Proposed regulations to clean up trash in the Los Angeles River and other waterways are raising the hackles of city officials and developers who claim the rules would set a costly precedent.

The regulations, to be considered Jan. 25 by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, set a zero-tolerance limit on trash and are the first of dozens that the agency must adopt under federal orders to clean up the region's dirty beaches, rivers, streams and other bodies of water. From construction-site runoff, to heavy metals discharged by manufacturers and bacteria in treated sewage, the regulations would set a limit on how much of a particular contaminant each of the region's polluted water bodies could handle each day.

Opponents say the trash clean-up plans could cost more than $300 million to implement regionally.

Environmentalists contend that the rules are necessary and critical to enforcement of the decades-old Clean Water Act.

"Obviously, we don't want to have trash in our rivers, but the fact remains that it's unrealistic to expect it to be zero," said Tim Piaske, director of environmental affairs with the Building Industry Association of Southern California, which represents 1,800 builders, developers and others in the industry. "We are concerned that they are setting the limit not based on any sound science, and the precedent it will set for future regulations."

Piaske and others believe that impending regulations on sediment and heavy metals would have a far more severe impact on business than rules concerning trash.

The trash regulations, if passed, would require a broad range of expensive clean-up measures over the 10 years they would gradually be implemented. The measures include beefing up street sweeping or installing devices to capture trash in storm drains. Responsibility for compliance would fall on cities' shoulders. But cash-strapped municipalities are likely to try to pass along those costs to residents or businesses.

Critics fear that the cost of all the new regulations could reach up to $10 billion regionally, but with the quality of the region's surface waters at stake, environmentalist are not backing down, especially after their hard-fought legal victory.

Clean Water Act

"I think this particular TMDL (total maximum daily load) is going to be very expensive, but after a rainstorm you can literally walk on top of water on the trash," said Leslie Mintz, an attorney with environmental group Heal the Bay. "But this was not some arbitrary and capricious act. It's a very critical part of the Clean Water Act that has not been enforced for decades."

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