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Rocklin takes water runoff regulations by storm

City fears fines, lawsuits to maintain water quality
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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Stormwater, excess drainage or runoff – no matter what you call it, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state of California want cities to take a closer look at the water that’s going through their storm drains and creeks.

“New storm water regulations will affect pretty much all types of uses,” said Rocklin Economic Growth and Public Affairs Manager Karen Garner. “The new regulations are something both the city and private development will need to pay attention to.”

Despite more than two decades of regulation, runoff remains the leading cause of water pollution, according to the EPA. Heavy winter rains, lawn sprinklers spilling down the gutter or other wastewater runoff can be tainted by contaminants from thousands of different places in the city. Everything from lawn fertilizer to harsh household chemicals and bacteria from pet feces can be a problem in the water. Now, tougher regulations associated with Rocklin being bound by a new five-year stormwater state permit are forcing the city to be very proactive. The permit itself costs $20,000, but the whole cost of implementing the systems required is unknown at this time, according to Rocklin’s Deputy Director of Public Services Justin Nartker.

“They’re dictating now what we need to do,” Nartker told the City Council at its March 12 meeting. “Each year there are new action items that need to be taken care of.”

“We monitor what comes into Rocklin. We monitor what goes out of Rocklin and then we have five different creek systems that are all monitored,” he added. “We want to make sure what’s coming in from Loomis, which is sent out, is cleaner or just the same.”

The city conducts periodic sampling at sporadic locations. Crews have also installed sand and oil separator devices in the street in the Stanford Ranch, Whitney Oaks and Whitney Ranch areas to collect extra debris.

“They remove the (floating) garbage and trash in the water and we suck these things out and dispose of these materials so we’re not polluting our creeks,” Nartker said.

City Manager Rick Horst said his dedicated staff is ahead of the regulations, which might even be problematic if regulators look for future improvements in water quality down the road.

“We already have pretty clean water as opposed to those cities who haven’t done anything,” Horst said. “It’s easier for them to try to get (some) percent improvement. I just hope we’re not penalized because we’ve always done a good job.”

The State Water Re-sources Control Board can fine up to $37,500 per violation per day. Nartker reported since 2007 the state has assessed $6 million in fines and for 2012 it projected over $100 million in penalties.

“It makes you wonder what the real purpose of this program is,” Horst told the council.

The tough part may be the city being responsible for businesses polluting the city’s creeks.

“They could be subject to fines, but ultimately it is our system and we have the permit for our system,” Nartker said. “Anything going into our storm-drain system is part of our system and we’re ultimately responsible for that.”

Regulators lean on the city to report a problem. Garner points to a pair of 55-gallon drums discovered sitting on the sidewalk on Oak Street in downtown Rocklin as a hazard that was dealt with recently.

“Roseville (Fire)’s Hazardous Material team checked it out and determined it was oil,” she said. “After speaking with business and residents in the area, no one has claimed it and no identifying marks, so we may not be able to determine who left it there.”

No leak to the nearby creek occurred, but the city would have been responsible if it had. The city hopes the new regulations won’t be more costly to development, even though estimates range from a 5 percent to as much as 20 percent increase in construction costs to accommodate the regulations.

“We’re not going to be imposing anything, I think, stringent on development beyond best practices,” Horst said.

City Councilmember George Magnuson is concerned the new regulations may force the city to close the city’s popular kiddy water parks, like the one at Memorial Park on Rocklin Road that drains right into the creek. Horst said it’s too soon to know if that could be a reality. More improvements mandated by the permit process will be coming in the coming years.

“We really don’t know what the fiscal outcome of that is going to be,” Nartker said.

The city also fears what Councilmember Dave Butler called “drive-by environmental lawsuits” to keep the city accountable in court.

“While the state can issue penalties, the biggest threat to the city or any jurisdiction is third-party lawsuits for not adhering to this permit,” Nartker said.

City officials admit identifying maintenance dollars for the storm water system infrastructure may be the biggest challenge going forward.

“We’re not looking to throw dollars and bodies at this,” Nartker said. “Frankly, we don’t have the resources to do that. We’re looking to be innovative and creative about at what we can do.”

The city wants an education campaign to help out. They also want the public to let them know if they see any issues in their area. Besides picking up the phone, you can also report an issue on the city’s website; www.rocklin.ca.us, by clicking on “report a problem.”