California’s latest experiment in faith-based policymaking is being unleashed today on the San Diego public, as regional water-quality officials begin hearings on new regulations that seem crafted to turn most owners of a car, house or dog into criminals within a decade or so. We wish we were exaggerating.
Under the draft rules, ordinary homeowners may face six years in prison and fines of $100,000 a day if they are deemed serial offenders of such new crimes as allowing sprinklers to hit the pavement, washing a car in the driveway, or, conceivably, failing to pick up dog poop promptly from their own backyards, let alone the sidewalk.
Cities throughout San Diego, south Orange and southwest Riverside counties must enforce the law, and set up 24-hour hot lines for people to report violations by their neighbors.
The new regulations even apply to firefighters, who would be forced to somehow capture and scrub the water running down the street from fire hoses and burning buildings, although the bureaucrats promise wiggle room for “emergency situations.” We’re at a loss to imagine the fire that doesn’t present an emergency situation, but we’re sure California’s army of environmental lawyers will be glad to help cities figure that out in court.
The preposterous rules come from the earnest regulators at the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, which is supposed to stop pollution of our waterways and beaches.
Without question, the agency, in collaboration with local officials, has made important progress over the years. San Diego Bay, once heavily polluted, has become significantly cleaner, though heavily polluted areas of the bay remain. The county’s beaches routinely earn “A” grades from an environmental group that measures closures.
Such gains came the old-fashioned way. Cities improved their sewage treatment systems. Officials cracked down on businesses that chronically dumped raw sewage and chemicals into storm drain systems. Restaurants cover grease containers these days, and people rarely dump trash or radiator fluid into a street gutter.
But now state officials are falling into the common trap of modern regulatory regimes – seeking small, questionable improvements at costs that promise to sap billions of dollars from the local economy.
In hundreds of pages, the new regulations set targets that measure bacteria from animal waste during dry periods at local beaches, even as they note that wide variations in bacteria occur naturally in the environment. And we could find no evidence from these officials that severe cuts in stormwater runoff will cause improvements in human or wildlife health. Indeed, nowhere do they bother to say why today’s levels are considered bad for us.
To their credit, leaders of the city and county governments are beginning to protest the rules. Water-quality officials have promised to be flexible. Billions of dollars rest on that promise.