6/4/13

Grand Jury Report: Getting To Clean Water In Contra Costa County

The Contra Costa Grand Jury has issued a report (available here) that questions the direction, effectiveness, and financial impact of the County's Clean Water Program, especially considering the failure of Prop 218, the 2012 Clean Water Initiative:  

The Contra Costa Clean Water Program (CCCWP) is characterized by an inability among the stakeholder organizations to reach agreement regarding exactly what they are trying to accomplish, in what manner, in what period of time, and the consequences of failing to do so. Stakeholders include CCCWP management and Permittees, empowered regulatory bodies, and interested activist community groups. They have different opinions and perspectives of what is important, what should or should not be prioritized, what is urgent, what quantifiable indicators should be used to gauge progress and compliance and what is the real exposure for non-compliance. The result is a stream of public communication and comment that is, at best, contradictory and, at worst, misleading. As a starting point, there needs to be constructive dialogue between each of the Permittees and the appropriate regulatory authorities.


The failure of Proposition 218, the 2012 Community Clean Water Initiative, to receive voter approval was a serious setback for the program. The ballot initiative was intended to, at least partially and for a short period of time, address the imbalance between the current and projected future costs for planned clean water activities that far exceeded available funds. Now the Permittees must determine alternative funding sources.

It is projected that by 2015, with no changes in the current permit requirements, a funding gap of several million dollars will exist.  This shortfall could significantly grow if new permit requirements are incrementally more onerous than current requirements, as expected. This funding gap, if not resolved, may result in an inability to conduct critical activities needed to meet permit standards.  It may also place some Permittees in a condition of non-compliance, with consequent exposure to fines, other monetary damages and enforcement actions. 

As the challenge of finding additional funding is addressed, it is an appropriate time for the Permittees to make an effort to better define and understand their paths forward and develop more detailed plans, timelines, and desired outcomes. These re-evaluations should, at least, include:
a)      negotiation of more realistic, better-defined compliance terms that take into account differences in participant characteristics;
b)      implementation of more efficient and effective operating practices of the Contra Costa Clean Water Program; and,

c)      identification of ways to make the impacted communities more aware of the importance of the program and the challenges ahead. 

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