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Cost of clean water: Cities deal with unfunded mandate of protecting Bay, water quality
June 06, 2013, 05:00 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal

Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal Debra Bickel, with San Mateo public works, inspects a catch basin filter in downtown San Mateo. The filters keep trash from flowing into local creeks.

Garbage that seeps into the Bay can be costly for cities as they can be fined hefty amounts by the regional water board but ultimately it’s the taxpayer’s wallet that is needed to pay for the pollution prevention efforts.

San Mateo, for instance, spends about $230,000 a year now to replace and maintain catch basin filters that stop those plastic bags and Styrofoam cups from finding their way to local creeks, the Bay and the ocean.

It is a modest program, Public Works Director Larry Patterson said, but with mandates from the state to reduce the amount of pollution in stormwater to virtually nil by 2020, it will get costlier in the coming years.

Filters need to be changed three times a year, take two men to change and about four days to complete, Patterson said about clearing the catch basins.

Monday night, Patterson briefed the City Council in a special study session on the city’s need to renew its Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit next year that is issued under the authority of the federal Clean Water Act by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The five-year permit expires in 2014.

At Monday’s study session, the cost of the state’s unfunded mandate dominated the council’s discussion on the topic.

Vice Mayor Robert Ross is not sure how the city can reduce its “trash load” to zero without asking the public to pay more than it already does in taxes.

Bonds and a ballot measure were discussed at the study session as a way to help pay for the mandate but Ross said that if residents ultimately reject such a measure, the city will still be stuck paying for the pollution prevention effort.

Water board mandates could directly impact homeowners, too.

“For example, if they pass a regulation requiring all homeowners to have low-flow irrigation nozzles in their landscaping at the time of sale of a home, it would increase the cost to buy a house and could potentially force certain members of our community out of our local housing market,” San Mateo Mayor David Lim wrote the Daily Journal in an email.

Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor John Muller is also the longtime chair of the local regional water board.

“Some municipalities are very upset about it,” Muller said. “But the law requires trash load reductions.”

A recent countywide ban on plastic bags should also help reduce the amount of garbage that finds its way into local waters, Muller said.

The mandates are meant to protect the environment, Muller said. The city of San Mateo’s plastic bag ban goes into effect today.

Patterson told the Daily Journal he is confident the city will meet the requirements for the permit and reduce the trash load to zero by 2020.

“It is the right effort to undertake, no on argues that,” Patterson said. “It’s just a matter of resources and dollars.”

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106



Tags: water, patterson, regional, board, muller, about,

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