Coastal fireworks in south O.C. and San Diego County now need pollution permits

Water regulators have voted to require pollution permits for coastal fireworks displays in southern Orange County and San Diego County, in what they said was the first such regulation in the nation.

Operators of seaside fireworks shows from Laguna Beach to the U.S.-Mexico border will have to pay a $1,500 annual fee, minimize the discharge of pollutants into the water and clean up shells, cardboard, fuses and other debris under the rules approved Wednesday by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The rules, which take effect in June, will largely affect displays along the coastline, but will also apply to fireworks over rivers, streams, reservoirs and lakes.

Officials said the policy is an attempt to protect bodies of water from pyrotechnic shows that scatter pollutants and trash. The metals and chemicals that produce explosive effects and bright colors can also contaminate water and become toxic to aquatic life


“The new requirements balance the importance of public displays of fireworks as part of our national and community celebrations and the need to prevent degradation of water and sediment quality from the fallout of firework combustion residue,” David W. Gibson, the water board’s executive officer, said in a news release.

Water board officials said it was the nation’s first comprehensive policy to regulate fireworks as a pollution source subject to the federal Clean Water Act.

With the exception of Sea World, the region’s fireworks shows were not previously subject to water-quality regulations. The theme park, which launches fireworks throughout the year, will be required to test the water and sediment of Mission Bay for pollutants as it has since 2007 under its own permit from the water board.

The policy comes as environmental groups have sought to limit the booming, luminous displays over the ocean on the grounds that they threaten wildlife and degrade water quality. Last summer’s Independence Day fireworks over La Jolla Cove narrowly avoided cancelation after the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation sued to try to stop it.


Organizers of fireworks say their events don’t cause environmental harm as long as they occur only once or twice a year.

The 20-minute La Jolla fireworks show is scheduled to go on as planned this Fourth of July, but organizers said the new rules will add unnecessary costs and paperwork and could open the event up to more legal challenges from environmental groups.

The annual fireworks display at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach will proceed as planned — and with a permit, City Manager John Pietig said.

Environmental groups said they were considering appealing the new regulations to the State Water Resources Control Board on the grounds that they don’t go far enough to require monitoring the effects of pyrotechnics.

“This is a step in the right direction,” said Ross Campbell, an attorney for the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation. “But it needs to have real meaning.”