Gino DiCaro

New regs proposed for ocean discharges

By Gino DiCaro, VP, Communications

Capitol Update, Nov. 4, 2005 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

The State Water Board is currently working on regulations to protect some ocean areas.  These 34 Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS) make up almost a third of the state's coastline and could result in higher discharge compliance costs for coastal cities.

CMTA has joined with 33 other business organizations, small and large cities, small and large counties, industry groups, school districts, farmers, and others to form a broad-based coalition, the California Coalition for Clean Water.  We are concerned that the State Water Board is unnecessarily complicating the path to a pragmatic ASBS program by continuing to assert that the underlying California Ocean Plan (COP) prohibition allows only pristine stormwater to enter ASBSs.  Since no stormwater contains zero pollutants, this interpretation preordains a program based on exceptions to the prohibition.  This raises a host of concerns, starting with the presumption that runoff to ASBSs is per se illegal, irrespective of whether that runoff is affecting water quality or the ecosystem.

The Table B standards of the COP were developed to judge application levels in the ocean, not in the discharge.  Many of these standards are more stringent than the State's drinking water standards, which are well known to require very costly treatment works.  The zero-tolerance regulatory approach cannot be squared with any apparent threat to the State's ASBSs from stormwater runoff.  Such an approach to ASBS regulation represents a slippery slope that could have severe consequences for dischargers well beyond the immediate vicinity of the ASBS watersheds since other basins eventually discharge into the ASBSs.

The State Water Resources Board, while acknowledging the futility of eliminating all pollutants from stormwater, nevertheless appears to be headed toward a general exception that would eliminate dry-weather stormwater discharges into these areas and set more stringent requirements on wet-weather discharges.  Provisions would likely require the level of pollutants found in the stormwater to be comparable, "but not necessarily identical" to background levels.  

The California Coalition for Clean Water advocates a workable and effective strategy focusing on the health of the ASBS and whether discharges threaten to adversely affect natural water quality. The following is a cooperative framework:

  • Identify "Best Management Practices" for ASBS runoff;
  • Establish local stakeholder groups to facilitate the management of ASBS;
  • Work with regional water boards to develop and implement ASBS assessment plans;
  • Remedy any undesirable alteration of natural water quality;
  • Allow discharges that do not cause an undesirable alteration of natural water quality; and
  • Provide state funding to facilitate local protection of these areas of statewide significance.

Compliance with these provisions would constitute "special conditions," obviating the need for exceptions or enforcement.

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