San Diegans love their beaches and bays. Most days you can see people playing in the water in many ways – swimming, surfing, snorkeling, diving, fishing, and more.

But for 72 hours after it rains, it is another story. Closed beaches and empty lineups testify to the hazards of playing in polluted stormwater.

Our antiquated stormwater infrastructure was designed to move the water to the ocean as directly as possible, along with its load of trash, toxins, and other waste swept off the pavement. Along with urban runoff, pipe failures result in our wastewater getting into our stormwater pipes and subsequently in our water.

It does not have to be that way. Other coastal cities are changing their approach to stormwater by treating stormwater as an asset rather than a liability. Stormwater is being captured, treated, and re-used as a local water source. We can do the same.

So how did our region, with its 70 miles of beloved coastline, fall so far behind in protecting that priceless resource?

Part of the problem is that the City of San Diego’s Stormwater Department has a budget shortfall of $1.4 billion in outstanding projects in the next 5 years alone. This deficit is larger than all other “capital assets” combined, these include streets, parks, streetlights, and more.

Despite this need and growing deficit, San Diego continues to fund its stormwater infrastructure on an ad hoc basis. Instead of having a dedicated funding source to meet its ongoing stormwater maintenance and repair needs, the City uses General Funds and other non-dedicated sources for emergency repairs.

Without a dedicated funding source to maintain and improve the stormwater system, our infrastructure will continue to fall behind and fail, putting individuals, communities, and property at risk. Ensuring stormwater projects have enough funding will improve water quality, increase local water supply, protect public health, and ensure climate resilience.

Bandaids and other quick-fix approaches to our stormwater system are costly, inefficient, and take funding away from other critical projects. Instead, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to plan and invest in more just and equitable water systems that build resilient communities and create family-wage jobs in San Diego.

Simply put, ensuring that stormwater projects are adequately funded enhances water security, improves water quality, reduces flood risk, mitigates climate change, improves neighborhood resiliency, fulfills legal obligations, and with strong labor practices creates quality local jobs for our region.

The Stormwater Department at the City of San Diego has been polling residents to gauge support for a comprehensive new approach.

On Thursday, July 15 at 1 p.m., the city’s Stormwater Department will update the City’s Environment Committee on the results of their public polling and support for its strategy to fund and rebuild our failing stormwater systems.

We need you to provide public comment in support of improving our critical water infrastructure. Take action here:

Learn more about San Diego Coastkeeper’s campaign on stormwater infrastructure here