Mapping an Uncertain Future

Environmental champion Fran Pavley got screwed in legislative redistricting.

With the world focused on the silly brinksmanship in Congress over the national debt ceiling, there hasn’t been enough focus on the ramifications of the recent California legislative redistricting process.  The final maps, created by an independent body called the California Citizens Redistricting Committee, just came out last week and the new districts are substantially different.  For the L.A. County coast, the changes are pretty dramatic.

Overall, our local coast didn’t do that well during redistricting.  Separating the ports in different congressional and senate districts is not good for San Pedro Bay and misses the opportunity to integrate environmental protection and cleanup efforts among the ports, and L.A. and Long Beach. The new state senate districts separate some of the strongest supporters of Santa Monica Mountains conservation from the actual resource.  That makes it tougher for Westside residents to help out on those issues.

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A Bloomin’ Mess

Would the EPA call this impairment?

Does the scene in this photo count as algal impairment under the Clean Water Act?  I’m just curious if the folks in Florida that are attempting to blow up the Clean Water Act over proposed nutrient standards would agree that this is impairment.  After all, the kids appear to be enjoying themselves, and after all, isn’t that what recreational water contact is all about? Heal the Bay gets in a lot of fights on the definition of algal impairment with regulators and the regulated community.  When you see pictures like the ones from Qingdao in China, it makes you realize that the regulated community isn’t even willing to come part way on the issue.  If there is a Karenia bloom in Florida that poses a respiratory health risk to beach goers, is that an impairment?  If Malibu Creek has an antifreeze algae bloom that covers the entire creek for a quarter mile, is that impairment? The regulated community may argue that 10% algal cover for  30% of the time isn’t impairment (a definition previously used by some at EPA). But how can they look at pictures like those in China, Florida and Malibu Creek and not offer nutrient reduction recommendations?

Harmful algal blooms are a growing problem that are choking our nation’s rivers and coastal waters with devastating impacts to aquatic ecosystems.  Yet, the EPA and most states are still arguing over the right thing to do and completing an endless series of studies.  They should be requiring aggressive reductions in nutrient discharge loadings (nitrogen and phosphorus) and concentrations, and they should have done it years ago.

This Decision Sucks … Literally

The DWP has been given an unjustified extension to continue harmful once-through-cooling at its coastal power plants, such as its Scattergood facility.

In a defeat for the health of our local oceans, the State Water Resources Control Board voted 2-1 Tuesday to grant LADWP an additional nine years to phase out harmful once-through cooling at its three coastal power plants. The Water Board voted for the extension despite the fact that California’s energy agencies determined that DWP’s compliance plan and extension proposal did not provide enough information to justify an extension from the previously approved 2020 deadline. The nine-year extension was practically pulled out of thin air by board chair Charlie Hoppin, and Fran Spivy Weber supported the move. The extension will result in the ichthyocide of approximately an additional 30 billion larval and adult fish, with local energy plants allowed to continue the practice of sucking water – and animal life — out of the sea to cool themselves. It was definitely horrible news for local fish populations. Board member Tam Doduc was the lone voice for holding DWP accountable until it could provide adequate information to substantiate a compliance deadline extension.

In addition to extending the temporal impacts of sucking the life out of the ocean, the water board set a horrible precedent for the other California coastal power generators.

By approving a long-compliance extension despite the lack of a compliance plan approved by state energy agencies (California Energy Commission, Public Utility Commission and Cal-ISO), the board decided to award the extension for the following reasons:

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Knocked Out in Malibu!

The city of Malibu scored an absolute knockout Thursday in Round 3 of the battle for improved water quality at Surfrider, Malibu Lagoon, and nearby beaches. Watching Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin close the done deal for weakened septic system regulations with the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board was like watching boxing champ Manny Pacquiao take on Woody Allen.  No contest. Hogin should be in line for a big raise for negotiating a deal for Malibu that will save ratepayer’s millions at the probable expense of water quality at beaches visited by millions of visitors each year.  And she did this when Malibu’s only leverage was its stated threat of litigation against the Regional Water Board for enforcing previously approved prohibitions. The board had already unanimously voted for regulations against new septic tanks and the phase out of existing ones in the civic center area in favor of a centralized waste water treatement and recycling facility.

The reward for Malibu’s threat to sue was a unanimous 6-0 Regional Board vote to approve a MOU that severely undercuts the previously Board approved Basin Plan amendment to prohibit land discharges of sewage in the Malibu civic center.

Despite a nearly five-hour hearing, and extensive testimony from Santa Monica Baykeeper, Surfrider Foundation, Malibu Surfing Assn., Heal the Bay and many others, the board only made trivial changes to the MOU.

