Contamination is Forever

In the field of water quality regulation, sewage treatment plant and industrial dischargers often have strict numeric limits on the amount of pollutants they can discharge.  In some cases, for highly toxic pollutants like organochlorines and mercury, the limits can be at the parts per billion or even per trillion level.

As a result of the Federal Clean Water Act and the California Porter Cologne Act requirements, most individual sources of pollutants have decreased their toxics discharge by an order of magnitude or more over the last 30 years.

On the opposite side of the regulatory continuum are contaminated sediments.

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Water Boarded

The definition of torture? A bungled, two-day Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting that flouted the Clean Water Act.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board held a two-day marathon meeting at the end of last week. I’ve been attending board hearings for nearly a quarter century, well over 150 overall.  The Thursday hearing had to be the most screwed-up session I’ve ever attended, and I’m now convinced that this is the most anti-environmental board since the Gov. Deukmejian days. Heal the Bay had seven different items in front of the Regional Board over the session, which took place at the Ventura County government building and then Glendale City Hall.

 Among the important items on the packed agenda:  the Ventura County stormwater permit, the Hyperion Treatment Plant’s discharge permit, a waste discharge requirement for a new development along Malibu Creek in the Malibu civic center area and fecal bacteria Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limits for the Santa Clara and Los Angeles rivers.

Unfortunately, logic and a responsibility to uphold the federal Clean Water Act took a holiday last week.

After the 32-hour marathon, exhaustion and anger overwhelmed me.  My faith in the state system’s ability to protect our right to clean water had been severely eroded.  The system isn’t entirely broken, but it is in need of major reform. 

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Day and Night

EPA chief Lisa Jackson tests water in Compton Creek.

Wednesday was a rewarding whirlwind: An extraordinary afternoon in the Compton Creek, a stimulating evening roundtable at the Skirball, and an after-hours meal in Venice. 

A few weeks ago, the federal Environmental Protection Agency reached out to Heal the Bay to let us know that chief Lisa Jackson would be visiting the L.A. area and that she wanted to visit Compton Creek.

Heal the Bay contacted Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ office and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to set up a tour for Jackson at Compton Creek. The agreed-upon plan was to announce the long-anticipated purchase of the four-acre soft-bottomed section of Compton Creek and a request to Jackson for federal assistance to develop a flood-control improvement plan based on a low-impact development approach rather than raising the walls on the river.

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Nerd Alert!

Water Effects Ratios in L.A. River are no joke.

Warning!  Sometimes I’m prone to write in nerd-speak about the confusing labyrinth of water quality regulations that weaken water quality protection. With apologies to the reader, this is one of those times.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Board approved Thursday yet another Water Effects Ratio (WER) for a polluted water body. A WER is a pseudo-scientific modeling exercise to determine how much of a pollutant is bioavailable to kill or poison aquatic life.

The only time anyone ever does a WER study is to get out of complying with water quality standards to protect human health and aquatic life. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever done a WER study that has resulted in tougher water quality standards. So in essence WER really stands for Water Effluent limit Reductions.

Because the Regional Water Board has become WERS ‘R’ Us, Heal the Bay has begged the board to develop some semblance of a policy or guidance to bring strong science to the WER development process.

Once again, the board pointedly refused our pleas and granted a WER/effluent reduction by a factor of nearly 4 for copper discharges to the Los Angeles River from Burbank and L.A. sewage treatment plants.

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Act Locally

Join us in cleaning up Compton Creek on May 8. It's always an eye-opening experience.

Happy 40th Earth Day! It seems as if the enormous 20th anniversary celebration was just yesterday, but that’s what happens when you get old. For Heal the Bay, Earth Day used to mean Earth Month, but now the festivities occur mid-March to mid-May. Heal the Bay staff and volunteers will deliver at least 79 educational talks and lead over 112 beach cleanups over the period.

When I heard those numbers, I didn’t feel pride. Instead, I felt sympathy – as in our educational programs department, led by the peerless and tireless Meredith McCarthy, and the rest of our staff needed some serious time on the therapist’s couch.

Talk about delusions of grandeur! Are Meredith and the gang trying to save the planet in real time? God knows we need it. Meredith has a lot of founding president Dorothy Green in her. By working harder than everyone else, she leads by example. And she’s just so darn friendly and gracious that it’s nearly impossible to say no to her.

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Nature Control

The L.A. "flood control channel" River.

Last Thursday, the Regional Water Board voted to approve a Waste Discharge Requirement (WDR) for the Los Angeles County Nature Control District’s “channel maintenance” activity. After all, to the County, our LA, Santa Clara and San Gabriel Rivers are flood control channels, not living ecosystems and habitats.

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Memo to Antonio

Mayor Villaraigosa can accomplish three major green goals if he stays focused in 2010.

Last year marked a difficult time in Los Angeles and 2010 promises to pose even greater challenges due to an unprecedented fiscal crisis.  Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s promise to make L.A. the cleanest, greenest major city in America has a long way to go, but I really believe that the Mayor’s powers of persuasion and expert use of the bully pulpit can lead to tangible environmental improvements by the end of his second term.  Without the mayor’s leadership, major policies and projects often fall into a state of suspended animation. The Los Angeles Times today published a piece about the mayor narrowing his focus at the beginning of his second term to ensure greater follow through on promises. When Villaraigosa sets his mind to a specific issue, it’s amazing how quickly things can move, e.g. renewable portfolio standards, support for Measure R, the green port program and the promise to get off coal by 2020. However, a great deal more needs to be done to meet his lofty green city goals.

Here’s my take on the three biggest green initiatives that Mayor Villaraigosa should resolve to achieve in the remainder of his term:

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