Senate Democrats float package of clean-water measures
San Diego Union Tribune -
By Michael Gardner
SACRAMENTO – Senate Democrats have crafted a package of ambitious clean-water measures that target ocean barges, farmers and even state regulators.
The measures seek to rein in cargo vessels that dump sewage off the coast, create a clean-water czar, overhaul regional water boards, expand the polluter-pays principle by increasing permit fees and set new conservation goals.
"There is nothing more important than the quality of our water, the affordability of our water and the availability of our water," said Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, D-Oakland.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has not taken a position on the legislation, but the Democratics are hopeful.
He has received good marks from environmentalists, having signed cruise ship pollution standards and other environmental bills last year. He also might be open to overhauling regional water boards. Schwarzenegger's advisers at one time wanted to disband the boards, but retreated under heavy pressure.
"What we know about this governor is it's worth your effort to make your case on environmental issues," said Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.
But industry opposition could encourage the business-friendly Schwarzenegger to bring out his veto pen.
"Water is to California as oil is to Texas," said Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica.
Democrats point out that fishing and swimming are barred from nearly 700 polluted bodies of water in the state and there were more than 1,000 beach closings or advisories in 2002.
"Sparkling clean beaches are a worldwide image of California," said Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, citing the economic value of the coast.
Under SB 771, cargo ships could soon be required to meet many of the stringent standards imposed on cruise lines, such as a ban on dumping treated sewage, shower and kitchen wastewater, and other bilge in harbors or within three miles of California's coast.
"We're not requiring new treatment systems. We're just saying hold it until you get out to sea," said Teri Shore, of Bluewater Network, an environmental coalition sponsoring the bill.
Industry representatives are not alarmed.
"They don't discharge that stuff in state waters. It (isn't) an issue to them," said John Berge, vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.
However, there is some interest in creating an exemption for strikes or other circumstances that cause ships to be backed up in harbors or just off shore, Berge said.
That could be worked out, said Simitian, the author.
"I understand the importance of the shipping industry to California's economy. . . . I'm certainly not asking folks to do the impossible," he said.
Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, has introduced SB 113 to lay out how to determine who should be responsible for paying for water and flood-control projects in the Sacramento Delta.
The measure is in response to a feud within a joint state-federal agency guiding long-range plans for the delta, a maze of waterways carrying much of Southern California's drinking water.
Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and Perata have teamed up to reform regional water boards with jurisdiction over local policies. Their measure, SB 729, would create a state-level compliance division and enforcement director in response to allegations that some boards have been too cozy with polluters.
They also propose higher permit fees and fines to pay for water quality programs.
"The polluter should pay, not the taxpayer," Lowenthal said. "We want to strengthen enforcement."
Richard Katz, a state water board member, said the agency has implemented increased fees to replace budget cuts. Farmers are suing over some of the charges.
"You need to have strict enforcement. We need the bodies to back up what the legislators want," said Katz, a prominent Democrat.
Sen. Kuehl's sweeping SB 820 proposes to implement programs to monitor use, encourage conservation and develop farm water management plans. An irrigation district that does not comply, for example, would be ineligible for state grants.
"The Kuehl bill includes an A-to-Z list of what needs to be debated in water," Katz said.
Kuehl also is carrying SB 646 that would make it harder for polluters to receive waivers from water quality standards. #