Pre-empting a Cost-Prohibitive Permit

Community water systems are required under the California Health and Safety Code to conduct maintenance that results in discharges of potable, drinkable water a few times a year, often to municipal storm drains.

Concerns arose that this mandatory practice could flush pollutants from the storm drains to receiving waters.  As a result, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a tentative order declaring potable water a waste.  They proposed new requirements that all community water systems in the region would be prohibited from discharging potable water to public storm drains, unless prohibitively expensive discharge alternatives studies, sampling, testing, and oversight were conducted to assure that potable, drinkable water was clean when it entered storm drains.

Under the leadership of Castaic Lake Water Agency, a coalition of water systems engaged Nossaman just before the permit was to be issued.  We quickly marshaled legal, public policy, and governmental affairs resources to stop it.  Armed with a legal analysis demonstrating the permit was not authorized under existing law, we were able to work with political representatives in Sacramento, staff from the Board, and a coalition of water systems to prevent adoption of the permit.

With the most immediate problem solved, we then were able to bring the public storm drain agencies, the community water systems, and the Board together.  We worked with them to address the underlying problem via a cooperative, voluntary approach for controlling mandatory discharges of potable water to public storm drains in the region.  We developed template memoranda of understanding and a pilot program demonstrating that the various stakeholders could work together cooperatively to solve the problem without punishing water systems for complying with mandatory Health and Safety Code requirements.

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