Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board staff are calling for a nearly $275,000 fine against the Los Angeles County Flood Control District in a complaint alleging that the district violated water quality standards in the Marina del Rey harbor over a two-year period.

In the complaint filed February 18th, staff from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which works to protect ground and surface water quality in the Los Angeles region, allege that the district violated numerous provisions of its federal Clean Water Act storm water permit. The violations allowed for bacterial waste to be discharged into the Marina del Rey harbor during summer months between August 2007 and October 2009, creating a public nuisance and adverse impacts to the use of the harbor, the complaint charges.

The Flood Control District, part of the county Department of Public Works, manages flood protection and water conservation. The district and 84 incorporated cities discharge storm water and urban runoff from municipal storm sewer treatment systems into county water bodies, including the Marina harbor.

According to the complaint, the district has allegedly known for years and failed to report to the regional water board that its diversions and pump facility have not been properly maintained and designed. The district additionally failed to divert urban runoff flows during the dry summer months from storm drains near the Marina facility to the Hyperion Treatment Plant, the document claims.

“The Los Angeles County Flood Control District is legally obligated by the federal Clean Water Act to maintain its storm sewer system so that it does not discharge bacteria and other pollution into the rivers, streams, ocean and harbors, such as Marina del Rey where the public recreates,” said Samuel Unger, assistant executive officer and principal engineer of the regional water board.

Mark Pestrella, deputy director of the county Department of Public Works, expressed frustration with the complaint accusations and said he was surprised that the district was the target of the enforcement.

“I’m very frustrated by the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s actions in this case and I think it’s quite a shocking action that they’ve taken,” Pestrella said.

He noted that the flood district’s primary functions are to provide flood protection and water conservation for the county, and the agency has worked cooperatively with the cities to ensure that the infrastructure is maintained in a regular fashion. Pestrella questioned the manner in which the control board’s investigation was conducted and why the flood district was the focus of the complaint rather than the actual source of the pollution.

Unger claimed that an internal analysis by water control board staff found that the pollution came from the diversion facility.

“This particular diversion is owned and operated by the flood control district and not other agencies,” Unger said of why the district is the focus of the investigation. “The district also sought and was granted state funds to build this diversion.”

The district is obligated to follow the bacterial water quality standards that were established to protect public health at recreational water bodies like the Marina harbor, he said.

“We’re obligated by law to establish those standards and they’re obligated by law to meet those standards,” Unger said.

David Sommers, spokesman for county Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents Marina del Rey in the Fourth District, said while Knabe has not reviewed the complaint, county officials suggest that other steps be taken before a fine is recommended.

“Our concern is that we generally prefer that the water quality control board work with us as a partner rather than take the position they did,” Sommers said.

The county has spent a lot of money for projects to protect the environmental quality of the water and it is strongly committed to doing so, he said.

Pestrella said the district has been involved in a number of improvement projects totaling $18 million, including low-flow diversion, that have been instrumental in improving the regional water quality.

The flood district believes that the enforcement issued through the complaint is not needed and challenges the control board to re-examine its approach, he said.

“We intend to put up a very robust argument as to why this enforcement action is unnecessary,” Pestrella said.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board is scheduled to vote on the complaint May 17th, when it can either drop the recommended fine, keep it as is or increase the amount.

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