H. David Nahai begins his third term as chairman of the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board resolving to push governments and industry to cut pollution levels and rehabilitate regional waterways

If you have any smarts, you won't step foot in the water. At least that's the common perception about Santa Monica Bay, and one that H. David Nahai is determined to change.

Nahai was just elected by his fellow board members to an unprecedented third one-year term as chairman of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, which is responsible for the water quality of both the region's subterranean aquifers and its rivers, lakes and other surface water bodies.

Just last month, the board took a big step toward cleaning up the Los Angeles River, and thus Santa Monica Bay, by requiring cities to completely eliminate any trash escaping into the river from their storm drains.

The regulation is the first major "Total Maximum Daily Load," or TMDL, limit that the board must adopt under a consent decree to clean up the region's surface water bodies. Under the program, the board must calculate how much contamination a water body can assimilate each day and then set discharge limits based on that figure. Ninety-two such limits must be set in the region.

The trash regulation has raised howls of protest from city officials who claim it will be far too expensive to enforce. Business groups, too, fear it is a portent of what is to come when the board adopts regulations regarding metals, sediments and other contaminants.

A Iranian native who was schooled in England, Nahai came to the United States when he was 26 for a master's of law in international commerce at UC Berkeley. He decided to stay in the States and now runs a boutique commercial real estate law firm in Century City. He was appointed to the water board in March 1997 by former Gov. Pete Wilson, and was re-appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to a four-year term ending in 2004.

Question: Why did you go ahead with the strict Los Angeles River trash regulation when by the board's own staff estimate it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars for cities to implement?

Answer: We are trying to be very sympathetic to the cities and what they need to do to comply. But I think that what we have to bear in mind is that what we did was give the cities approximately 14 years to do what it is that they should have been doing all along.

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