Cities battle proposal to tighten rules on storm water runoff
By Ed Fletcher
The Sacramento Bee Published: Monday, Dec. 26, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
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Anonymous Lake Tahoe activists are marketing an odd keepsake – a calendar displaying photos of pipes dumping road water runoff into the lake.
The storm drain calendar, produced by the mysterious Tahoe Pipe Club, features 12 outlets that activists contend are poisoning the lake with toxins and fine particles.
Storm water issues also have people up in arms in western Placer County. But while the Tahoe Pipe Club is pushing for more treatment, the city of Roseville is leading the fight against proposed aggressive new state rules for treating storm water.
"We like water quality but we also need requirements that are reasonable," said Kelye McKinney, Roseville's engineering manager.
Roseville officials say new requirements, as proposed by the State Water Resources Control Board, would be costly for communities and businesses when neither can afford added financial burdens.
"It's another example of the state telling everyone what to do," said City Manager Ray Kerridge.
The city estimated its costs would be $3.5 million in the first year of implementation and $2.6 million annually.
Many businesses – from restaurants to car washes – would be forced to retrofit their properties under the proposal, McKinney said.
Under Roseville's leadership, a coalition of more than 60 local governments and organizations started a website, www.stormwatercosts. com. Members include Placer County and the cities of Lincoln, Rocklin, Loomis, Auburn, Davis, Woodland and Yuba City.
The state's proposal – which would apply to small and medium-size cities – unleashed a deluge of criticism from lawmakers, business owners and municipalities.
"Water is the lifeblood of our state and improving water quality and protecting this precious resource should be done effectively and efficiently, but this extreme pursuit of environmental purity is leading to economic Armageddon," Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Roseville, said in a prepared release.
The water board isn't just updating the rules for small and medium-size cities and counties. Separate concurrent updates are under way that would affect industrial users and the California Department of Transportation.
"The reaction to those permits was 'too much, too soon,' " said Jon Bishop, chief deputy director of state water board.
He said in a recent interview that water board staff members overreached in trying to address the issue from all possible angles. He said the staff is working on a revision that achieves clean water goals while being less onerous.
He said there are some areas where municipalities can be accommodated. For instance, he said, cities should be able to use existing inspectors to examine water quality issues, rather than hiring new ones as the original draft required.
There will, however, be areas that leave cities unhappy, he said. New construction and redevelopment in smaller cities will face stricter rules for recapturing and reusing storm runoff.
"Storm water is actually a resource: We want people to maximize recapture," Bishop said. "We are just institutionalizing what many developers already do."
Bishop said the revised rules will be ready early next year. After a comment period, he said, he hoped to have something ready for the board to consider by spring.
In general, he said, small and medium-size cities will be edged toward requirements already in place in larger municipalities and used in "green" construction.
Lake Tahoe will not be affected by the new rules. For more than two decades the Tahoe basin has been subject to the more stringent rules larger cities face, with locally produced enhancements aimed at protecting the lake.
In recent years, millions have been spent in an attempt to right the wrongs of earlier development by retrofitting roads with proper drainage and, in one case, removing a failed North Shore condo project and restoring 35 acres to marshland.
Lake governments are even mindful of the type of sand used to make icy roads safer, in hopes of reducing the fine particles also blamed for eroding lake clarity, said Harold Singer, executive officers of the local Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The Tahoe Pipe Club – in its second year of publishing its calendar – is pushing the region to do more.
"In spite of decades of restoration in the name of lake clarity these pipes and hundreds of other pipes like them are allowed to pollute Lake Tahoe with toxic storm water," reads a press release penned under the pseudonym Tyler Durden.
"Tahoe Pipe Club wants the urban storm water infiltrated into the ground before it reaches these pipes."