The long-running battle over whether developers would be required to undertake costly measures to capture storm-water runoff from their new L.A.-area projects appears to finally be over.

And the developers have lost.

Beginning in February, they will be required to install water-retention basins, absorbent grassy spillways or other such elements to keep polluted storm-water runoff from draining into Santa Monica Bay.

The requirements the first of their kind in the state will apply to all new single-family hillside homes, subdivisions with 10 or more homes, 100,000-square-foot commercial developments, automotive repair shops, restaurants and parking lots over a certain size in Los Angeles County. Excluded are projects in Avalon, Palmdale and Lancaster, which are outside the regional board's jurisdiction. The new rules also will apply to redevelopment projects that add or improve 5,000 square feet of space, or more.

The water-capturing elements must be capable of handling water from any storm that produces three quarters of an inch of rain in 24 hours.

"It is still an economic burden and the costs will certainly be passed along to the homebuyer, but it is probably unlikely we will appeal," said David Smith, general counsel to the Diamond Bar-based Building Industry Association of Southern California, which counts 1,800 members. "There will eventually be litigation over storm-water regulations, but I don't think this is the case we want to take forward (to the courts)."

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board first passed the requirements for L.A. last January, prompting the BIA to appeal the matter to the state board. On Oct. 5, the state board upheld the rules, and the BIA has decided not to take its challenge any further.

Similar rules were adopted by the board in July for Ventura County and are already in effect. Local water-quality regulators defended the rules as being a reasonable step toward protecting the environment.

"The way sites have been developed is basically to clear the runoff and send it to the storm drain as quickly as possible," said Xavier Swamikannu, chief of the regional board's storm water program. "This requires a whole new way of looking at things, rather than simply pave and go away."

Environmentalists, as expected, hailed the new rules.

"It's the first real step in the right direction in changing the ways we do development in this region, so we decrease the amount of pollution, rather than our past history of rampant increases with each new and redevelopment project," said Mark Gold, executive director of Heal the Bay, the Santa Monica-based group dedicating to improving Santa Monica Bay.


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