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Irvine Ranch Water District may gain new responsibility

March 22, 2001

Paul Clinton

UPPER NEWPORT BAY -- In response to a request from the Irvine Ranch

Water District, Assemblyman John Campbell (R-Irvine) is preparing a bill

that would transfer control of the flow of urban runoff into San Diego

Creek and Upper Newport Bay to the water district.

Still in its infancy, the bill is expected to be ready by the end of

the month.

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"I'm hopeful that this puts one responsible entity in control of

making sure that the water flowing into San Diego Creek is as clean as

modern technology can make it," Campbell said Monday. "The things they

are talking about doing look like good and practical solutions."

While details of the proposal are still being worked out, water

district officials have floated several ideas for reducing sediment and

nitrate levels in urban runoff into the Back Bay.

A handful of governmental agencies -- including Newport Beach, Irvine,

Tustin and Orange County -- now oversee runoff into San Diego Creek and

the bay.

"What we're trying to do is to have a more systematic approach," said

Norris Brandt, assistant to the water district's general manager. "We

would be more involved in some of the different things that are being

done."

Brandt has been charged with drafting the bill's specific language.

Once the draft is complete, Campbell said he would introduce it as an

amended version of Assembly Bill 810 -- a "spot bill" he introduced in

February. Spot bills are shells introduced to get a bill number before

the specific proposal is fleshed out.

Campbell, whose district includes Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, is

facing an April 27 deadline for submittal. That is the final day a policy

committee may hear bills that could have a fiscal effect on state

government.

Not everyone threw their support behind the move. Water district

watchdog Bob Caustin, who founded Defend the Bay, said he was concerned

the bill would give the agency too much power.

"Giving Irvine Ranch Water District the right to mess with that area

is totally inappropriate," Caustin said. "They're not supposed to be

involved in environmental issues. They're charged with delivering water

to their customers and treating the sewage that is returned to them."

Caustin's reasoning for questioning the district proposals goes back

to the mid-1990s. The activist sued the agency in 1996 to stop it from

discharging reclaimed water into the bay. After a two-year legal battle,

a judge overturned the agency's permit to dump the waste water. In

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