Water pollution degrades surface waters, creating unsafe conditions for fishing, swimming, and other activities as well as impacting drinking water resources. Protection and preservation of water resources in the United States is governed by the federal Clean Water Act. Passage of the 1987 Water Quality Act established regulation of non-point source pollution to augment the regulation of point source pollution established by the 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Section 402(p)(2) of the 1987 regulation created the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program to control non-point source pollution.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces the CWA requirements; however, in California, the State Water Resources Control Board and nine associated Regional Water Quality Control Boards ensure compliance with the CWA under the auspices of the EPA.
Since 1990, operators of municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) are required to develop a stormwater management program designed to prevent harmful pollutants from impacting water resources via stormwater runoff. In Orange County, stormwater and urban runoff enter the stormwater system from streets, curbs and gutters and travel, untreated to local water bodies or the Pacific Ocean.
As an MS4 operator, Orange County must obtain and implement NPDES permits for both the Santa Ana (SAR) and San Diego (SDR) Regional Water Quality Control Board regions. The Orange County Stormwater Program (Program) is a cooperative of the County of Orange, Orange County Flood Control District (OCFCD) and all 34 Orange County cities. As the Principal Permittee on both the SAR and SDR NPDES permits, the County guides development and implementation of the Program, collaborating regularly with Co-permittees to ensure compliance and prevent ocean pollution.
NPDES permits are issued for a five-year term and have generally followed a progressive pattern. The First Term (est. 1990) permit provided an opportunity for Orange County municipalities to establish a program customized to local conditions. In its earliest form, the Program focused on gathering data about existing conditions and implementing an initial set of improvement measures aimed at known water quality deficiencies. Issued in 1996, the Second Term permit built upon the knowledge gained during the First Term and aimed to improve water quality incrementally over time. During this period, Orange County invested heavily in parallel efforts to implement a watershed approach, a comprehensive but lengthy planning tool for addressing water quality as well as habitat restoration, recreation, and flood control. Program developments in the Third Term permit (est. 2003) lead to successful Dry Weather Reconnaissance and monitoring programs, a diverse and recognizable public education campaign and other significant advancements.
In May and December, 2009, the SAR and SDR Boards, respectively, adopted the Fourth Term NPDES permits for Orange County. Looking forward, the Orange County Permittees are striving to modify existing and develop new Program elements to comply with the newly adopted Fourth Term permits. Stormwater and urban runoff are forms of non-point source pollution from all over our landscape; success of the Program and other water pollution control efforts relies on the cooperation of all Orange County residents.