Stormwater runoff from the fairgrounds was discovered to be laden with bacteria from animal waste, dissolved metals and excess nutrients. Photo by Chris Stone

The state organization that oversees the Del Mar Fairgrounds has agreed to make $10 million in upgrades to keep contaminated storm runoff from entering area watersheds, the environmental group San Diego Coastkeeper announced Friday.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association agreed to install infrastructure that will capture stormwater that runs from areas of the fairgrounds where animals are housed, and to treat the stormwater before it’s discharged into adjacent waterways, according to Coastkeeper. The association will convert the racetrack infield water features into holding ponds, and build a wetland area and a treatment plant that will filter pollutants from stormwater.

“During periods of rainfall, harmful bacteria and pollutants were flowing directly into Stevens Creek and the San Dieguito Lagoon,” said Matt O’Malley, Coastkeeper executive director and attorney. “This agreement will help protect sensitive wildlife, as well as the swimmers and surfers who depend on clean water.”

According to Coastkeeper and the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation of Encinitas, it was discovered last year when the fairgrounds was discharging stormwater laden with bacteria from animal waste, dissolved metals and excess nutrients directly into local waters when it rained. The investigations identified possible impacts to Steven Creek, the San Dieguito River, the protected San Dieguito Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area, and ultimately, the Pacific Ocean.

Coastkeeper and CERF subsequently informed the association that federal and state clean water standards weren’t being met.

“This facility is run by the 22nd District Agricultural Association, a governmental entity,” CERF Executive Directo Marco Gonzalez said.

“We expect the government to be at the forefront of environmental compliance,” Gonzalez said. “To its credit, the fairgrounds has stepped up with a major financial commitment to improving water quality in the creek.”

The association also will contribute over $51,000 to the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy to benefit water quality in the San Dieguito River watershed.

–City News Service