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County Agrees to Settle Suit Over Storm Runoff Pollution of Bay

Environment: Supervisors OK $5-million educational campaign and monitoring program as part of out of court accord.


Los Angeles County supervisors agreed Tuesday to settle a federal lawsuit brought by a prominent environmental group alleging that the county has failed to control storm water polluting Santa Monica Bay.

Without comment, the supervisors voted 4 to 0 to settle the case filed almost two years ago by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The group accused the county of repeatedly violating the federal Clean Water Act by failing to develop a storm water monitoring program and study the effects of the pollution on Santa Monica Bay.

In agreeing to the multimillion-dollar out of court settlement, the county promised to develop a monitoring program to identify the type and source of pollutants flowing into the bay through storm drains and flood control channels.

As part of the settlement, the county agreed to finance a four-year, $5-million advertising campaign intended to educate residents, businesses and students that there is a direct connection between what goes down storm drains and what enters the bay.

"This settlement will have broad ramifications across L.A. County for a number of reasons," said Gail Ruderman Feuer, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The county is going to embark on a comprehensive monitoring program to determine where the pollution is coming from and to target how to clean up that pollution most effectively."

The settlement is the latest involving lawsuits brought by the group and another environmental organization, Santa Monica BayKeeper, against the cities of Beverly Hills, El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, and the Port of Long Beach. All have resulted in agreements to step up efforts to prevent pollutants from entering the ocean.

The groups also won a federal court order directing Caltrans to move aggressively to clean hazardous waste from freeway drains and to reduce the amount of pollutants that wash into the bay from the area's highways.

"Cleaning up this pollution is in everyone's interest," Feuer said. "It is certainly the No. 1 cause of pollution" in Santa Monica Bay.

"We have a common goal and that is to clean water," said Don Wolfe, the county's deputy director of public works. "The impact on the public will be a positive thing, but it will not be an overnight thing."

Wolfe said the county has hired a consultant to prepare a $1.2-million program for controlling storm water pollution, including a detailed strategy for using the best practices available to manage sources of pollution at construction sites and businesses. The program also calls for training county employees on ways to prevent storm water pollution in maintenance yards and other facilities.

The county plans to spend an additional $5 million over four years on a massive education program to teach residents, businesses and students about the environmental consequences of what goes into the storm drains.

"We want to make the connection between what they throw in the gutter and what ends up on the beach," Wolfe said.

And the county agreed to pay $629,000 over three years to study the effects of the pollution on the marine environment of Santa Monica Bay, rather than concentrating on identifying what is carried by storm drains and flood control channels. The environmental group will be paid $312,500 for attorneys fees and costs and up to $40,000 for oversight work by its experts.

Feuer said the county was concerned about potential liability if the case had gone to trial and the environmentalists won.

"We weren't coerced into any of this," Wolfe said. "We are very pleased with the results."

He added that contacts between the county and the environmental group have gone from "very hostile to a very positive relationship."

Feuer, the wife of Los Angeles Councilman Mike Feuer, said the resources council will push the county to develop a storm water management program that works well for the 85 cities that are also parties to a storm water discharge permit issued by the state's Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The revised permit is being negotiated quietly amid reports that some cities are balking at the potential cost of controlling pollution such as oil, grease, gasoline, lead, zinc and copper.

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