Today’s guest blogger is Kirsten James, Water Quality Director at Heal the Bay
History has a habit of repeating itself. Nearly 25 years ago, Heal the Bay was born when Dorothy Green and her friends fought the Environmental Protection Agency’s 301(h) wavier for Los Angeles’ Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant. Despite Clean Water Act requirements for secondary treatment, Hyperion was spewing effluent with only primary treatment into the Santa Monica Bay and causing massive environmental damage. Contrary to what some argued, sewage was NOT good for the fish! Fortunately for the Bay and its inhabitants, Heal the Bay efforts were successful and Hyperion is now a world-class treatment facility.
Who would have thought that a quarter of a century later, Californians would be fighting the same battle again?
The Point Loma Sewage Treatment Plant, operated by the City of San Diego, continues to discharge primary-treated sewage from its ocean outfall. In fact, it is the only major sewage treatment plant in the entire country with a 301(h) waiver that still has not committed to upgrading to secondary treatment!
On August 13th, when Heal the Bay, other environmental organizations, and a number of concerned coastal community residents joined together to fight the renewal of the Point Loma 301(h) waiver, none of us had much hope of winning. After all, both the EPA and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board had already given the green light on authorizing permits and the wavier. However in an unexpected turn of events, the California Coastal Commission voted 8-1 against the waiver’s renewal, denying the City of San Diego a Consistency Certification for their sewage discharge.
Unfortunately, this won’t be the end of the issue. There will probably be appeals and lengthy legal battles, as there are with most progressive environmental policies these days. Still, there is an important lesson to be learned: don’t give up the fight (even when things look grim). Dorothy Green never gave up the fight 25 years ago and as a result, Santa Monica Bay has come back to life. History may repeat itself again, and the Coastal Commission’s decision may be the turning point for San Diego coastal waters.