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Stormy situation

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Stormwater collection has a lot of people worried these days, mostly because they’re not sure what exactly to be worried about.

What’s definite is that new stormwater standards passed down by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board will require a truckload of environmental studies and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

They’re expected to kick in within a year, but city officials worry whether the new rules are even achievable for small governments.

“We don’t know how to do it and we don’t know how to pay to figure out how to do it,” Paso Robles City Manger Jim App said.

San Francisco and San Diego are still wrestling with similar rules. Costs in those cities are roughly $1 million to develop new building standards. Local officials said the bigger cities have the advantage of more money and staff resources, but even those cities are having trouble finding a solution.

“We’re hearing war stories and going, ‘Oh my God, what are we getting into?’” SLO Deputy Public Works Director Barbara Lynch said.

Under the new set of standards, new developments and redevelopments have to keep almost all stormwater onsite. Additionally, runoff conditions have to be the same as pre-development conditions, even in redevelopment projects. Any water that flowed from the site before construction has to continue to flow in the same way and be free of pollutants.

Builders and city officials said they agree with the ends, but the means are tricky.

“We really believe that the water board is sincere but doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of what it’s trying to do,” said Jerry Bunin, public affairs director of the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast.

Builders and engineers worry that allowing water to flow beneath a building could weaken the foundation, but without trudging through unprecedented studies, they’re just not sure.

“This stuff, it’s just, it’s over our heads,” Lynch said.

If the water board doesn’t change the current language, cities within the Central Coast region will have to adhere to the standards or will not receive a stormwater permit and could face daily fines.

Roger Briggs, executive officer of the water board, said the issue has been on the table since February. Local city officials only recently got vocal when Lompoc applied for its permit. City managers in the district will meet with the water board and county officials to try and hammer out a compromise in mid-November, but so far board members have stuck to their water guns.

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