Suing Over Septics

spetic-rincon

Despite years of public outcry at Rincon and other locales, the State Water Board has been slow to adopt mandated regulations on septic systems

Enough is enough.  Although Heal the Bay generally only uses litigation as a last resort, we do have our limits.  On Tuesday, Santa Barbara environmental group Heal the Oceans and Heal the Bay filed a lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board for its failure to implement Assembly Bill 885, which required the Board to develop regulations for on-site wastewater treatment systems. AB 885 was authored by former assembly member Hannah-Beth Jackson in 1999 and Gov. Davis signed it into law in 2000. The bill required the Board to develop regulations for the siting, permitting and operation of on-site wastewater treatment systems, or OWTS, by 2004.

The regulations took aim at septic systems, which pose a serious threat to water quality at several famous beaches up and down the coast.  After seven years of patience and a decade of regulatory negotiations with the state, county health agencies, OWTS experts and local government representatives, the environmental groups involved felt that they had no choice but to sue the state to ensure that the law would be implemented. Coast Law Group filed the suit on behalf of the organizations.

Both groups were instrumental in the passage of the law as bill sponsors.  In the 1990s, while Hillary Hauser and Heal the Oceans led efforts to clean up chronically polluted Rincon, Heal the Bay pushed for cleanup at the even more polluted Surfrider Beach.  Both groups noted scientific studies that found human pathogens in the adjacent coastal lagoons — strong evidence that nearby septic systems were causing or contributing to chronic water quality problems that posed health risks to the surfing community.

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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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