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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Proposed County water pollution law lacks clear accountability

June 2011
Carmel ValleyLandscape planters in sidewalk area take street runoff while beautifying the streetscape. Photo:

by Kevin Collins

The Santa Cruz County Department of Public Works has prepared draft language for a new water pollution control ordinance to be considered by the County Board of Supervisors on June 28th. Sierra Club members who care about water pollution need to attend this hearing.

The proposed ordinance, required by the Clean Water Act and based on the County's Storm Water Management Plan, only applies to new development such as parking areas with over 5,000 square feet of ground surface. The ordinance will not apply to existing sites and drainage infrastructure and does contain provisions for heavy pollution sources such as facilities for the cleaning of commercial vehicles.

To understand how this new set of rules would work, imagine the areas around and including major streets such as Soquel Avenue, large shopping centers such as Del Mar, and unincorporated towns such as Boulder Creek. In these locations there are huge pre-existing areas of impermeable asphalt, concrete and building roofs that discharge polluted rainwater directly into the existing storm drain system that route this polluted water without treatment into rivers, creeks, and the Bay. Diverting this water to where it can be absorbed into the ground or to where it can be filtered before it reaches streams is what this new code should accomplish.

Unfortunately, the enforcement provisions in the proposed ordinance are defuse. The authority to administer, implement, and/or enforce the ordinance would be spread between three county departments: Public Works, Planning, and Environmental Health Services. An order to comply with this ordinance or an appeal to be exempt from any of its provisions could be handled by any of the above departments if they were involved with a project. This confusing division of authority for ensuring compliance would render enforcement moot. All three departments are often involved in projects, and there would be no clear responsibility for compliance. There is also no clear right of appeal of County decisions pursuant to this law.

This proposed water pollution ordinance needs to specifically require the implementation of innovative methods to reduce polluted runoff as is done in cities such as Portland, Oregon and Chicago, Illinois.

How to help

Please attend the Board of Supervisors meeting on June 28. Your County Supervisor needs to hear from you. Ask for a clearly-defined authority for enforcement of this proposed ordinance, and tell your Supervisor that you want the County to improve pollution control for our existing infrastructure as well as for new projects.

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