SM BAY — The California State Water Resources Control Board might have a fight on its hands.
On Tuesday, the State Water Board will decide on a policy that will damage the California coastline; at least, that’s what some environmental agencies, like the Santa Monica Baykeeper, are saying.
The State Water Board will decide whether it should keep or revise policy related to Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS), said George Kostyrko, spokesperson of the State Water Board.
Since 1983, areas along the California coastline have been protected from waste discharges by the California Ocean Plan.
In a 2003 survey, it was found that some 1,658 outfalls, mostly storm drains, were discharging into the ASBS.
On Oct. 18, 2004, the State Water Board notified dischargers that they would have to either cease discharging or request an exception under the Ocean Plan.
The Ocean Plan permits exceptions that do not compromise the protection of ocean waters for beneficial uses, and ultimately serve the public interest.
After the notification, the State Water Board received 27 applications from dischargers requesting exemptions.
The entities that are requesting exemption are largely governmental, Kostyrko said: Caltrans, state and federal parks, and municipal governments that operate along the coast.
“Basically, what’s happening is on Tuesday there is a proposal for the board to consider a general exception to 27 entities,” he said.
It’s something that’s been in planning for eight years, Kostyrko said.
The proposed changes evolved out of studying both the areas and taking in public opinion, he said.
According to the proposal, the 27 entities will receive special permission to discharge into the ASBS; however, they would have four years to eliminate dry weather run off into the ASBS, as well as ensure that wet weather run off doesn’t negatively alter the water’s quality, Kostyrko said.
“They have to monitor what’s coming out of their storm drains, and they have to let us know,” he said.
The entities would have to prove that they were not making the water quality worse, and in time, they would have to show improvements to the water quality, he added.
However, Baykeeper believes the board’s proposal is a step backwards.
“The best possible outcome would be the board voting ‘no’ on the policy they have in front of them on Tuesday,” said Liz Crosson, executive director of Santa Monica Baykeeper.
“It’s a very ambiguous and vague policy, as proposed,” Crossen said.
The proposal contains loopholes concerning compliance dates, she said.
Keeping water clean of storm drain discharge might also be an issue.
“The proposal does not ensure that water quality will be maintained,” Crosson said.
A key position of Baykeeper is that storm drain discharge is one of the biggest threats to coastal waters.
“One of the ASBS is about 27 miles between Latigo Point and Point Mugu, and 11 miles of that are in the northern area of Malibu,” Crosson said.
It’s an area that is popular with people in Santa Monica, she said.
The spot is evidence that the current protection the ASBS receive under the Ocean Plan doesn’t always hold water, Crossen said.
In 2008, Baykeeper and the National Resources Defense Council filed a joint lawsuit against Malibu, in part concerning discharging storm drain waste into the ASBS.
“Malibu has recently proposed to address some of those discharges, which I think will result in some positives effects for the ASBS,” Crossen said.
Kostyrko said that environmental agencies like Baykeeper are often present at hearings, and that their position will be taken into account on Tuesday.
Crossen plans to make sure that Baykeeper’s position is clearly understood by the State Water Board.
“I will be in Sacramento to testify, and we are also encouraging our members and constituents to send messages to the state board, encouraging them to vote no,” she said.
Ultimately, she hopes the board will come to recognize the California coast as important to California’s economy, as well as a natural resource, Crossen said.