State mandate could burst county budgets

The wallets of Peninsula residents could soon be drained if state mandates are passed to stop some pollution into the Bay and Pacific Ocean.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board, which monitors Bay Area sewer overflows, recently proposed ambitious measures for cities in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties to reduce the amount of trash, mercury, copper and other dangerous chemicals that travel from city stormwater systems into local waterways.

Officials from nearly every city in San Mateo County said they fear that the requirements are inflexible and will drain public-works coffers. That cost would likely be passed on to residents with increased storm- drain fees, city officials said.

If cities do not comply with the proposed requirements, they could face fines of $25,000 per day, water board Assistant Executive Officer Tom Mumley said.

“Most local government, you’ll find, is very concerned about how we’re going to pay for this,” county Public Works Director Jim Porter said.

Lengthy letters were penned by various city agencies to the water control board in the last few weeks outlining concerns over being able to meet the new requirements. Many city representatives plan to also attend a four-hour public hearing held by the board in Oakland today.

Many city officials said they plan to barrage the water board with complaints that they cannot fund the new requirements. Officials said the county’s largest sanitation district, in Daly City, will need to find an expected $11.8 million in extra expenses over five years.

San Mateo County expects to spend an extra $3 million after the new requirements in unincorporated areas. That money would be pulled from its road repair budget if residents do not approve increased storm-drain fees, Porter said.

Many cities’ stormwater treatment budgets would double, Mumley said.

“That is everyone’s concern, given the current budget situation,” said Art Morimoto, Burlingame assistant director of Public Works.

If the proposed measures were passed, cities would be forced to be accountable for stormwater pollution by increasing monitoring and reporting. Citywide monitoring of sewer systems would take away maintenance time to repair the worst sewer lines in each city, Morimoto said.

Environmental groups, such as Save the Bay, said the requirements are not stringent enough and offered solutions for how cities could tackle the extra costs, such as passing local bonds.

“Lack of cash is not an excuse for the water board not tightening these pollution requirements,” said David Lewis, Save the Bay executive director.

After hearing comments from cities today and during another future public hearing, the board will vote in July on the new requirements, Mumley said.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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