2007-09-27 / Front Page

Storm water cleanup may drain city's bank account

By Nancy Needham nancy@theacorn.com

By Nancy Needham  nancy@theacorn.com

Water rushing down streets and into storm drains may soon be taking along money from the city of Thousand Oaks.

Officials are concerned the city might have to pay $400 a year for each household due to the cost of trash and pollutants in storm water. Currently the city pays $29 per household.

The potential increase comes from the estimated cost of requirements proposed by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, which oversees Ventura County's storm water permit.

The permit has expired, and 10 cities have joined with others affected in the county in an effort to work with the control board to devise a more practical and productive draft, said Jeff Pratt, director of Ventura County Watershed Protection District.

Among those who met last week in Ventura were Councilmember Jacqui Irwin, Deputy Public Works Director Jay Spurgin and other city staff members.

"There is currently no funding mechanism in place if there's an increase," said Mark Watkins, Thousand Oaks public works director.

The proposed cost increase for storm water care would compete with police, fire and other city obligations and responsibilities, Watkins said.

City officials are trying to find a solution that would allow the city flexibility in its efforts to increase storm water quality, Watkins said.

He gave the example of the control board's proposed requirement that fine screening be used to cover some storm water drains to filter out trash. Watkins said workers would then be needed to clean off the screens during storms to keep the drains from backing up and causing flooding.

"It might make more sense in Thousand Oaks to increase street sweeping or install more public trash cans, or some different approach could be needed. Each city is individual, and we need to be able to do what makes sense for us," he said.

In Thousand Oaks, there must be greater awareness that storm water doesn't go through a treatment plant: What goes down a storm drain goes into our rivers and onto our beaches, Watkins said.

"We need to make sure our restaurants, auto shops and other businesses know just hosing things off is not the right action," he said.

Ventura County is the first county in California--and probably in the nation--to face the new stricter regulations outlined in the control board draft, Pratt said.

"This is unprecedented statewide and nationwide," he said.

It's not just the regulations that will cost, but punitive fines have been proposed for cities that don't meet the standards when the water at the end of the drainage pipes is tested for pollutants, Musgrove said.

Federal water quality regulations began in 1972 with the Clean Water Act, then in 1987 the federal government began focusing on pollution caused by storm water runoff, said Vicki Musgrove, Ventura division manager of public works.

The county got their first permit in 1994 and has been following the permits to the letter to reduce pollutants, Pratt said.

Still, leaky sewer lines, soap and grime from carwashes, pesticides and other pollutants that run off of yards, houses, streets, businesses and open space end up in our streams and on our beaches, he said.

The cities want to make storm water cleaner, but these proposed regulations are counterproductive and prohibitively expensive, city spokesperson Andrew Powers said.

"No one is against clean water. We're all for clean water," Powers said.

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