Thursday, May 26, 2011
Everyone seems to agree that ocean pollution sucks. But when it comes to identifying where it originates, how to reduce it and who should pay for it – then things get murky.
The State Water Resources Control Board is proposing stricter rules to keep polluted runoff out of protected coastal waters known as Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS). But the affected Monterey Bay jurisdictions, and their reps in Sacramento, are resisting the regulations as unfunded mandates.
The amendments would require the cities of Pacific Grove, Monterey, Carmel and Pebble Beach (along with the county, Hopkins Marine Station and the Monterey Bay Aquarium) to eliminate dry-weather discharges, cut pollutant loads by 90 percent during the wet season, prevent trash from reaching the bay, and monitor marine life, among other measures.
Assemblymen Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo), the Monterey County Mayors’ Association and city of P.G. have raised objections in letters to the state water board.
There’s no proof that urban storm drains are harming the water quality in ASBS, they argue, and the costs of curtailing flows to the bay could cripple already cash-strapped cities. The monitoring program alone would cost Central Coast parties an estimated $2 million over the next five years.
Monterey Mayor Chuck Della Sala asked the board to scale back its demands at a May 18 hearing in Sacramento.
“We agree that we need to keep the ASBS clean,” he says. “But we certainly cannot afford to give the state of California a blank check.”
Water board spokesman David Clegern says grants and low-interest loans may be able to help cities comply with the stricter rules. “There is state and federal money available for these kinds of projects, especially because they are considered ‘green,’” he says. “There’s some flexibility in there.”
Also on May 18, the P.G. City Council accepted a $2.4 million state grant to pursue a three-pronged program to clean up its stormwater discharge.
The grant allows the city to expand its dry weather diversion system, which routes runoff from April to November to the regional wastewater treatment plant. It also funds a redesign of Greenwood Park into a stormwater treatment wetland, and provides $60,000 for home retrofits to reduce runoff within the park’s drainage area.
“We’re very excited about the steps we are taking with the grant,” says Sarah Hardgrave, the city’s environmental programs manager. “But $2.4 million is not going to be enough to provide full compliance with the new regulations.”