Go With The Flow

Transparency has cost the Bureau of Sanitation.

About six months ago, the city of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Sanitation (BoS) started setting up dozens of meetings with the public and the environmental  community on the city’s wastewater system upgrade plan and the need for a major increase in sewer service charges. After all, the BoS had frozen fee increases 14 out of the last 20 years. And it’s held the line the last three years at height of the recession, but wastewater infrastructure waits for no one.

BoS sought to demonstrate that the sewer infrastructure and its four sewage treatment plants (Terminal Island, Glendale, Tillman and Hyperion) are in danger of falling apart. The deteriorating pipes and plants pose a significant risk to public health and safety. Emergency repairs on the infrastructure may cost the city infintely more than replacing it. The delayed maintenance also exposes the city to costly litigation, enforcement and penalties.

Heal the Bay was founded in 1985 on the issue of decaying sewer infrastructure.  Some Santa Monica Bay bottom-dwelling fish had tumors and fin rot, and there was a dead zone seven miles out in the middle of the Bay where Hyperion dumped its1200+ tons of sludge every day.  Also, million gallon sewage spills were commonplace.

After the city rebuilt Hyperion and major sections of the sewer infrastructure, the dead zone went away, the massive sewage spills decreased in frequency, and the Bay began to heal.

However, in the late 1990s, the frequency of sewage spills started to rise again.  Then Santa Monica Baykeeper sued the city and the end result was an agreement to repair and replace much more of the sewer infrastructure.  Just as important, the city ramped up its sewer inspection and repair program.  The end result was a more than 80% drop in sewage spills.  The days of students walking through raw sewage-filled streets on their way to school were a thing of the past.

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Pound Foolish

Dumping L.A.'s Board of Public Works would stink.

City, county, state and federal budget crises are the dominant issues facing government, business and the public.  In what has become an annual event, elected officials and administrations scramble to balance budgets by coming up with policy ideas that save pennies but are more than a pound foolish.

At the federal level, cutting back EPA’s budget by up to 30% has nothing to do with fiscal prudence.  If the House was as serious about major cuts as it is about rolling back environmental protections, then eliminating tax loopholes, agribusiness and oil and gas subsidies, and reducing defense spending would be part of the dialogue on the Hill.

At the state level, Gov. Brown has proposed massive cuts of over $12 billion per year. Yet in negotiations with opposition leadership, there’s more talk about environmental rollbacks that help big business than about moving forward with an election to let the public decide what kind of California we want.
At the local level, it’s the same story.  Every few years, Heal the Bay seems to find itself in a budget fight with the city of Los Angeles to fund a full-time Board of Public Works made up of mayoral appointees.  Mayors Riordan and Hahn unsuccessfully tried to eliminate the board and now Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana is taking a run to make up for the annual $400 million shortfall the city seems to face.

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Cooling Off

The State Water Board rebuffed DWP's effort to water down new cooling policies at plants like its Scattergood facility.

In a nail biter, the State Water Resources Control Board got the three votes it needed Tuesday to turn down a broad amendment that would have gutted California’s new Once-Through Cooling policy for power plants. Board members Tam Doduc, Fran Spivy-Weber and Art Bagget supported the motion to uphold the policy and oppose the amendment.

The board also agreed to expedite analysis of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s implementation plan next summer. Over the past year, the DWP has argued numerous times that it can’t meet the OTC policy compliance deadlines for re-powering three of its power plants by the end of 2021.

Earlier, the DWP promised to phase out all OTC, but it wanted until 2031 for Scattergood and up to 2040 for co-generation power plants.  But, then DWP lobbied the State Water Board for a policy amendment to extend the compliance timeframe in exchange to phasing out OTC at all three power plants.  Instead of introducing a narrow amendment for DWP, the State Board proposed an expanded amendment, opening up a Pandora’s box in the OTC policy for co-generation and fossil fuel plants up and down the entire state coastline.

