Posted by: San Luis Obispo Tribune

By David Sneed | dsneed@thetribunenews.com

Prompted by public complaints, state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, is sponsoring three bills that would reform the way the state adopts its water quality protection rules.

At a town hall-style meeting last week hosted by Blakeslee, local public officials and business leaders said the process the state uses to develop rules protecting water quality lacks accountability and needs to be more science-based and collaborative.

“We all want to improve water quality,” Blakeslee said. “I don’t think we are doing it as intelligently and as quickly  as possible.”

The state recently updated its storm water runoff rules and is in the process of updating the rules governing discharges from irrigated farmland.

Constituents told Blakeslee that these updates left them frustrated because existing procedures thwart communication and collaboration between regulators and stakeholders.

“There’s no doubt that strong communication between regulators and the regulated communities is far more likely to achieve informed regulatory approaches and meaningful compliance,” he said.

Blakeslee is co-sponsoring two bills with state Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood. Blakeslee is writing the third bill, which has yet to be submitted to the Legislature.

The bills are:

• SB 964, which would require regional water boards to follow the state Administrative Procedures Act that includes requirements for public notice and comment, economic analysis and standards for review.

• SB 965, which would remove barriers that prevent the public from communicating with regulators about the effects of proposed regulations.

• An unnamed bill that would require independent peer review of new rules to determine whether they will achieve the desired result.

Water quality in California is managed by the State Water Resources Control Board and nine regional water quality control boards. The Central Coast region stretches from Santa Clara County near Morgan Hill south to Ventura County and has its headquarters in San Luis Obispo.

Both of the existing Senate bills were introduced Jan. 11 and are at the beginning of the lawmaking process. State water officials say it is too early to know whether the agency will back the bills or not.

“We are carefully reviewing and analyzing the bills, but we have no official position at this time,” said George Kostyrko, State Water Board spokesman.

Erik Justesen, president of RRM Design Group and a director of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed legislation would help address one of his main concerns. He wants new rules to undergo a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that they actually improve water quality and do not unnecessarily burden cities and businesses.

For example, new storm runoff rules doubled the number of San Luis Obispo businesses required to obtain permits from 200 to 400, Justesen said.

“That means that businesses that never had to be regulated now must implement best management practices, monitor and report and be subjected to fines,” he said. Justesen thinks the improvements to storm water quality resulting from the new permit requirement are negligible.

Justesen was one of four business and local government leaders to speak at Blakeslee’s town hall-style meeting Thursday in Arroyo Grande. Others were Tim Walters, also of RRM Design Group; Richard Quandt of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties; and Atascadero City Councilman Tom O’Malley.