Season’s Gratings

Bah humbug! for MPAs and TMDLs?

December means the holidays, and some very cold weather (at least for L.A.) and rain. It also means me eating way too many baked goods.  This year, December also brings major decisions that will affect coastal resources for generations to come — specifically votes on  marine protected areas and trash limits in the Los Angeles River. Unfortunately, one of the other major decisions — the Los Angeles Board of Public Works vote on the Low Impact development ordinance – has been postponed until Jan. 15 to address the concerns of the measures’ opponents, the Building Industry Assn.  The environmental and sustainable landscaping communities aren’t thrilled by the second postponement in as many months.  I hope the January vote is worth the wait.

Separately, the battle between the black and blue should finally draw near to an end on Wednesday.  The Fish and Game Commission will debate a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for Southern California. Members of the fishing community (dressed in black) and the environmental community (garbed in blue) have been brawling over the MPA configuration for over a year.

The fishing community drew its lines in the sand off of Palos Verdes and Catalina.  The Blue Ribbon Task Force split the difference between the conservationists and the fishers and recommended a network configuration that largely meets scientific guidelines everywhere but Palos Verdes (although Catalina isn’t exactly a triumph of marine conservation either).  The proposed shape for Palos Verdes doesn’t even come close to meeting scientific guidelines.  If the Fish and Game commission approves the task force recommendation, then there will be strong but relatively small MPA shapes in Santa Barbara, off of Malibu, off of Laguna Beach and a marginally acceptable shape off of San Diego.

And the fishing community will have preserved its right to catch and consume large quantities of DDT- and PCB-contaminated fish off of Palos Verdes. Go figure.  Also, nearly all of Catalina’s catch restraints will remain the same as today, with the notable exception of Long Point. With all of those concessions, one would hope that the commission would approve an MPA network that is at least as protective as the task force recommendation.  We’ll find out more on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the Regional Water Board will vote to include the Los Angeles River trash limits into the Los Angeles County stormwater permit.  This Total Maximum Daily Load has been subject to a great deal of largely unsuccessful litigation from a number of cities banded together in the dubiously named Coalition for Practical Regulation.  Now those cities are at it again, opposing enforceable trash limits in the stormwater permit.  The hypocrisy of CPR opposition is that many of them teamed with other Gateway cities like Long Beach to apply for and receive a $10 million federal grant for trash TMDL compliance.  Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!!!

The same CPR cities that successfully applied for the federal stimulus funds — and have admitted that the funds will allow the cities to be in 100% compliance with requirements — are now opposing the Regional Water Board action and even threatening litigation.  Maybe the CPR cities need to step outside and check out the havoc being caused by the latest storm.

The CPR’s ally in this misguided effort is the County of Los Angeles.  Recently, the county has joined the CPR cities in their efforts to ensure that water quality regulations are not enforceable. The county sued the state over putting enforceable beach water quality limits in the stormwater permit, and now it’s geared up to do the same for trash.  Unlike the beaches, the county is largely in compliance with the relatively lenient trash TMDL requirements — zero trash in the L.A. River or the much easier requirement to install catch basin screens with 5 millimeter mesh.  The city of Los Angeles now has screens or inserts on 65% of its catch basins – far above the current 50% requirement. 

Because Los Angeles has complied with requirements and the feds have provided additional funding to numerous cities, the vote on Thursday shouldn’t even be controversial. Instead, a circus of a hearing involving lawyers, cross examination and numerous parties arguing on all sides of the issue will take place at MWD.

With all of the facts and the law on the side of the state, the Regional Board should follow staff recommendations and add the trash TMDL requirements to the stormwater permit.  While they’re at it, they should add the limits for Ballona Creek as well (if only because the cities in the surrounding watershed support or are neutral on the TMDL.) We’ll find out Thursday. 

If the Fish and Game Commission and the Regional Water Board do their jobs to protect coastal marine resources and the region’s water quality, respectively, then this week could be the early holiday present the environment needs.

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