EPA’s New Water Quality Standards for Malibu Creek Come under Fire
• Critics Are Questioning Methodology, Oversight and Political Motivation Behind New Procedures
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The Las Virgenes-Triunfo Joint Powers Authority, which is comprised of Las Virgenes Municipal Water District and Triunfo Sanitation District, has issued a statement expressing strong opposition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new water quality standards for Malibu Creek.
“The JPA has filed a 75-page document with the EPA citing serious flaws in methodology, concerns about potential high costs to meet standards which are unwarranted, given the natural background conditions found in the watershed and the time frame for public review was very brief,” a JPA press release states.
“Rising from a consent decree reached among the EPA, Heal the Bay, Santa Monica Baykeeper and other parties, EPA is obligated to establish new water quality standards for several California water bodies by March 24.,” the press release states. “The JPA and communities in the Malibu Creek watershed were not parties to the litigation nor the consent decree settlement, yet all of the financial impacts would fall on the ratepayers, homeowners and businesses served by the JPA.
JPA studies done in 2005 projected new facilities costing $160 million would be needed to meet the more stringent standards, with no guarantee those measures would produce the desired result, specifically, the reduction or elimination of algae in Malibu Creek.”
“EPA’s draft document was seemingly put together in a hurry in order to meet the consent decree deadline and please the litigants, rather than function as a scientific blueprint to improve conditions in Malibu Creek,” said Charles Caspary, president of the LVMWD board of directors and a board member of the JPA. “If this document is adopted, compliance will come at a very high cost with no guarantees for results. In my opinion, that kind of disregard for the impacts to the region’s residents and businesses is unconscionable.”
“Since 2005 we have invested over $10 million in infrastructure, processes and monitoring to meet new requirements,” Caspary said in the press release. “Every day we treat some eight million gallons of sewage from the region to very stringent standards and for seven months each year, we make no discharge to the creek. Much of the effluent is used as recycled water for irrigation, which is currently its highest and best use, but at certain times between November and April, demand falls and we must discharge,” he said.
Michael McReynolds, chair of both TSD and the JPA boards also questioned the findings and methods of the EPA proposal. “EPA promised a draft document in the summer of 2012, well in advance of the deadline for comments.
Instead, the 196-page document was released in mid-December, with a final comment deadline of Jan. 23, which was later extended to Jan. 25. It is a very technical document, with severe financial implications for our ratepayers. As such, it warrants more time and scientific rigor.”
“Seeing the potential impacts to the region, the JPA alerted community leaders to the potential impacts of the proposed standards,” the release continues. “Every city in the service area, a school district and many homeowner associations expressed support for the JPA’s position in letters to the EPA.”
“It’s a testament to the engagement our region has on environmental issues,” Caspary said. “They understand the importance of protecting the environment, but they will not stand for their money being wasted trying to meet goals that cannot be attained.”
The EPA determines the health of a creek by evaluating the number of benthic macroinvertabrates that live in the creek.
“The EPA is using a standard for freshwater streams with permanent flow; Malibu Creek is neither,” the JPA letter states. “The creek contains salty water due to the influence of the Monterey Formation, a petroleum-source rock present in the watershed, which is high in natural salts and and nutrients, the latter of which promote algae growth. Stretches of the creek go dry in most summers, impacting waterborne insect populations. The EPA’s document is dismissive of those factors.”
The Monterey Formation is a relatively young—12-6 million-year-old—Miocene-era sedimentary rock formation that contains much of Southern California’s oil-bearing shale.
In the Malibu Creek watershed portions of the Monterey Formation, also known as the Modelo Formation, are unusually rich in organic nutrients like nitrate and phosphate, and more exotic elements, including radioactive materials that leach into the watershed. Numerous critics of the EPA TMDL recommendations have indicated that the proposal does not adequately address this issue.
“As a result of nutrient mandate compliance measures adopted in 2005 intended to reduce or eliminate algae, wastewater rates for LVMWD’s sewer customer doubled to $108 bimonthly, among the highest in the region.,” the JPA letter states.
Caspary added,“We did everything that was mandated by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, which implements EPA’s policies. Now they seem to be saying, ‘our 2003 standards did not work, so we’ll try something else.’”
‘No one seems to be taking up the part of the ratepayers, who ultimately bear the costs for these failed experiments. It may be entirely possible that the presence of algae is a natural and irreversible condition in Malibu Creek,” the statement concludes.
The JPA provides wastewater treatment, recycled water and biosolids composting services to some 100,000 residents of Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Oak Park, Westlake Village and portions of Thousand Oaks, in addition to unincorporated surrounding areas of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, according to the press release.
The Malibu Creek Watershed includes all of east and central Malibu, in addition to those areas.
The document and additional information on including comment letters, is posted at www.LVMWD.com and www.TriunfoSanitation.com.