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Flood control agency faces $275,000 fine for allegedly polluting Marina del Rey harbor

February 22, 2010 |  4:01 pm

The Los Angeles County Flood Control District faces a state fine of almost $275,000 for allegedly allowing bacterial pollution to flow into the harbor at Marina del Rey for more than two years.

The staff of the Los Angeles region of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a complaint against the district Feb. 18, recommending $274,896 in fines. The board, part of the California Environmental Protection Agency, cited 186 violations since 2007 of the district’s storm water permit, which was issued in accordance with federal and state clean-water standards.

The water board is scheduled to vote May 17 on the complaint. The panel could modify the fine, reject it or let it stand.

The regulatory action and fine are precedent-setting, said Samuel Unger, the water board’s assistant executive officer and principal engineer. Previous storm drainage complaints typically dealt with industrial or construction discharges, Unger said.

Kerjon Lee, a flood-control district spokesman, said a statement was coming, but he could not comment further.

Under its permit, Unger said, the district was required to comply with bacterial water quality standards at Marina del Rey by August 2007.

The complaint alleges that the district failed to meet the deadline and the pollution continued in subsequent years. The action stems from intensive state and federal regulatory efforts designed to improve the water quality of Marina del Rey harbor, Santa Monica Bay and other heavily polluted waterways frequented by waders and boaters.

Urban runoff is a major contributor to sullied waterways. The flood control district, part of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, is legally obligated to maintain its storm sewer system so that it does not discharge bacterial and other pollutants into streams, rivers, harbors or the ocean, Unger said.

The complaint alleges that the district has known for years — and failed to report to the regional water board — that its diversions and pump station had not been properly designed and maintained.

The system failed to divert runoff flows from 22 catch basins near Washington Boulevard in Venice to the Hyperion Waste Water Treatment plant, Unger said. Instead, he added, the contaminated water flowed to a pump station and then into the harbor.

“Basically, this makes the water unsafe, unhealthy for recreation,” said Unger.

The board’s goal is to have the defects cleared up by summer, he said. All the violations occurred in the so-called summer months — April 1 to Oct. 31 — when rainfall is minimal. Runoff during such periods can come from sources such as street cleaning, car washing or excess lawn irrigation.

A “much larger challenge,” Unger said, is how to regulate flows during the rainy season, when volumes of water coursing through storm drains can be much higher.

“We’re working on fixes there,” Unger said.

-- Patrick J. McDonnell