In a precedent-setting vote, regional water officials on Thursday unanimously ordered the Irvine Co., Caltrans and the state Department of Parks and Recreation to stop sending polluted discharge into the pristine waters off Crystal Cove State Park.
Such fragile ecosystems are "biological communities of such extraordinary value that no risk of unnatural stresses . . . can be entertained," said Mark Smythe, chief of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board's coastal storm water unit.
The ocean off Crystal Cove, a dolphin birthing ground north of Laguna Beach, is recognized by the state as one of 34 areas of biological significance and receives special protection under the state's Ocean Plan. Thursday's action is the first time a regional board has barred runoff into these ecosystems. Runoff is a brew of fertilizer, metals from car brakes and other toxic material that is washed off streets and lawns by rain and other water.
The Irvine Co. agreed last month to stop sending construction and residential runoff into pipes that drain across the state beach into the ocean. The developer has promised to reroute the flows inland to two creeks within a year.
Those two creeks also drain into Crystal Cove, but board members said the law doesn't allow them to stop that type of runoff. Paul Singarella, an attorney with Latham & Watkins, who represents the developer, said that although the Irvine Co. agreed to comply with the order, it is not admitting that it polluted Crystal Cove.
Both Caltrans and the state parks agency must comply with the order within two years. Attorneys for both agencies said they were uncertain whether they would appeal.
The state parks department owns beach frontage where 43 aging cottages use septic tanks that could be sending waste into the ocean. Putting the cottages on a municipal sewer service would cost up to $6 million, a move planned when the parks department goes forward with construction of a resort there. But that project has yet to clear required public reviews, which could take far longer than two years.
Caltrans, meanwhile, must stop runoff from Pacific Coast Highway from reaching the ocean.
Attorneys for the Irvine Co. and Caltrans worried that the board's move was creating statewide policy, something they said should be done by its parent agency, the State Water Resources Control Board.
However, Craig Wilson, chief counsel for the state board, said: "I've always considered the regional boards the first line of defense." The state board may still rule on the order if it is appealed or if its members decide to take it up themselves, he added.
[Clips from original newspaper articles appear here for educational purposes and purposes of comment, rather than commercial purposes. They are reprinted under the fair use doctrine of international copyright law. Copyright Los Angeles Times]
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