As a result, a number of enviro and fishing communities joined to oppose the expanded amendment for gutting the policy. Linda Sheehan, the executive director of California Coastkeeper Alliance, took lead in the comment-writing and organization effort. Santa Monica Baykeeper, NRDC, Sierra Club and Surfrider also strongly opposed the amendment at the hearing.

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A December to Remember


Who's naughty or nice? This holiday season holds the promise of great gifts for the regional environment

December brings connotations of the holiday season.  Office parties, vacations, holiday shopping, football bowl games, family gatherings, overeating, lighting the menorah, and Christmas lights and trees.  For Heal the Bay, this December is anything but a time to ease into the new year.  As always, there is our push for year-end giving.  Tis the season for charitable write offs.  Also, once again, Heal the Bay is spearheading the Day Without a Bag event.  Over 25,000 bags will be given away at over 150 locations throughout L.A. County on Dec. 16 as a reminder to bring reusable bags whenever you go shopping.  Once again, partners include L.A. County, Los Angeles, other cities, retailers, grocers and other environmental groups.  This year, the event has spread across much of the state with counties from San Diego to San Francisco participating.

However, this December is as busy as any previous December I can remember.  Continue reading

True Reform at DWP?

When will we see true accountability at DWP?

Recently, the Los Angeles City Council voted for three supposed Department of Water & Power reforms:

  • Creating an Office of Public Accountability with a ratepayer advocate;
  • Requiring DWP’s budget to be submitted earlier, with a guarantee that “surplus” funds will come to the city of L.A. for general fund uses;
  • Granting the City Council the authority to remove the DWP’s  General Manager or DWP Commissioners with a two-thirds council vote.  The council could also override the mayor’s removal of the GM or commissioners with a two-thirds vote.

If the council approves the measures Dec. 7, they will appear on the March 8 ballot.  But here’s the deal: These reforms are hardly bold and they don’t begin to solve the numerous inherent problems at DWP.  In fact, the ballot measures are a cynical and opportunistic attempt to take advantage of near-universal public distrust of DWP.

The original job description for the new ratepayer advocate position promised real reform. It declared “the role of the OPA shall be to (1) promote efficiency and effectiveness of the department; (2) provide a centralized focus on ratepayer protection and consumer complaints; and (3) provide independent analysis of department actions, particularly as they relate to water and electricity rate actions. The OPA shall advocate against excessive rates and shall provide expert advice on rate actions and strategies which most economically accomplish the City’s policy goals and protect the department’s long-term interests.” But the role has been significantly watered down to the point of ambiguity.

From an environmental perspective, the measures almost completely miss the mark.  Of course greater accountability is needed at DWP, but giving the City Council the authority to fire the GM and the commissioners is not a solution.

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Water Crisis in 60 Seconds

stopwatchLast Friday afternoon, state Sen. Fran Pavley hosted a Natural Resources and Water Committee hearing at Santa Monica College, accompanied by state Sen. John Benoit and Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield.  The theme of the hearing was “improving water conservation and management in Southern California.”  Speakers included Lester Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources, and representatives from MWD, LADWP, Long Beach, Irvine Ranch Water District and the Orange County Water District. TreePeople leader Andy Lipkis served as the token enviro.  They spoke to a standing-room only crowd in a hearing room that normally serves as a classroom.  No room for me.  I was banished to the children’s room next door. I’m not sure why the Senate couldn’t find a room in Fran’s district that could hold more than 60 people.

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Do As I Say…

David Nahai, City of L.A. Mayor Anotonio Villaraigosa and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslasky

Left to right: H. David Nahai, City of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

H. David Nahai, the general manager and CEO of Los Angeles’ DWP mega-utility, has been taking a lot of heat of late. What was his transgression that made the news, blog and talk radio circuit light up? His family, ensconced in a 6,000-square foot home, is a water waster. Big time.  To the tune of more than 1,000 gallons a day, according to a recent home audit.

And Al Gore has a big carbon footprint because he travels around the world shouting about the perils of climate change to all that are willing to listen. Yes, we want our leaders to lead by examples. But often they don’t, just proving they are human. Was I surprised by the audit? Yes. Does it make me think he’s failed us? No.

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