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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

City’s Designated Reserve to Drop Below $10 Million

• NRDC Settlement Comes at High Cost

BY BILL KOENEKER

A part of the settlement agreement with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Santa Monica Baykeeper over litigation about allegations the city violated the Clean Water Act requires the Malibu City Council to dig down further into its general fund undesignated reserve for $250,000 to establish what is being called a Water Quality Settlement Designated Reserve, according to Assistant City Manager Reva Feldman.
The city council at its meeting next week is expected to establish the designated reserve, which was not included in the adopted budget for fiscal year 2012-2013.
In a memo to the council, Feldman indicated the city recently finalized the terms for the settlement agreement with the NRDC/Baykeeper and as a result of the agreement, the municipality is required to establish the $250,000 reserve.
For the first time in many years, the city's undesignated reserve will dip below $10 million by the end of the current fiscal year.
The $250,000 will be used to fund what is called the Ocean Health Near-Shore Water Quality Assessment described as a study that will “focus on assessing public health risks at local beaches and providing the public with timely and meaningful information on such risks.”
“The primary goals are to identify safe and healthy beaches within the City of Malibu and notify the public of beach water quality and any potential health risks,” Feldman noted.
The first step in the assessment is to establish a comprehensive near-shore monitoring program at popular local beaches.Water samples from the beaches will be taken in shallow swimming water (approximately three feet in depth) and tested for indicator bacteria and surrogate indicators currently assumed to pose human health risks.
“The funding will not be used for monitoring unless otherwise required by applicable permits, state law or other regulation, and these monitoring efforts will be coordinated with other regional monitoring programs, including beach monitoring programs conducted by the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health and the city of Los Angeles Environmental Monitoring Divisions, to ensure efficient use of resources and to eliminate redundancy,” Feldman noted.
The city will be required to explore various ways to provide public notification of beach water quality in real time.
“The city will investigate options for using rapid indicator technology and predictive modeling, which would allow the city to quickly assess public health risks at local beaches and to provide public notification of water quality earlier than traditional methods,” Feldman added.
As part of the assessment, the city will also explore the technological options available to provide beach water quality information in real time, including web-based, email and phone notification systems.
The second goal of the assessment study is to complete a more comprehensive assessment of the water quality and health risks at local beaches.
What this means is the assessment will rely on all water quality data available to identify trends in water quality and assess with source identification research, according to Feldman.
Using other regional monitoring programs and the city's data and its modeling programs, the hope remains that the information will be made available to the public in a web-based format, according to Feldman.
It remains difficult to forecast just how much money is ultimately going to be spent on however worthwhile environmental projects from the city's undesignated general fund reserve.
The city just recently spent another
$100,000 to participate in a regional monitoring program for what are called Areas of Special Biological Significance, which are the coastal waters stretching almost half the length of Malibu, which contain pristine and biologically diverse sections of the state's coastline. That money, not budgeted, will also come from the undesignated reserve.
The council is also anticipating spending another $100,000 for an  additional biofiltration unit on Broad Beach, which is being required by the settlement agreement.
The money must also come from the undesignated fund reserve.
The Broad Beach project is already underway, mostly funded from proposition money,
However, an aspect of the settlement agreement calls for the city to spend its own money to provide an additional unit unless it can find more bond money. The biofiltration unit or drain was not included in the original design.
When the settlement was announced, city officials indicated council members approved paying the environmental groups' attorney fees of $750,000, set aside $250,000 towards the city's ocean water health assessment and to install improvements worth about $5.6 million to 17 drains citywide.
At the time, City Attorney Christi Hogin said explained the city has grants amounting to $2.7 million for 11 of the 17 drains and would continue to look for more grant money for the rest.



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