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Delays continue for plan to reduce copper pollution in Newport Bay

Six years after state regulators set out to address excess levels of copper in Newport Bay, the effort remains in the planning phase while boaters, the city of Newport Beach and the county of Orange continued to push back against efforts at a workshop Friday. Sept. 17.

Copper-loaded paints are used on boats to deter barnacles, mussels, algae and other organisms from attaching to hulls. But the paints leach copper into the water — particularly when the vessels are cleaned — and are the primary source of copper pollutants in the bay, according to officials at Regional Water Quality Control Board, which hosted the online meeting.

It was the third time since 2016 a hearing had been scheduled for the board to approve guidelines for addressing the issue — and the third time it was postponed because of the volume of comments and the need to further address concerns. Instead, the board held the informational workshop and took additional public comments.

The board guidelines, once approved, would provide timelines and targets for reducing copper pollution while requiring others to put specific strategies into place. Possibilities suggested by the board include more environmentally sensitive hull-cleaning practices and the use of non-copper boat paints.

“We’re hoping the city and county will take the lead on the implementation plan, and the city will provide incentives,” said Linda Candelaria, an environmental scientist helping lead the board effort. “There’s also the possibility of grants.”

Local entities at San Diego’s Shelter Island Yacht Basin have been running a copper management plan since 2005 and at Marina del Rey since 2014.

But the city of Newport Beach and the county of Orange, the primary stewards of Newport Bay, argued Friday that they lack the authority to enforce new regulations. Representatives from both bodies also challenged the board’s data, and said recent actions to reduce copper pollution should be given more time to determine how effective they are in reducing copper concentrations.

“The county and the city have been working to reduce concentrations,” said John Kappeler, a senior engineer with the city. “They’re improving and they’re continuing to improve.”

But environmentalists are growing frustrated with the sluggish pace of addressing the problem, blaming the city and county.

“The main goal is to delay any action,” Ray Hiemstra of OC Coastkeeper told the board. “All of the (state) studies have come to the same conclusion: There’s too much copper in the water. Let’s move this along and have the adoption hearing next month.”

Going into Friday’s meeting, the board had tentatively rescheduled a vote to adopt Newport Bay copper guidelines for Dec. 10, but it’s now unclear if a hearing will be held then.

“We will review all the comments received today and come back with the next steps toward a public hearing,” said board Executive Officer Jayne Joy. “We still need to look at what changes we’ll make and whether that necessitates an additional public comment period.”

Authority issues

Copper can have a harmful impact on marine life, which includes mussels harvested from the bay for human consumption. However, no specific consequences to marine life or mussel consumers have been reported by the regional board or OC Coastkeeper.

In 2017 and 2018, improved copper paints that leach fewer contaminants became the norm, Kappeler said. Additionally, extensive dredging of the bay — with more scheduled for next year — have removed some contaminated sediment and improved water flow, which can dilute the concentration pollutants, he said.

Both Kappeler and the county’s Amanda Carr argued that they had no authority to regulate painting and cleaning practices of the 5,000 boats that dock in the harbor, an argument rebutted by board attorney Catherine Hagan.

“Our legal evaluation is that the managerial authority given them by the state gives them the authority,” Hagan said.

Board suggestions for reducing copper leaching during hull cleaning included using soft cloths and sponges in place of abrasive ones, and surrounding the hull with a submerged bag before filtering out the contaminants captured during the cleaning.

The board also suggested using non-copper paints, although some say those paints have not been developed adequately to deter organisms from attaching to the boats.

“Alternatives to copper-based biocide paints are not affordable, effective or readily available,” said Jerry Desmond, lobbyist for Recreational Boaters of California.

Source: Orange County Register

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