The Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to spend $4 million to study copper contamination in Marina del Rey Harbor, in response to a proposal that would force boat owners to strip copper paint from their hulls and the county to find funding for a major clean-up.
County officials want to gather more data on the level of contamination, saying the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board developed its proposal with “limited scientific data, much of which was not site-specific to Marina del Rey.”
In February, the regional water quality board unanimously approved a plan to revise limits, called Total Maximum Daily Loads, on copper in the water and sediment that lines the marina floor.
The proposal, now under review by a state board, calls for an 85 percent reduction in copper discharge from boat hulls by 2024.
Under the plan, the county would be responsible for either dredging contaminated sediment from the nearly 50-year-old marina — estimated to cost at least $147 million — or adding a new layer of uncontaminated sediment at a cost of about $19 million.
The proposed deadline for cleanup is 2029.
Almost all of the marina’s more than 4,500 boats have bottoms covered in copper paint. Water board officials estimated that paint stripping and repainting with less toxic paints would cost about $150 per foot or $6,000 for a 40-foot boat.
Proponents say that most boats are stripped every seven to 10 years and the 2024 deadline means that owners can simply use the new paint as part of regular maintenance.
“The water in Marina del Rey Harbor must meet water quality standards,” says a staff report submitted to the water quality board. “(We) have proposed the least costly alternative to reduce the amount of dissolved copper.”
Boat owners, however, have been vocal in their opposition at public hearings, arguing that newer paints don’t work to reduce the growth of algae and other organisms and worrying that they’ll ultimately foot the bill for any county cleanup.
Boaters also said targeting recreational boaters while allowing large container ships use copper-based paints would have little effect on water quality overall.
Supervisor Don Knabe has said the deadlines proposed by the regional water board cannot be met. County staffers estimate that the two marina boat yards can strip about 150 boats per year, while the 2024 deadline would mean 400 boats would have to be repainted annually beginning immediately.
Analyses show copper concentrations as high as 12 parts per billion, nearly four times the state standard, but the source of contamination is also at issue. County staffers said much of the copper may flow into the harbor as storm water runoff and originate from copper brake pads.
Environmentalists, who have sought to ban copper paint at bays and marinas all along the California coast, view Marina del Rey as a key test case.
At low levels, copper is beneficial to humans and other mammals because it can help with the metabolism of carbohydrates and other functions. At greater concentrations, the metal is highly toxic, especially to aquatic life.
If approved by the state board at a meeting tentatively set for sometime this summer, the new regulations would be sent to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for adoption.
Knabe expressed frustration with the regional water board.
“We worked very hard in the spirit of cooperation, and we didn’t get that in return,” Knabe said.
The county has spent more than $32 million on various water cleanup work in the marina, according to the Department of Beaches and Harbors.
The Board of Supervisors’ vote was unanimous to carry out environmental studies and hire a consultant to help manage the toxicity studies, handle community outreach and help implement any new regulations.