No Day at the Beach

L.A. County legal strategy puts swimmers at risk

L.A. County legal strategy puts swimmers at risk

This week, the State Water Board heard Los Angeles County’s appeal on the inclusion of enforceable beach water quality standards in the county’s stormwater permit.  The county appealed the permit despite the fact that the L.A. Regional Board modified the permit nearly three years ago and it has been relatively successful in getting a lot of beaches cleaned up of fecal pollution during the summer months.

The county’s dubious arguments stem from its challenge to putting enforceable numeric limits in the permit.  In the case of Santa Monica Bay, the limits are that every beach along the Bay must comply with fecal bacteria water quality standards 100% of the time from April through October.  Some beaches, like Santa Monica Pier, Dockweiler at Ballona Creek, and Malibu Surfrider exceed limits dozens of times each summer.

The state and the environmental community have correctly argued that the intent of the Clean Water Act is to implement and enforce water body specific standards (Total Maximum Daily Loads or TMDLs) through inclusion of numeric limits in permits.  Otherwise, TMDLs are unenforceable and basically voluntary.

As you can imagine, the county can save a fortune in potential fines for hundreds of violations if the State Board overturns the Regional Board’s action to include numeric beach water quality limits in the stormwater permit.

The hearing in Sacto was a circus and a decision on the matter was postponed to a meeting in July.  The county’s ubiquitous hired gun, Howard Guest, threw every issue imaginable at the board hoping something would stick.

Some board members seemed more concerned about the impacts of summertime dam releases (which are currently unregulated by the Regional Board despite Heal the Bay’s urgent pleas for years) on beach water quality and related compliance difficulties, than the health and welfare of the people that are swimming and surfing in poo-contaminated water.  Talk about misguided priorities.

I sure hope that all of the Board members thoroughly read the record before they make their decision next month.  The data speaks for itself. Many beaches exceed limits on a regular basis and pose health risks to beachgoers – all of which is against the law.

Without the deterrent of enforceable limits, beach pollution will continue to be the status quo at numerous Bay beaches.  The  federal EPA agrees that putting numeric limits in stormwater permits is a legal and effective way to ensure that TMDL requirements are being met. Now the State Water Board needs to support the Regional Board’s efforts to protect the health of the over 50 million people that enjoy our local beaches annually.

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