City of Salinas fights stricter (and more expensive) urban stormwater rules.
Thursday, January 5, 2012
Forty volunteers woke up in the middle of the night in early October during the first heavy rain of the year, collecting water samples from 20 points where stormwater carries everything in its path directly into Monterey Bay.
“All of a sudden, a big rain just flushes everything off of our streets and yards and parking lots,” says Bridget Hoover, director of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary’s water quality protection program, “and it’s pretty nasty.”
In updating stormwater rules for Salinas, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is hoping to pinpoint which street practices translate to better water quality downstream. “Part of the problem now is that we don’t know what’s in the runoff,” Hoover says.
But city officials say the proposed rules, which would update an existing stormwater permit issued in 2004, are unattainable. They first estimated the economic impact to Salinas would be $85 million a year, considering costs like retrofits to prevent home garden sprinkler water from running off. RBF Consulting brought that down to $57 million, but Mayor Dennis Donohue says that’s still undoable.
“This agency – and this issue – is truly the poster child of over-regulation and government run amok,” he says. That water board members are governor-appointed rather than elected adds insult to injury, he adds: “They’re not the ones who have to lay off police officers and leave a city unprotected.”
But Phil Hammer, a senior environmental scientist at the regional water board, says city officials are misreading the permit. For example, the city would be responsible for education on conservative lawn-watering, but the water board doesn’t expect all homeowners to entirely redo their lawns.
“We believe the city’s cost estimates are too high, and they’re based on misunderstandings of the permit requirements,” Hammer says.
On Dec. 22, water board executive director Roger Briggs denied the city’s request for an extension; the water board is scheduled to vote on the draft Feb. 2.
A series of recent conference calls with water board staff have made lawn-watering and car-washing rules less Draconian, according to City Engineer Walter Grant. But he still has outstanding concerns, including 3,300 acres of farmland within city limits that would be considered part of the urban landscape. Water board staff are still discussing whether to hold Salinas responsible for ag runoff that flows through city pipes.
Stricter rules that treat repaving projects like new asphalt leave Grant worried that property owners will be discouraged from upkeep. “That could lead to blight, because people won’t want to redo their parking lots,” he says. “Impact on the city could be counterproductive.”
Hammer contends Grant’s parking lot worries are overblown. “If you’re going through that work, that’s an opportunity to put in some water quality improvements,” he says.