renewed every five years. While unknown to the general public MS4 permits are critical in protecting water quality. Coastkeeper is often the only environmental organization working on this important issue.
MS4 permits detail the activities that Counties and Cities must take to protect water quality from pollutants in stormwater. Most dry weather discharges of water are illegal. Activities required under these permits include street sweeping, public education on pollution and inspections of industrial sites. MS4 permits are also used to implement the state trash policy and to reduce specific pollutants through Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).
MS4 permits are complicated legal documents that require a significant amount of time and money to develop and implement. Coastkeeper participates in the public process to develop the four MS4 permits in our service area and monitors compliance. Our monitoring activities include review of documents, tracking TMDL implementation activities and water and trash monitoring by coastkeeper staff and volunteers.
A recent court decision in December 2017 will result in big changes to the way MS4 permits are developed and implemented. Future permits are likely to be less detailed in the activities required to protect water quality and the County and Cities will need to make their own decisions on how to allocate resources to protect water quality. By leaving these decisions to local government we loose out on the big picture of protecting water quality through a regionally coordinated effort. It also leaves our water quality vulnerable to fickle city budgets and politics. Coastkeeper is committed to protecting water quality by all means at our disposal and we will be watching the MS4 permit development process closely in 2018.