Environmentalists oppose reducing water quality boards

SAN DIEGO -- Three San Diego-based environmental organizations expressed opposition Monday to a plan by Gov. Jerry Brown to consolidate state regional water quality control boards in Southern California.

Under the proposal, which could be considered by the state Senate Subcommittee on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation on Wednesday, the Colorado River Basin Regional Water Quality Control Board would be dissolved. Some of its responsibilities would be picked up by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The nine regional boards across California regulate and enforce water quality standards. They've been in place for 40 years.

State officials say Brown is attempting to make state operations more efficient, which could result in the elimination of some boards and commissions.

Wildcoast, San Diego Coastkeeper and the Environmental Health Coalition contend the plan would create one district of 23,900 square miles and two distinctly different water basins.

The proposal would "severely hinder'' public participation in meetings because people would have to travel to far-flung locations, said Jill Witkowski, San Diego Coastkeeper's legal clinic director.

"It's already challenging enough for the San Diego public to attend hearings in Kearny Mesa, with the lack of public transportation to the offices,'' Witkowski said. "The sheer size of the area that the combined regional board would cover would prevent interested people and groups from standing before the board members to have their concerns heard.''

The organizations said the San Diego board deals with water quality issues in urban coastal areas, while  Colorado River Basin officials are concerned with agriculture and a desert climate.

"It's nearly impossible to select a single board to represent such diverse regions and communities,'' said Ben McCue of Wildcoast.

Leaders of the groups expressed their opposition in a letter to Sen. Joe Simitian, chairman of the Senate subcommittee.