Water board OKs $430,851 fine for Encinitas stormwater violations


The Regional Water Quality Control Board earlier this month approved a $430,851 settlement over stormwater violations that let sediment pollution flow into Rossini Creek, a tributary of the San Elijo Lagoon.

The city of Encinitas and its contractor, USS Cal Builders, had faulty drainage controls at the Encinitas Community Park, resulting in rains in December 2012 and March 2013 pushing park sediment into nearby Rossini Creek, according to the settlement.

During this period, the 44-acre community park at 425 Santa Fe Drive was in the midst of construction. It opened in January.

“The mismanagement at this construction site was really unexpected, given the level of experience of both the contractor and the city of Encinitas,” said Chiara Clemente, the Water Board’s enforcement coordinator, in a statement.

After months of negotiations with the Water Board, the city in February waived a public hearing and agreed to the full $430,851 fine. But the Water Board still had to sign off on the settlement.

The settlement states the city will pay $206,393 toward a habitat restoration project at the San Elijo Lagoon, which the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy will oversee.

Clemente said the habitat restoration project “reflects the keen interest in the health of the San Elijo Lagoon and coastal waters of the community.”

Negotiations are ongoing between the city and USS Cal Builders over how much of the remaining $224,458 the contractor must pay. Those funds will be deposited in the California Water Pollution Cleanup and Abatement program, which provides public agencies and nonprofits with funds to combat pollution when there are no responsible parties available to do the work.

“It’s not clear yet how much was the city’s responsibility and how much was the contractor for not doing what they’re supposed to do,” Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said this week of the violations.

Given the violations, Shaffer said the city should ensure city contracts are comprehensive — and that they’re followed.

“We ask our staff to look at what happened and to see what they can learn from it, and I think they have taken it very seriously,” she said.

Shaffer also said she wished the violations hadn’t occurred, but at least a portion of funds will go to the San Elijo Lagoon restoration.

The San Elijo Lagoon is designated as a natural preserve, along with an impaired water body because of excess sediment and silt causing damage to salt marshes there.

Excess sediment can result in flooding and damage local ecosystems, according to a news release from the Water Board on the settlement. Abnormally high levels can smother aquatic animals and habitats, as well as hinder the ability of organisms to breathe, find food and reproduce. And sediment can carry metals, pesticides and other organic chemicals downstream.

A state construction stormwater permit and the Water Board’s municipal stormwater permit require sediment management during construction to avoid these types of discharges, the release also states. The maximum penalty for the violations was $2.7 million.