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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Water Board Puts Off Plan to Halt Discharges

September 15, 2000

ORANGE COUNTY — Regional water regulators on Thursday postponed ordering the Irvine Co. to halt controversial discharges into the Pacific Ocean at Crystal Cove, concluding that higher-ups in Sacramento must decide if such discharges are illegal.

The turnabout came Thursday, after the developer and its attorney questioned whether state law indeed forbids the discharge of runoff and storm water into biologically sensitive areas, such as the waters off Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County.

The impending decision by the California Water Resources Control Board could have implications for other landowners and cities discharging runoff into other biologically fragile areas along the 1,100-mile California coast.

Scientists and regulators in recent years have grown increasingly concerned that such runoff--an unsavory mix that can contain pesticides, fertilizer, waste oil and animal feces--is a significant cause of offshore water pollution.

The current debate arose when environmental activists reported their suspicions that the Irvine Co. might be discharging runoff from part of its Crystal Cove project through a culvert draining onto a popular beach at the state park. Officials of the regional water board said earlier this week that they would order a halt to the discharges.

Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board head Kurt Berchtold said Thursday that documents provided by the Irvine Co. show that the developer received the required approvals for the drainage pipe system.

Representatives of the Irvine Co. met Thursday morning with Berchtold and other water board officials, who then decided to seek guidance about whether such discharges into biologically sensitive areas are illegal.

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