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SoCal water board adopts runoff pollution rules

A Southern California water agency has adopted sweeping rules to prevent polluted runoff from reaching the ocean off of Los Angeles County, but the effort might cost communities billions of dollars in the years ahead.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board on Nov. 8 approved regulations limiting 33 pollutants, ranging from bacteria to lead, that can flow into the ocean in stormwater or other runoff.

The requirements for pollution permits apply to most cities, unincorporated county areas and the county flood control district. The rules will cover an area of about 3,000 square miles containing 500 miles of open drainage channels and 3,500 miles of underground drains, the Los Angeles Times said.

Environmentalists said the new provisions actually weaken enforcement of anti-pollution efforts, specifically arguing that cities that adopt runoff pollution plans might be considered in compliance even if they exceed the pollution limits.

“It is going to be the public that suffers, the water quality that suffers,” warned Noah Garrison, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Water board staff members dispute that contention.

Runoff, the leading cause of water pollution in Southern California, can contain pollutants ranging from sewage to industrial chemicals and lawn fertilizers. Beaches often close after heavy storms because of contamination from runoff flowing to the sea in sewers and storm channels.

Efforts to prevent runoff pollution could be diverse, ranging from improving street-sweeping to creating stormwater catch basins and channeling road runoff into planted areas to filter it.

Meeting the water standards could cost Los Angeles $5 billion to $8 billion over the next two decades, said Shahram Kharaghani, manager of the city's watershed protection division.

However, the efforts could create jobs and beef up groundwater supplies.

“This is no longer put the water in the pipe and get it out to the ocean,” Kharaghani said.

Los Angeles already has approved a law requiring large new construction projects to retain some runoff through parking lot and landscape designs.

The county flood control district plans a ballot measure next year that would seek voter approval for a fee to pay for runoff controls. The fee, estimated at $54 for an average home, would raise about $275 million a year, Kharaghani said.

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