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Could State Plan Hurt Ocean?

Some environmental groups think so, and are battling a state board over the plan that would allow discharges in stormwater runoff into protected areas.

Similar to Hermosa Beach, coastal communities across Southern California cherish the ocean and its natural habitat.

And that passion is what has fueled the Santa Monica Baykeeper organization on Friday to announce that it intends to fight the California State Water Resources Control Board over the possible approval of a plan that would allow discharges in stormwater runoff into protected areas.

The executive director of Baykeeper is arguing that "all of our coastline would be affected" by the passage of the plan—including Hermosa Beach.

In California, 34 sites have been designated as Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS), which are "ocean areas requiring protection of species or biological communities to the extent that alteration of natural water quality is undesirable," according to the board.

Since 1983, the California Ocean Plan has banned the discharge of waste into these areas. However, the plan allows exceptions to be granted so long as the board believes the protection of ocean waters would not be compromised and the public interest would be best served.

In October 2004, the board told applicants to stop storm water and nonpoint source waste discharges into ASBS or request an exception. Twenty-seven entities, including Los Angeles County, the city of Malibu and the U.S. Department of Defense, applied for exceptions (see below for the full list of entities.)

The exceptions would lead to better water quality in ASBS waters, according to a staff report. And while there could be some adverse impacts to the environment, they would be limited and/or temporary.

The discharges are "essential for flood control, slope stability, erosion prevention, maintenance of the natural hydrologic cycle between terrestrial and marine ecosystems, public health and safety, the public recreation and coastal access, commercial and recreational fishing, navigation and essential military operations (national security)," according to the report.

If the exceptions are not granted, there could be "chronic noncompliance" or increased flooding, according to the report. Also, "The applicants may be forced to divert all storm-water runoff outside of ASBS for discharge, [which] would be very expensive and may also pose a threat to the marine environment."

The board Tuesday will vote on the resolution to allow the exceptions. If approved, it would be reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In May, the board listened to public comment regarding the resolution. Santa Monica Baykeeper's executive director, Liz Crosson, spoke in opposition to the plan, saying it would potentially lead to 1,700 illegal discharges running into protected areas, including parts of the Pacific Ocean, rivers and streams.

"We had hoped the state board would take our comments and apply them more seriously than they have," Crosson told Patch on Friday. "We were very surprised [last week] when we heard [the resolution] was on the agenda and that it hadn't been substantially changed."

Crosson, who plans to speak to the board at its Tuesday meeting, said it's "hard to say" if the resolution will be approved. She has urged Baykeeper supporters to email members of the board and tell them the resolution "rewards dischargers for ignoring their pollution discharges to the ASBS; fails to clearly define a scientific standard for compliance, instead punting to a future, vaguely-defined discharger-driven process; threatens the beneficial uses of ASBS; violates state and federal anti-degradation policies; creates loopholes that could push compliance back indefinitely; and violates the California Environmental Quality Act."

Siding with Baykeeper is another environmental group, , as well as the California Coastkeeper Alliance.

"We strongly support Baykeepers efforts on this critical issue," Heal the Bay President Mark Gold told Patch on Friday. "The state water board should not roll back protections for these areas of special biological protection. They are the most extraordinary areas along California’s coast, and they need and deserve the maximum protection possible to preserve and protect them."

The entities requesting discharge exceptions are:

  • Carmel by the Sea
  • Laguna Beach
  • Malibu
  • Monterey
  • Newport Beach (on behalf of the Pelican Point Homeowners),
  • Pacific Grove
  • San Diego
  • Trinidad
  • Humboldt County
  • Los Angeles County
  • Marin County
  • Monterey County
  • San Mateo County
  • CalTrans
  • Connolly-Pacific Company
  • Department of Parks and Recreation
  • Humboldt Bay Harbor District
  • Irvine Company
  • Pebble Beach Company (also on behalf of the Pebble Beach Stillwater Yacht Club)
  • Santa Catalina Island Company (also on behalf of the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy)
  • the Sea Ranch Association
  • Trinidad Rancheria
  • U.S. Department of Interior - Point Reyes National Seashore
  • U.S. Department of Interior - Redwoods National and State Park
  • the U.S. Department of Defense (Air Force and Navy)

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