San Diego Storm Drains and Storm Water: Increased Focus on Compliance Means More Inspections and Violations
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
by: Keith Woolgar, Brinks Services and Brae Wyckoff, SWIMS Clean

Section: Trends and Tips

The Clean Water Act of 1972 just won’t go away. In fact, more and more San Diegans are about to learn about this 42-year-old federal law the hard way.

BOMA Associate Members Keith Woolgar and Brae Wyckoff paid a visit to the city of San Diego Storm Water Department this month to learn more for this article, an exclusive BOMA San Diego Newsletter article. What they found was eye-opening.

By the numbers, the city’s Storm Water Department now includes about 200 employees, including biologists, inspectors, community outreach officers, administrators and more. The department has ramped up to 3,000 annual on-site property inspections for violations, many of them by surprise visit.  Violators, can expect fines from $100-$1000 imposed by the department on the spot, for each violation.  In some cases, a $100 fine on Day #1 could become an additional $250 fine on Day #2, and increase daily from there. The worst violators can be turned over to the City Attorney’s office for prosecution, where fines can go up. This from the San Diego Municipal Code; “…a maximum civil penalty of $10,000 per day, per violation” can be levied.

There is a significant increase in enforcement going on right now, and any education we can provide to area building owners and managers, the better

“There is definitely more strict enforcement in process”, said Andre Sonksen of the Pollution Control Division of the Storm Water Department. “Less exemptions are a big part of that,” he said.  Exemptions from the past include violations such overwatering landscape, large air conditioner condensation discharges, even vehicle washing runoff, all now subject to being cited. “There is a significant increase in enforcement going on right now, and any education we can provide to area building owners and managers, the better.”

The department is not so interested in imposing fines, as it is in keeping our waterways clean. To simplify, if it is not water from astorm---like rain---it does not belong in a storm drain. Or, from the San Diego Municipal Code; “Illegal Discharge” means any discharge to the Storm Water Conveyance System that is not composed entirely of storm water.

Perhaps you have seen the television, radio spots, or are familiar with the “NO DUMPING/GOES TO OCEAN” stencil marking many city storm drains. Aren’t they helpful? Well now, consider them serious!

“The very large businesses already understand and are overwhelmingly compliant,” says Sonksen. “Smaller businesses often are unaware of our initiatives, but are not really violators either. It’s the mid-size group who are the biggest concern.  We hope to get more of those folks educated.”

“I agree completely,” says Wyckoff, BOMA Associate Member and Storm Water Inspector at SWIMS Clean, a company dedicated specifically to storm water compliance solutions. “The good news is that San Diego is the most proactive of the cities I have seen, but the message is just not resonating with everyone yet. Storm drain and storm water issues and misconceptions are definitely an industry trend right now,” he said.

The Storm Water Department sets up information tables and kiosks at events around the city, and welcomes requests to speak at company functions, industry groups and consumer events.

For further information see or contact:

Think Blue:

I Love a Clean San Diego:

Review the San Diego Municipal code sections related to storm water (PDF).

Mr. Sonksen at the Storm Water Department:

Mr. Wyckoff at SWIMS Clean:

Article author Keith Woolgar at The Brinks Group :