SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 15, 2009 (ENS) – To improve water quality in the San Joaquin River, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached an agreement with California’s Port of Stockton to correct deficiencies in the port’s stormwater program.

The deficiencies were uncovered in March 2008 during an on-site audit of the Port of Stockton’s municipal stormwater program conducted by the EPA and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board that included 25 individual stormwater inspections of port tenants.

The inspectors found problems with the port’s permit program in the areas of construction and industrial oversight, municipal operations, standard development, and toxicity monitoring. Four of the tenants were issued Administrative Orders to comply with federal and state regulations.

Discharges from the port’s sewer system flow directly or indirectly to the San Joaquin River. One of the state’s two inland sea ports, Stockton is connected with San Francisco Bay by the river’s 78-mile channel.

“Discharge from municipal storm sewer systems is a significant source of water contamination in the San Joaquin River,” said Alexis Strauss, Water Division director for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region.

“The Port of Stockton’s efforts under this agreement will greatly improve its stormwater program and help minimize stormwater pollution of an important water resource,” said Strauss.

Under the agreement, the port is to improve its toxicity testing program, oversight of industrial tenants and construction sites, and management practices for pesticide storage, catch basins, sumps, stormwater retention basins, and street sweeping by July 1, 2010.

The San Joaquin river once supported the southernmost salmon run in North America. A plan to bring life back to the dried-up river and restore its historic salmon run could spend up to $800 million to restore a 150-mile stretch of the waterway.

In March 2009, as part of a bill providing wilderness protection to more than two million acres in nine states, Congress appropriated $88 million to help fund this project.

Cleaning up stormwater discharges from the Port of Stockton will help in the river restoration effort.

Generally, because of their close proximity to waterways, the EPA has identified port industries’ compliance with stormwater requirements as an emerging national enforcement priority area.

Through its Ports Initiative, the EPA’s Pacific Southwest office is evaluating stormwater management at all the ports in the region. The agency aims to improve water quality by working with facilities to bring them into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act and collaborating with states to improve stormwater permits for the ports.

The Clean Water Act has a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program designed to address stormwater pollution. Under the program, operators of municipal sewer systems obtain permit authorization from the EPA or an authorized state and must run a comprehensive stormwater management program to prevent harmful pollutants from being washed or dumped into surface waters.

EPA inspectors are conducting both individual inspections of port tenants and audits of the municipal stormwater programs implemented by the ports.

“Contaminants in stormwater run-off are a significant source of water pollution to coastal waters in Southern California,” said Strauss. “We will be working with the Regional Board, the cities, the ports and their tenants to minimize the impacts of port operations on water quality.”

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