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A Storm Amongst the Stormwaters

On the one hand, southern California is a national model for pursuing clean water standards. Especially since the 1998 upgrades to the Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant, we’ve been way out front in pursuing scientific solutions to the problems of treating raw sewage (in the case of Los Angeles, over 400 million gallons a day) before it hits the ocean. 

On the other hand, we go to the back of the class when it comes to that other source of pollution: stormwater. That’s all the stuff that comes down all those storm drains across the County, ensuring that the motor oil spilled out in Burbank and the food wrapper tossed off in Bellflower finds its way onto Long Beach and Santa Monica. And the reason why L.A.’s problem is so horrific is that we’re dry most of the year. So for months, tons of all that stuff builds up underground &mash; out of sight — then comes all pouring out at once into the ocean when there’s a huge rain.

About eight years ago, the regional Water Quality Control Board decided that they had to get serious about this problem, and the plan they came up with required each of the towns and cities of L.A. River Basin to be responsible for controlling the amounts of trash, metals and bacteria coming off their own turf. That meant installing better storm drains, strictly enforcing trash and pollution controls, etc. Like most environmental directives, it was going to cost money … But this time, a group of cities banded together to fight back and say “No more! … We can’t afford this!” They called themselves the “Coalition for Practical Regulation,” and I’m sure they were hoping this would all sound like a David and Goliath story, but of course it’s more complicated than that. Of the dozens of cities that have signed on with the Coalition, some could surely qualify as cash-strapped: Downey, South Gate, Bell Gardens. But South Pasadena and Rancho Palos Verdes? Maybe it’s their distance from the ocean that makes some of these cities disinclined to put storm water control at the top of their list of “what to spend taxpayers’ money on.” Or maybe it’s a knee-jerk reaction against government regulation and what they see as the escalating demands of Westside environmentalists. I’m not entirely sure. But this is a story that’s still making waves (as it were), and I think there’s going to be more surprises as the court battles drag on.

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