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Water Rules Toughened

Regional board enacts the standards to protect swimmers at Santa Monica Bay beaches.

September 15, 2006|J. Michael Kennedy | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board approved a measure Thursday that would impose tougher clean water standards to protect swimmers and surfers at Santa Monica Bay beaches.

The regulations, which were enacted to comply with a federal consent decree stemming from lawsuits filed by environmentalists, will make it easier to impose fines and cleanup orders on Los Angeles County and the 13 cities that ring the bay.

The meeting dragged on from morning until night, with the county and environmentalists at loggerheads about whether the regulations should be added to the storm drain permit system. The passage of the regulations had been delayed by two months, effectively eliminating enforcement during this summer's beach season.

"When we look back at the efforts that began in the '70s to clean up Santa Monica Bay, this requirement, which creates a legal right to a clean and healthy day at the beach, is among the significant accomplishments," said David Beckman, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the three plaintiffs in the suit.

The new regulations define more stringent limits on fecal coliform discharged from storm drains between April and October. Other regulations govern discharges into the bay during the wet winter months.

Pathogens that flow from storm drains into the bay's surf can cause skin rashes, earaches and gastrointestinal illness, as well as other health problems. The pollution comes from a wide variety of sources, such as lawn fertilizer, septic-tank leaks and sewers.

The disputes and lawsuits concerning water cleanup over the years led to a federal consent decree signed in 1999 that set in motion a process to impose tough, enforceable discharge limits.

Those limits were set to go into effect last July, but a flurry of last-minute public comments the day before the scheduled meeting led to the delay in the vote.

Environmentalists contended that the board backed out because of pressure from local governments, which must comply with the new regulations.

Board Chairman David Nahai said he hoped the county, which opposed the measure on the grounds that it was unnecessary, would not appeal the decision.

"This is a historic vote," he said. "It's a significant step forward in the realm of public health. It's moved to the realm of enforcement."

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michael.kennedy@latimes.com

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