Agoura Hills faces hefty clean-up fees

Agoura Hills, Calabasas and Westlake Village will be required to pay what some officials are calling “outrageous” dollar amounts in order to meet strict new water quality regulations governing the pollution at Malibu Creek.

Now that the Environmental Protection Agency and Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board have approved bacteria limitations for the creek, cities are estimating their share of the cost.

In mid-December, Agoura Hills officials discussed the possibility of owing between $2.3 million and $6.8 million over five years, pending the water board’s approval of a plan to clean up the creek and implement measures that would curb pollution from various sources.

Cities will share in the cleanup cost based on their portion of the total watershed area. There are 18 sub-watersheds in Malibu Creek. Agoura Hills impacts four of them, along with Calabasas, a small portion of Hidden Hills, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, and Los Angeles and Ventura counties. An analysis has determined Agoura Hills is responsible for 9.3 percent of the total watershed area.

Councilmember John Edelston asked if cities were penalized by the inclusion of open space. City engineer Ken Berkman said the percentage each city owed was derived from all land within its boundaries.

“Do you think this is outrageous?” Councilmember Denis Weber asked a water consultant, who answered “yes.”

Councilmember Harry Schwarz suggested issuing a bond measure to help pay for the implementation plan, but said he hoped other alternatives would surface before compliance deadlines approach over the next two to nine years.

Berkman said extensions to the deadlines would probably be warranted if the plan incorporates an “integrated water resources approach,” which has been the focus of the North Santa Monica Bay Watershed Task Force since its inception in 2004.

The watershed group has been working in conjunction with Los Angeles and Ventura counties to develop a comprehensive water management plan for the entire region.

“We were all pretty outraged,” Weber said of the leaders who attended the Council of Governments late last year.

The state could charge cities $10,000 per day if they don’t comply with the new regulations, one city official said.

Weber said he believes the regulations attempt to purify creek water to “pre-Columbian” days. “It just baffles me,” he said. Mayor Dan Kuperberg said that while the price tag may seem high, he did see the need to clean up water pollution. The fiscal impact on the city will undoubtedly detract from paying for other city projects, he said.

Edelston questions if the Reyes Adobe and Chesebro Road interchange projects would be delayed because of the potential cost of compliance.

“While the watersheds continue their attempts to secure funding through grants, it should be noted the regulatory authorities do not offer any funding, thus resulting in an unfunded mandate,” Berkman said in his report.

The regional water quality board will review the plan Jan. 24. The document will include a water quality monitoring program for all responsible agencies, compliance practices to reduce bacteria in the creek, including policies, projects, schedules, and costs and funding.

The cost of a study of Southern California watersheds and bacteria levels for a base of reference will be shared by cities and agencies, and the state Department of Parks and Recreation will provide a study on the impact on birds of pollution in Malibu Creek.

For more information on upcoming watershed meetings, call the Los Angeles Department of Public Works at (626) 458-4341.

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