L.A. Water Board Approves Copper Reduction Regulations for Marina del Rey

L.A. Water Board Approves Copper Reduction Regulations for Marina del Rey

MARINA DEL REY – The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board’s  approval to impose a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) regulation to reduce copper on Marina del Rey has angered marine operators who fear the decision would have a profound effect on boaters.

After a lengthy discussion, the 5-member board unanimously approved the implementation of a TMDL regulation for copper at a Feb. 6 public meeting at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, in Los Angeles.

If implemented all Marina del Rey boat owners may be required to strip and replace their boats bottom coats.

“These boaters are coming out of a really rough period of time; we haven’t raised rates on boat slips in five years,” said Greg Schem, owner of The Boatyard in Marina del. “Now they’re going to get hit with a waste discharge price and the price of stripping their boat at up to $8,000.”

Besides a ban on copper bottom paint, the TMDL would also orchestrate an estimated $147 million dredging project to remove sediment polluted with heavy metals from the harbor floor.

“They’re saying that the sediment in the entire marina is contaminated so they need to take it out and move it somewhere,” Schem said.

Schem, whose company was contracted to build a boat earlier this year and had to dispose of hazardous soils left behind, learned firsthand how expensive such an undertaking can be.

“I calculated it would take 170,000 truckloads [to dredge and move all the sediment] and $400 million,” he said, referring to his estimated price to dredge the harbor. “They’d kill any eelgrass and marine habitats and create a huge carbon footprint to transport the sediment to where? The desert?”

While there’s no denying a heavy price tag for the potential dredging project, Samuel Unger, executive officer for the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality control board, believes the process can be eco friendly. There are other mechanisms of reducing the flux contaminants from the sediment besides standard dredging, he said.

“We think dredging can be done safer with impacts mitigated by using low suction dredges, and taking it on in stages – one portion at a time,” he explained. “We think any of [harmful] impacts would be temporary.”

Implementation of a TMDL for the marina will enforce a site specific clean up standard that aims to lower copper concentrations from 12 micrograms per liter to 3.1 within the next 10 years, said Charlotte Fadipe, assistant director of communications for the Los Angeles Department of Pesticide Regulation.

According to Unger, 3.1 is the water quality standard promulgated nation-wide for copper in marine waters. The TMDL is meant to reach that standard.

“Scientific studies need to be done with the specific waters, in this case Marina del Rey,” Unger said. “Studies like Water Effects Ration and Biotic Ligand Model (BLM) would give staff the option to review and revise the number into something other than 3.1.”
The limit for the amount of suspended copper allowed in the water has been set statewide at 3.1 micrograms per liter, but research in San Diego and elsewhere has indicated that the level may be set too low. A completed study in San Diego Bay found that copper levels above the 3.1 microgram threshold were not resulting in any harm to sensitive bay plant and animal species.
In 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked states to develop state-specific standards. However, California and other states did not comply. As a result, the EPA set the standard for California.

Now, Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC) is urging the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to address several critical issues before adopting the TMDL for copper in the marina.

“The problem is that they have borrowed information from San Diego so it is not site specific,” said RBOC President Karen Rhyne. “What is going on in one part of San Diego Harbor may have nothing to do with Marina del Rey and there is no consideration of the financial impact to boaters which could huge at this point.

“We are currently exploring legal, legislative and political options to see if we can do something to get Marina del Rey to change their mind,” she added.

Last year, RBOC asked the state board to approve a BLM for salt water. If approved, the BLM formula will allow harbors to come up with a number specific to the water body, taking into account PH and carbon levels, as well as other elements.             Until such formulas are approved, boaters will continue to bear the brunt of TMDL regulations.             “Copper is successfully used to paint the boat hull as a pesticide but at high concentrations it can harmfully affect marine life including fish, shellfish and algae,” Fadipe said. “We know that there are copper paints out there that can be more effective. As a mitigation practice, paints are going to have to be reformulated.”

Under the regulation, nearly all of the marina’s 4,500 boats will have to be hauled out and fitted with copper free bottom paints. A costly move.

Alternatives to copper-bottom paint currently include econea paints and the non-biocide ultra slick finish silicone base. While the silicone paint is biocide free – allowing boaters to easily clean their hulls — it’s also inefficient in comparison to copper paint alternatives.

“The problem with this paint is that they can’t go over existing copper, you have to strip it,” Schem said. The ultra slick paint is also extremely expensive, costing upwards of $900 a gallon, he said.

“And they’re extremely delicate; you bump into a fuel cord, it will come right off,” Schem added.

Econea, which is not yet approved for use in California by the Department of Pesticide Regulation, shows promise, Schem said. While it is slightly more expensive than copper-based bottom paints, Econea paints — such as Hydrocoat Eco — have shown to be very effective and can be applied directly over old copper paints.

Low-copper paints, which typically contain about one-third the amount of copper found in the paints most commonly used today, have  the same effects and last about as long as the average higher-copper-content paint.

“There needs to be a statewide policy, implementation should really be done fleet by fleet,” said Small Craft Harbor Commissioner Dave Lumian. “They’re putting it on the recreational boater but it seems to me like the first fleet that should go should be the government’s fleet. Recreational should be the last to go.”

Through the government fleet, uniform control can be achieved, Lumian added. They could test out a lot of the bottom paints available and report back if there is an effective alternative and what it would cost.

While the entire government fleet of California hasn’t been ordered to use alternative biocide bottom paints, some agencies, including Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Marina del Rey Marine Patrol Station, already do.

“All my boats here all have non-copper based bottom paint because you can’t use copper on aluminum hauls,” said Danny Abajian, boatwright fleet supervisor for the Marina del Rey Station.

The next step for the TMDL is to be considered at the State Water Board in Sacramento. The regulation will not go into effect without the state’s approval.

“It should happen within the next three of four months,” Unger noted. “This one will be public hearing as well, where the public can continue to voice their opinions.”

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