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Supervisors Stall Clean Water Fee

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors ultimately puts on hold a new fee plan that would fund waterways cleanup and prevention of run-off pollution.

A proposal by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works to fund improved water quality in Los Angeles County waterways and to prevent runoff pollution stalled in front of the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday.

Los Angeles County waterways are fouled with trash, infection-causing bacteria and toxic chemicals that are literally making residents sick, the board was told.

"In our extensive study of county waterways, we have determined that most of the water bodies within Los Angeles County suffer from poor water quality and an overabundance of trash, infection-causing bacteria, toxic chemicals, lead, copper and other metals, oil and grease," Public Works Director Gail Farber told the board, adding that many have failed to meet the standards of the federal Clean Water Act.

"As many as 500,000 children and adults contract a gastrointestinal disease each year after swimming at an L.A. County beach or lake," Farber said, citing a UCLA study.

Public Works personnel coordinated with at least 60 municipalities and other interested parties to reach consensus on how to address the problem and then proposed that property owners pay a fee - the Clean Water, Clean Beaches Water Quality tariff - to help reduce runoff pollution and improve water quality.

The district and other agencies and municipalities in the Los Angeles County Flood Control District spent an estimated $340 million to control pollutants in fiscal year 2010-11, according to Farber, who estimated the cost of complying with existing water-quality regulations to be in the billions of dollars.

The proposed fee would raise an estimated $276 million annually to be split between the Flood Control District, nine watershed areas set up to manage clean-up projects and the 87 cities that make up the county.

"I think it's time for us to move on this," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Representatives from Heal the Bay, the Surfrider Foundation and several other environmentalists lauded the plan.

Long Beach suffers from "hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash and pollutants from our upstream neighbors," said Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal.

The clean-up plan could "improve our water quality for our children and generations to come," she said.

Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said the plan made sense based on economics alone. Importing drinking water from out of state costs roughly four times more than utilizing water from local aquifers, he said. Conserving clean storm run-off water would increase local stores.

But some residents were opposed to property owners footing the bill, a point echoed by Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who said any funding should come from the federal or state government. Others said the plan offered insufficient details on how monies would be spent.

Public Works had hoped to get the board's approval today to move toward a public hearing on the topic and, ultimately, a vote by property owners. But Antonovich and Supervisor Don Knabe took issue with the way property owners would be polled, saying the measure should be put to voters in an election, rather than surveying property owners by mail.

Supervisor Gloria Molina asked for more time to consider the matter, leaving the proposal without sufficient support. A vote on whether to proceed to a public hearing on the measure was postponed for two weeks.

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