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Ruling could affect sewer rates

Tim Willert

A state appellate panel ruled Thursday that municipal sewage

treatment plants in Burbank and Los Angeles must comply with federal

and state water quality standards, upholding an earlier appellate

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decision.

Assistant City Atty. Juli Scott said the ruling could have

far-reaching economic consequences for Burbank.

“This has huge impacts on the city financially,” Scott said

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Friday. “The people who pay for sewer service, it will definitely

affect their rates.”

It was unclear Friday how much it would cost the city to comply

with the standards, and how much of that cost would be passed on to

rate-payers. Public Works Director Bruce Feng could not be reached

for comment.

While Scott called the ruling disappointing, she said it wasn’t

unexpected.

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“We’re going to study [the ruling] and try to figure out where we

go from here,” she said. “These are extremely stringent standards

that the regional board imposed.”

The cities of Burbank and Los Angeles had petitioned the

California Regional Water Quality Control Board for exemptions to

standards under the federal Clean Water Act and the state’s

Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, claiming it would be too

expensive, as well as unnecessary, to meet those standards.

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When permits were issued in 1998 without exemptions, the cities

sued, claiming that the treated sewage discharged from their

municipal plants did not meet the toxic pollutants limits imposed by

the Regional Water Board.

“One of our challenges was that [the board] didn’t consider the

economic impacts,” Scott said.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed and ordered the water

panel to revise its permits. But the water board appealed, arguing it

could not fulfill its obligations under federal and state clean water

regulations if the cities were allowed exemptions.

In December, a state appellate panel reversed the lower court

ruling, explaining that the federal Clean Water Act mandates that

water quality permits contain conditions designed to achieve water

quality standards, i.e. to protect humans, fish and organisms.

On Thursday, another three-justice panel ruled unanimously to

uphold that ruling.

“The court’s decision makes it clear that the cities of Los

Angeles and Burbank are legally obligated to treat their sewage to

remove toxic pollutants,” said Susan Cloke, chairwoman of the

Regional Water Quality Control Board.


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