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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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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Taking Out the Trash

New trash limits for S.M. Bay may make this depressing scene a thing of the past.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board voted 4-1 Thursday to approve tough, new marine debris limits for Santa Monica Bay.  The limits, based on 11 similar trash Total Maximum Daily Loads in the Los Angeles region, give Santa Monica Bay watershed cities, Los Angeles County and land management agencies like State Parks, eight years to reduce the amount of trash going into the Bay to zero. Compliance  can be met by installing full capture mechanisms like trash screens and inserts or other state-approved devices.  All devices must be adequately designed, operated and maintained to meet state requirements.  Full adherence is mandated within eight years.

The action marks the last trash abatement measure required under the 1999 TMDL Consent Decree among Heal the Bay, the Santa Monica Baykeeper, the NRDC and the federal EPA. The vote truly marks a major water quality milestone. Congratulations to the Regional Water Board members for their groundbreaking leadership on trash abatement regulations.

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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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