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Tougher law is proposed

Runoff from private property onto city streets will be more than a nuisance under the terms of the proposed storm water permit — it will be illegal, and it could be a real drain on the city budget.

The proposal by the Regional Water Quality Board-San Diego attempts aims to prevent any runoff from reaching storm drains. City Water Quality staff are reviewing the permit and will report to the council on the probable effect on Laguna.

“It’s a very big deal ,and it will affect everybody,” Schissler said. “Enforcement will be an issue. The new order will require the city to really clamp down on residents.”

City Manager Ken Frank advised the council in his April 10 Memorandum that so-called nuisance water — whether from watering lawns or washing cars — will be prohibited by the proposed permit.

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“Of course,” he wrote, “the city will have to enforce it, and all the residents will be mad at us rather than the board.”

And the changes in the permit could be costly, also aggravating to the public in these economic times.

“They are asking for more sampling and monitoring, and that equates to expenses,” Schissler said. “It’s not just in dry weather, but in wet weather. That could mean testing after every rain. That’s not cheap.”

Schissler hopes to make recommendations to the City Council at the first meeting in May that will clarify the proposal.

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“It takes a while to understand the subtleties,” Schissler said. “We have questions about changes in the wording. There shouldn’t be any guessing.”

The supplemental fact sheet, recently made public, summarizes significant changes in the revised Tentative Order R9-2009-0002, as the storm water permit is designated, and provides a basis for the changes

Among the revisions: deletion of “urban runoff,” replaced throughout the tentative order with storm water (wet weather) and non-storm water (dry weather), deemed necessary to prevent the misunderstanding that the permit’s regulation only apply to urbanized areas.

The term “urban runoff” is not defined in the Code of Federal Regulations or Federal Registration in the regulation of phase 1 MS4 discharges, according to the fact sheet.

Runoff is defined in the permit as all flows of water in a storm water conveyance system, meaning roads with drainage systems, municipal streets, catch basins, curbs, gutters, ditches, man-made channels or storm drains and natural streams.

And at least one aspect of that is good news for Laguna.

“Everyone is talking about Aliso Creek, but virtually nothing goes into the creek from Laguna Beach. Individuals and communities inland will now have to take steps to comply.

“We are hearing discussion of near zero tolerance of discharges into the creek.”

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That includes discharge from washing cars and landscape, irrigation and hosing down hardscape, which also will be prohibited elsewhere in the city.

Under the terms of the previous permit occasional over watering lawns was overlooked by the city.

“We were trying to educate the public,” Schissler said. “Of course we cited when the violations were egregious — soapy water is particularly offensive.”

The new mantra is “Wash and Recover.”

“Everybody hopes for technology to support the permit, and it’s slowly getting there,” Schissler said. “Companies are starting to make strides in this area: ways to trap waste water and ways to capture runoff. It used to be really archaic.”

Schissler knows that the city is already ahead of the curve on some of the new requirements proposed in the permit..

“In the early 2000s, we had to comply with an Environmental Protection Agency order with a big laundry list,” Schissler said. “It actually benefited the city because it got us ahead of the wastewater discharge requirements and we have already [been] complying with the new level of WDRs.”

The city will request one change in wording that affects only Laguna.

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“We are already working with the state on exemption from the prohibition against discharge of storm water off of Heisler Park, an Area of Special Biological Significance,” Schissler said. “This is unique to Laguna because we have the only such area in Orange County Region 9 and obviously we can’t stop the rain.

“Our recommendation is that the county permit should read that Laguna be responsible directly to the state instead of duplication. We would prefer to deal with just one agency.”

The city and residents have until June 19 to submit written comments about the permit, which will be submitted to the board for review before the public hearing scheduled for July 1. Written responses to comments submitted before May 15 will be provided before the hearing.

Oral comments will be considered at the hearing.

The board has the option of closing the public comment period at the meeting or within a specified period after the meeting.

“People should be informed and make their opinions known about the proposed permit,” Schissler said. “Hopefully we can boil it down to terms the public can understand.”

The city hearing will be publicly noticed. For more information, call the city clerk’s office at (949) 497-0705 or check meeting agendas, posted on the Friday before the council meeting on the city’s website www.lagunabeachcity.net.


BARBARA DIAMOND can be reached at (949) 380-4321 or coastlinepilot@latimes.com.


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