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Water Board Delays Decision on Discharges

Santa Monica Baykeeper, which opposes the state proposal, is pleased with the move.

The California State Water Resources Control Board has delayed its decision on . The board will take up the issue again in January after reworking and clarifying language in the plan.

Santa Monica Baykeeper, which opposes the proposal, is pleased with the move, Executive Director Liz Crosson told Patch. At the board's meeting on Wednesday in Sacramento, Crosson and other environmentalists testified against the plan, highlighting what she calls "ambiguity" and "loopholes."

"It's partially because they heard these concerns that they've gone back to the drawing board," Crosson said. "We're really hoping we can work with staff to tighten some of the language, and that [the plan] is enforceable and will have better results for water quality."

The plan would allow 27 exceptions to California's prohibition of the discharge of waste into Areas of Special Biological Significance. Crosson previously told Patch that "all of our coastline would be affected" by the passage of the plan.

Specifically, Crosson pointed to language stipulating that while discharges of non-storm water would be immediately prohibited, permitees could take up to four years to cease discharges of storm water.

Also, she cited multiple provisions that would allow permitees to return to the board and request additional time to stop the storm-water discharges.

"There's no criteria for why the discharger would get more time," Crosson said. "It appears they could go back and ask for it for any reason."

"Some permitees are approaching this as something brand-new and are asking for a much longer time line to comply, but we have these very special coastal areas that demand protection and have been afforded protection for a long time," she added.

In California, 34 sites have been designated as ASBS, which are "ocean areas requiring protection of species or biological communities to the extent that alteration of natural water quality is undesirable," according to the board.

Since 1983, the California Ocean Plan has banned the discharge of waste into ASBS. However, the plan allows exceptions to be granted so long as the board believes the protection of ocean waters would not be compromised and the public interest would be best served.

In October 2004, the board told applicants to stop storm water and nonpoint source waste discharges into ASBS or request an exception. Twenty-seven entities, including Los Angeles County, the city of Malibu and the U.S. Department of Defense, applied for exceptions. (See below for the full list of entities.) Affected areas would include Carmel Bay, La Jolla, Redwoods National Park, Pacific Grove and Santa Catalina Island, among others.

According to a staff report, the exceptions would lead to better water quality in ASBS waters and, while there could be some adverse impacts to the environment, they would be limited and/or temporary.

The discharges are "essential for flood control, slope stability, erosion prevention, maintenance of the natural hydrologic cycle between terrestrial and marine ecosystems, public health and safety, the public recreation and coastal access, commercial and recreational fishing, navigation and essential military operations (national security)," the report says.

If the exceptions are not granted, there could be "chronic noncompliance" or increased flooding, according to the report. Also, "The applicants may be forced to divert all storm-water runoff outside of ASBS for discharge, [which] would be very expensive and may also pose a threat to the marine environment."

In May, the board listened to public comment regarding the resolution. Crosson spoke in opposition to the plan, saying it would potentially lead to 1,700 illegal discharges running into protected areas, including parts of the Pacific Ocean, rivers and streams.

"We had hoped the state board would take our comments and apply them more seriously than they have," Crosson told Patch earlier this month. "We were very surprised [last week] when we heard [the resolution] was on the agenda and that it hadn't been substantially changed."

She urged Baykeeper supporters to email members of the board and tell them the resolution "rewards dischargers for ignoring their pollution discharges to the ASBS; fails to clearly define a scientific standard for compliance, instead punting to a future, vaguely-defined discharger-driven process; threatens the beneficial uses of ASBS; violates state and federal anti-degradation policies; creates loopholes that could push compliance back indefinitely; and violates the California Environmental Quality Act."

Siding with Baykeeper is another Santa Monica environmental group, , as well as the California Coastkeeper Alliance.

"We strongly support Baykeepers efforts on this critical issue," Heal the Bay President  told Patch before the board's decision on Wednesday. "The state water board should not roll back protections for these areas of special biological protection. They are the most extraordinary areas along California’s coast, and they need and deserve the maximum protection possible to preserve and protect them."

The entities requesting discharge exceptions are Carmel by the Sea, Laguna Beach, Malibu, Monterey, Newport Beach (on behalf of the Pelican Point Homeowners), Pacific Grove, San Diego, Trinidad; Humboldt County, Los Angeles County, Marin County, Monterey County, San Mateo County; CalTrans, Connolly-Pacific Company, the Department of Parks and Recreation, Humboldt Bay Harbor District, Irvine Company, Pebble Beach Company (also on behalf of the Pebble Beach Stillwater Yacht Club), Santa Catalina Island Company (also on behalf of the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy), the Sea Ranch Association, Trinidad Rancheria, U.S. Department of Interior - Point Reyes National Seashore, U.S. Department of Interior - Redwoods National and State Park, and the U.S. Department of Defense (Air Force and Navy).

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