The Castlerock Weston development site in 2017. Image: YouTube

Pardee Homes has been slapped with a $291,286 fine by water officials for allegedly allowing more than 70,000 gallons of sediment-laden stormwater to drain into Sycamore Canyon creek.

The settlement agreement announced Thursday by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board stems from Pardee’s work at the 204-acre Castlerock Weston residential development site next to the Santee Lakes.

“Pardee Homes, a significant developer with a long history of building homes in California, knows better and appeared to ignore both common sense and prudent sediment management practices by conducting significant grading during the 2016-2017 rainy season, resulting in catastrophic erosion and sediment runoff,” said Laurie Walsh, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board’s stormwater program manager. “This was in direct contradiction to a Storm Water Pollution Management Plan they had on file for this project.”

The tainted stormwater was being directed through the City of Santee’s municipal storm-separate sewer system to Sycamore Canyon creek, an environmentally sensitive watershed, according to water board officials.

Violations at the construction site occured on “several occasions,” according to Chiara Clemente, the San Diego Water Board’s enforcement coordinator.

The Castlerock Weston residential development is north of Mast Boulevard, on the western edge of the Santee Lakes, in the City of San Diego (click here to see a project site map). The 415 tract-home project was approved by the City of San Diego in 2013.

“When a developer grades a construction site that big all at once, they are assuming a higher risk of pollution because it becomes so much harder to implement sitewide pollution management practices,” Clemente said.

Exposed dirt from construction activities poses a threat to local waters because it can wash off during a storm, explained Clemente. Excess sediment can alter or obstruct flows, resulting in flooding, and it can damage local ecosystems. Abnormally high levels of sediment in the water can smother aquatic animals and habitats, and it can reduce the clarity of water, which harms the ability of organisms to breath, find food and refuge and reproduce. Sediment can also act as a binder, carrying toxic constituents, such as metals, pesticides and other synthetic organic chemicals with it to our rivers, bays and ocean, Clemente continued.

The water board’s enforcement action referenced multiple citations issued by the City of Santee and the City of San Diego and relied on their inspection reports and photographs as some of the evidence for the fine, according to water board officials.

–Toni McAllister

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