The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sticking the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) with mandatory purchase of “mitigation credits” and an additional fine for violations of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).

Under the terms of the order, LADWP will purchase $5.3 million in “mitigation credits” for damaging wetlands on its Granada Hills property and also pay a $94,000 “administrative” penalty. The “mitigation credits” are remarkably similar to the CO2 “allowances” sold by the California Air Resources Board – essentially a ticket to pollute from the government agency that is supposed to stop pollution. Administrative penalties are set down in the CWA and have gone up as the CWA has been amended.

EPA, along with the Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, inspected in 2016 and found extensive vegetation clearing and soil displacement on the property, located in the Van Norman Complex in the San Fernando Detention Basin. Inspectors concluded that between 2013 and 2016, almost eight acres of open water and adjacent wetlands in the basin had been graded, filled and channelized without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, like private contractors do.

Here’s the Law:

CWA Section 301(a), 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a), makes it unlawful for a person to discharge pollutants, including dredged and fill material, from a point source into navigable waters of the United States, except as authorized by a CWA permit. Under Section 404 of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1344, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) issues permit for the discharge of dredged or fill material into navigable waters of the United States. 7. Section 502(5) of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1362(5), defines “person” to include a “municipality, commission, or political subdivision of a State, or any interstate body.”

“Wetlands have a unique ecological niche in the arid West and must be protected,” said Mike Stoker, EPA Pacific southwest regional administrator. “Healthy wetlands help filter stormwater, create sustainable habitats and buffer communities from flooding,”

While those in private construction have long challenged LADWP’s force account work they haven’t been able to get the agency, with 9,400 workers, won’t hear reason on this issue…but, we keep trying. Mistakes like failing to get a 404 permit for what they called “maintenance” work is the latest example of why the work should go to private contractors. If contractors screw up, the cost of making things right falls on the companies—not the four million customers of LADWP.

By Dave Sorem, P.E. ECA Government Affairs Chairman email: [email protected]