The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week approved up to $3.5 million over the next five years to develop a comprehensive program for cleaning up Santa Monica Bay, considered one of the most polluted estuaries in the nation.
The decision places the bay on a national priority list of estuaries designated for federal cleanup programs. It does not automatically provide money for cleaning but is aimed at bringing officials, politicians, environmentalists, scientists and polluters together to address a problem that has been approached only piecemeal in the past, said Betsy Ford, a legislative aide to U.S. Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica), who lobbied to put the bay on the priority list.
"I'm delighted that the EPA has heeded my requests and is finally devoting manpower and money to clean up our bay," Levine said. "The beauty of the program is that everyone involved is sitting around the same table, and the public eye is upon them. The (program) is designed to replace finger-pointing with solutions."
EPA Administrator Lee M. Thomas announced the decision Monday in a letter to Gov. George Deukmejian.
The 40-member panel will be co-chaired by representatives from the EPA and the State Water Resources Control Board, Ford said. Measures proposed by the committee will be eligible for federal and state financing, she added.
"The task of the committee is to make real decisions and to get the ball rolling," she said. "This is not just a study."
The money will be administered under the National Estuary Program, which was created by Congress under the Water Quality Act of 1987. The program brings federal, state and local officials together with industry and sanitation representatives to devise comprehensive cleanup programs for polluted bays and estuaries.
"This is a major positive step forward," said Santa Monica council member Chris Reed, chairwoman of the Santa Monica Bay Project, which is studying ways to clean up the bay. "We couldn't do it alone locally. We had to all work together."
The National Estuary Program grew out of federal efforts to clean up the Great Lakes in the 1970s and the Chesapeake Bay in the 1980s. Those efforts served as model programs for four other estuaries in 1985 and two more in 1986, including San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Priority List Amended
Levine amended the priority list to include Santa Monica Bay in omnibus budget legislation passed by Congress last December. Because states are required to provide 25% of the financing, Levine persuaded Deukmejian to send an application to the EPA to request Santa Monica Bay's inclusion on the list, Ford said.
Deukmejian noted in his letter that "certain fish species are no longer safe for human consumption, and Los Angeles County has warned pregnant women to stay out of the water because of the potential health hazard."
Beaches throughout the county were closed many times last year because of overflows from the city's Hyperion sewage treatment plant near Playa del Rey. Signs have been posted on piers warning of contaminated fish, and the level of sportfishing in the bay has declined in recent years, officials said.
Reed said many measures proposed in the bay project's $200,000 study, scheduled to be completed by this fall, will be eligible for federal financing. She said she hopes the committee will study health hazards created by bay pollution, as well as safe ways to remove waste. "We never anticipated that the EPA would come through on this matter," she said.