Business Joins Fight Against Storm Runoff Regulations

By LAURENCE DARMIENTO
Staff Reporter

Business and construction industry groups have joined local governments in seeking to overturn new storm water runoff regulations that they contend would unnecessarily stifle the region's development including a possible ban on grading during the rainy season.

Opponents contend the regulations could cost local governments billions overall, including $10 billion alone over the next ten years to keep trash out of storm drains. In addition, the building industry says it may add $4,000 to $8,000 to the cost of developing a lot.

The regulations, adopted in December, are intended to prevent dirty runoff from entering storm drains and polluting coastal waters, including Santa Monica Bay, already considered among the most polluted water bodies in the nation.

Runoff in urban areas like Los Angeles can contain pollutants, including heavy metals, industrial chemicals, bacteria and simple trash.

The regulations require local governments to minimize or clean up runoff within their borders, including inspecting industrial sites that are often sources of dirty runoff. They also must seek out illegal storm drain connections, sweep streets more often, and monitor water pollution, among other steps.

The business groups are specifically concerned about regulations requiring new development and redevelopment sites to minimize runoff through construction techniques such as the use of berms or the installation of special filters.

And the construction industry in particular is worried about requirements that local governments minimize the runoff from grading sites, including a suggestion by the board that local governments may want to ban some grading during the rainy season.

"The most significant thing is the fact they are steering (local governments) to a ban on construction during the rainy season. That is the simplest and easy way to say you are in compliance," said Mike Lewis, senior vice president of the construction industry coalition, a group that includes several contractors associations and the Building Industry Association of Southern California.

"It's the new frontier in environmental activism. We don't have a problem with clean water. We just don't like how they want to get there," he said.

Regional board officials say that the regulations which are the latest in a series first adopted in 1990 in response to an amendment of the federal Clean Water Act that targeted storm water runoff are reasonable and the concerns overblown.

A board official acknowledges that cities may want to consider a seasonal grading ban, but he said that there are other steps that can be taken to minimize grading runoff. "We don't want exposed land during the wet season, but we didn't go that far (as to ban it)," said Xavier Swamikannu, acting chief of the board's storm water program.

Environmentalists, who strongly support the regulations, also contend that developers and other business interests are exaggerating the cost and economic effect of the regulations.

The business groups and cities have appealed the regulations to the State Water Board, the Sacramento panel that has the authority to review decisions by the state's nine regional water boards, including the one in Los Angeles.

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