Tim Strelitz has spent tens of thousands of dollars over the past decade to prevent rainwater from carrying toxic chemicals at his South L.A. metals plant off site to storm drains and the ocean.

But if new state water runoff regulations take effect, Strelitz said he may be forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more – if not millions – to install a water filtration system.

“There’s just no way we can afford to meet this,” said Strelitz, president of California Metal-X Inc. “Even the rainwater falling from the sky would not meet the standards they are setting.”

He is one of hundreds of industrial company owners, developers and construction contractors in Los Angeles County, and thousands statewide, who are fighting proposed state regulations on water runoff. They say the rules are too costly and could force some companies to move out of California.

“Storm water fees will rise in all categories, putting more economic pressure on businesses struggling to recover from years of recession,” said Valerie Nera, environmental lobbyist for the California Chamber of Commerce.

A key issue, business interests say, is the state’s decision to set numeric limits on the concentrations of metals and other toxic chemicals in the rainwater that flows off of commercial and industrial properties. Those numeric limits have not been set; the state Water Quality Control Board is to do that on a chemical-by-chemical basis. Currently, there are no such specific limits on chemicals and metals in rain runoff, although there are concentration limits in water that’s used in the manufacturing process and allowed to run off properties.

Now, most businesses have to test their rainwater runoff once every five years, although some must do so annually. But under the proposed new rules, water sampling must be done monthly. What’s more, if numeric limits are imposed, it’s more likely that a business will have to install and operate an expensive system to catch and clean its rainwater before letting it flow off the property.

A separate set of rules the state water board enacted two years ago targets developers and construction contractors building major projects, requiring them to build water catch basins to filter out dirt and other contaminants. Developers and construction contractors have filed suit to block the regulations. Until that suit is resolved, those rules are not in effect.

Recrafting rules

The set of rules proposed earlier this year is aimed at major industrial facilities, and bus and truck yards, requiring increased monitoring of the sites and, in some cases, installation of filtration devices. A coalition of industrial companies and other business interests protested, forcing the state to recraft the rules.

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