Santa Monica Bay to Get Priority Consideration for Cleanup Funds

Times Staff Writer

Santa Monica Bay has been placed on a national priority list for a federal program to clean up the country's most polluted bays after some eleventh-hour maneuvering by U. S. Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica).

Levine's effort means that Santa Monica Bay could become eligible for more than $1 million a year in federal funds under the National Estuary Program. The program, run by the Environmental Protection Agency, creates management panels to develop cleanup programs for distressed bays throughout the United States.

San Francisco Approved

EPA officials will decide which waterways are to be included in the program this summer. San Francisco Bay has already been selected for inclusion, along with five others. Levine successfully lobbied to amend the large-scale spending bill approved by Congress on Dec. 21 and this added Santa Monica Bay to the list.

"I think it's terrific," said Santa Monica council member Chris Reed, chairwoman of the Santa Monica Bay Project, which is studying ways to clean up the bay. "It's a great achievement and important for the entire region. We need to tap every funding source we can."

Levine is on a three-week-long fact-finding mission for the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the Middle East and could not be reached for comment.

However, his legislative aide, Betsy Ford, described the action as "the single most important thing that can be done for Santa Monica Bay in terms of the federal government."

The National Estuary Program was officially created by Congress when it approved the Water Quality Act of 1987, although its basic outline was developed two years earlier when Congress set aside $4 million for the EPA to study pollution problems in four major estuaries around the country--Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts, Long Island Sound between New York and Connecticut and Puget Sound in Washington.

The program is designed to bring local agencies together to develop a long-term protection and management plan for the bays. So far, $12.4 million has been allocated for 1988.

Because the program is supported by matching funds from the federal government and the states where the bays are situated, Levine had to enlist the support of Gov. George Deukmejian to place Santa Monica Bay on the list.

He persuaded Deukmejian to write a letter to the EPA, nominating Santa Monica Bay for inclusion, noting that increasing pollution there is now at a level where "certain fish species are no longer safe for human consumption and Los Angeles County has warned pregnant women to stay out of the water because of the potential health hazard."

Beaches throughout the county were closed many times during the last year after several huge spills into Santa Monica Bay from the city's Hyperion sewage system. In recent years, the level of sportfishing there has drastically declined, and the Southern California Assn. of Governments launched the Santa Monica Bay Project to study ways to combat pollution and determine the biggest pollution sources in the coastal waters.

Tudor Davies, director of the EPA's Office of Marine and Estuary Protection, said that to qualify for the program, a bay must be considered a "nationally significant estuary that requires special protections." Those bodies of water nominated for the program will likely be selected on the bases of individual need and the program's overall funding level, he said.

Council member Reed said that the ongoing Santa Monica Bay study has been geared to the effects of pollution on fish and marine wildlife.

"There are some specific sites that we know are polluted and we would be able to clean them if the EPA includes the bay in the plan," she said. "It should help immensely that we're on the list."

Money Is Mostly Federal

Ford, Levine's aide, said that the sites picked for the program are being funded at a level slightly over $1 million a year. California provides 25% of the money and the U. S. government, the rest.

The state must still develop an outline for the steps it will take to ensure the success of the management program. Ford said that the EPA is scheduled to set up the management conferences for the bays selected for the program sometime this summer, although estuaries left out then could be chosen later.

"There are no guarantees that Santa Monica Bay will be chosen, but the case for the bay is very compelling," she said. "Santa Monica Bay is probably used by more people than any other bay in the country, and the number of users of the bay is overwhelming.

"At this point, at least the EPA will have to take a long look at us, but we've still got a long road ahead."

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