Oceanside CA— Today, June 8, 2016 is ‘World Oceans Day’, a global day of ocean celebration and collaboration for a better future. This year’s theme is ‘Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet.
In Oceanside, Dr. Mo Lahsaie, Ph.D.,REHS, aka Dr. Mo, and his team at the Oceanside Water Utilities Department have the task of getting and keeping local waterways in compliance with Federal and State standards.
An Oceanside resident for more than 25 years, Dr. Lahsaie has been in charge of the city’s Clean Water Program since 2003. Dr. Lahsaie, who is of Persian descent, has been in the United States for forty-years, over twenty-seven of those have been working for various government agencies, mostly in the environmental arena.
A large part of Dr. Lahsaie and his teams’ responsibilities are keeping our waterways in compliance with a master regional permit. The permit which covers most every city, 18 of them, in San Diego County is titled Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems or MS4. “The reason it is called ‘separate’ is we have two different sewer systems. A sanitary system and the storm drain system.” explained Dr. Lahsaie “It wasn’t until recently that people understood the difference between the two systems. People would wash their cars, change their oil and wash that down in the driveway thinking it would go to the sewer plant. It doesn’t. It goes straight to the nearest receiving waters, meaning a local creek, river or the ocean.” Oceanside isn’t unique in that regard “The entire state of California is like that except for possibly San Francisco which has a very old combined system.” said Dr. Lahsaie.
Older cities, such as the larger cities on the east coast, have combined systems. “When it rains hard and the storm sewers get overwhelmed, everything gets bypassed because the treatment plants can’t handle it and that isn’t a good thing.”
The MS4 is given to local governments through the Regional Water Quality Control Board which is a branch of CalEPA. The permit is divided into to nine territories and most of San Diego County is in Region 9.
“Everyone in the region has to communicate with each other. We all have to adhere to the same standards. However, there are different requirements for us to protect our water at the coast as opposed to a city like Escondido or Lakeside.” continued Dr. Lahsaie, “Everyone agrees that this permit is the most stringent permit that you can see at the Federal level.”
The MS4 permit falls under a Federal category of permits titled ‘National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System’ (NPDES) “No other permit requires such demanding standards because it touches almost everything.” explained Dr. Lahsaie, “The reason is; the discharges that come through the storm drains have more impact on water quality than almost any other source on our waterways. Imagine all the cities and the activities around us. When the rain comes, that’s it. All of that goes to the storm drain, into the waterways and those need to be protected.”
Waterways are defined as any creeks, rivers, lakes, ponds, ocean, whatever is natural and waterways have a natural ability to clean themselves.
The permit has eleven components to it and covers among others, industrial, commercial, residential and municipal activities. “It says we have to monitor all of our waterways to see what going into them and that is very costly. We also have to do a lot of inspections in those categories. We are required to inspect everything once a year. It’s close to one thousand sites we inspect every year.”