Storm Water Pollution in Malibu

Where does the water go when it rains? The short answer, always, is “downhill.” And downhill ultimately means the ocean. But how does it get from my street to the ocean? And what is the quality of this “storm water”?
In modern cities, there are two separate sewer systems: one for toilet flushing and other household/commercial/industrial wastes — the “sanitary sewer”; and a second for dealing with precipitation — the “storm drains.”
The sanitary sewer leads to a wastewater treatment facility, where the wastes are rendered harmless to the environment, and then returned back to the natural hydrologic cycle. These systems are heavily regulated, with operating permits required for every treatment facility, discharge permits from the Regional Water Quality Control Boards, and requirements for licensed operators to make sure the environment — and public health — are fully protected.
The storm drain leads to … the ocean! Perhaps it discharges into a stream first, but ultimately all of the flows that enter the storm drain return to the ocean — with absolutely zero treatment and minimal regulation.
So what’s in the storm drain, and should we be concerned? You know that fresh, clean feeling in the air following a rain storm? That’s real! The air has been “rinsed” by the precipitation event. So has the ground over which the rain water has passed. While the water was pretty clean as it condensed in the clouds and dropped from the sky, by the time it makes it to the storm drain, it’s a mess! It’s got animal droppings, fertilizers, pesticides, motor oil, rubber from tires slowly eroding on the roadways, dead animals, and of course, an unimaginable amount of microorganisms.
And what do we do with these wastes? Nothing!
There are a host of practical reasons why nothing is done, and we won’t be exploring those today. But a new project has just been completed in Malibu that may mark a change in how storm water is addressed. See here:
A similar project has been in the works for another iconic southern California beach, Santa Monica. I suspect that as our technologies mature, we will find ways to mitigate the urban wastes that make their way to the oceans.
Now if we could just do something about natural rivers, and all the pollutants — rotting vegetation, animal wastes, microorganisms, etc. — that they contribute to the oceans!

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