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Sweet Justice

Major Corporate Interests Lose at the Supreme Court! A dream headline to be sure, but it wasn’t a U.S. Supreme Court decision. It was California’s Supreme Court that did the right thing Thursday. The court issued a unanimous opinion that Manhattan Beach did not need to complete a burdensome and costly EIR to move forward with its single-use plastic bag ban. Major props to Manhattan Beach for sticking with this case all the way to the Supreme Court.

The decision should lead to the proliferation of more local plastic bag bans throughout the state. The city of Los Angeles has no further excuses to delay moving forward with a citywide ban on plastic bags. The Mayor and City Council long ago agreed to move forward on a ban, but the looming EIR requirement was used as an excuse to delay action.

John Murdock, Heal the Bay’s attorney on the case said, “I think the issue will fade from the litigation scene unless the plastics industry just wants to toss away more money for harassment purposes.”

Murdock’s arguments representing Heal the Bay as an amicus in the case were some of the prevailing arguments. His brief emphasized that Manhattan Beach’s ordinance is environmentally beneficial, not detrimental.  Also, the court looked favorably on his argument that the city is far too small to cause significant impacts on such enormous issues as global warming and deforestation, in the unlikely event consumers switched from plastic to paper.

Stephen Joseph, poster boy and attorney for the plastic bag industry, and the plastic bag manufacturers may finally stop picking on cities that attempt to protect our aquatic environment through bag bans. Also, the decision sends a strong message that these frivolous lawsuits brought by polluting interests against environmental laws under the guise of the California Environmental Quality Act are a waste of time and money.


Malibu Septics: Round Three

Does the Regional Water Board have the stomach for house-to-house septics enforcement in Malibu?

Round three on the great debate over what downtown Malibu will do with its sewage is scheduled for the Regional Water Board hearing this Thursday in the nearby beach city of Glendale.  Will the infamous Malibu smell waft into olfactory history?  The answer may or may not be clearer after Thursday. As I previously blogged, the proposed wastewater Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has many flaws including: no true accountability for the city of Malibu in the event residents reject a sewer assessment fee; the creation of a new, enormous Phase 3 with a compliance period of 2025, and even then, only if studies demonstrate that onsite septic systems are contributing to water quality problems in Malibu Lagoon; and the inclusion of systems in Phase 3 (Malibu Road, much of Winter Canyon and the Hughes Lab on the hill) that would have to defy the laws of physics to pollute Malibu Lagoon, but not groundwater or Malibu’s beaches.  I’m sure the fact that Phase 3 residents have as good a chance of approving an assessment district as winning the state lottery had nothing to do with the creation and geography of the third phase.

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Waves of Pride

Mark's daughter, Natalie, in her element.

Now that my kids are older, my dream of sleeping in past 6 a.m. has become a reality on weekends for the first time in 18 years.  In my eyes, my 11-year-old daughter Natalie’s insistence in competing in the Regional Paddle Board Race this past weekend was an unwelcome infringement on my modest aspirations.  Natalie is an L.A.  County Junior Lifeguard at Will Rogers and she’s recently learned to enjoy paddling.  Race registration started at 7:30 a.m. and the race was off of Avenue I in South Redondo Beach, so a 6 a.m. wake-up was a must.

When my wife Lisette, Natalie and I parked and started walking down to the beach, I was struck by the fact that there were hundreds of cardinal and gold-clad children and adults on the beach (always uncomfortable for a lifetime Bruin). The fact that there was a moderate 2-4 foot swell delivering pure shorebreaking close-outs didn’t help either.  I was having trouble visualizing how my 65-pound daughter (when wringing wet) was going to maneuver a foam paddle board through the surf to start and finish the race.

As I got closer to the beach, I saw that the sponsor of the race was Hennessey’s Tavern.  The sight of hundreds of children wearing rash guards promoting a chain of bars struck me as more than a little odd.  But then I remembered that it was the South Bay.  What I mean by that is that Hennessey’s started in Hermosa Beach so a local sponsor made sense, although maybe Body Glove is a more appropriate sponsor for the JGs portion of the race.

After we waited in line to register, got Natalie’s race-rash guard and other swag, and had her race number drawn on her arm and leg, she was ready to go.  The only problem was that the race didn’t begin for nearly a half hour.  During the wait, I overheard many a kid express serious doubts about going through with the half-mile race in rough conditions.  I asked Natalie if she really wanted to race and she gave me one of those “Yeah Dad” comments that sounded more like “Don’t be such a wuss” to my trained ear.

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