Capital Flows To Urban Development Over The Last Few Decades California Car Wash Fundraisers and Environmental Law

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California Car Wash Fundraisers and Environmental Law

Many nonprofit groups are upset that some California cities are allowing them to collect money for car washes. It’s not that government officials are against your groups raising money, it’s that they’re concerned about where the dirty soapy water goes. This is a problem and it might be a good idea to understand some of the history behind the rules instead of getting upset about it.

HISTORY

It all started many years ago when Congress passed the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 during the Nixon administration. This was in response to major pollution issues involving pollution of the nation’s waterways from factories, mines, and sewage treatment plants, or the lack thereof. It was actually quite a problem. It was an ecosystem disaster that caused disease and death in wildlife and some people. When it was discovered how bad the problem really was, the federal government empowered the states to take care of the problems within their own state. States have passed state laws to help fix the problem. Meanwhile, the federal government tightened standards, forcing states to tighten their own standards or breach them. With the threat of withholding federal money, states continued to pass more and more laws. The industry was clearly not happy and even government agencies could not enforce the laws they passed. Therefore, target dates were set to give everyone time to complete. Overnight, environmental consulting firms sprung up along with a whole new industry of environmental equipment and product manufacturers, many of which were not even themselves compliant. Of course all good things take time and cleaning our water is obviously a good thing.

The state of California has divided the state into nine different regions, recognizing that each region has different pollution problems based on the types of industry, demographics, and population in the areas. These regions were called ‘Regional Water Quality Control Districts’ (RWQCD). All of these were overseen by a State Board designated by the Federal Clean Water Act as the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). When the problem was broken down into smaller pieces, things started to change for the better.

The SWRCB was established in California and is commonly referred to as the “State Board.” The state board regulates water quality control, which is any activity or factor that could affect water quality in the state and includes the prevention and elimination of water pollution and disturbances. This sounds very extensive and the state board has a lot of power. Fortunately, with the combined efforts of industry, government and the people, they now understand the issues enough to make smart decisions and fully understand that your organization needs to make money. Thus, instead of preventing and banning activities, everyone works on solutions and procedures that enable responsible dismissal and create a situation that benefits everyone.

Recently, state water quality control boards asked counties to submit for approval and receive permits to discharge the same waters they have been discharging for years. These permits were called NPDES permits. It stands for National Pollution Abatement System. Most districts have assigned an existing department to work on this permit. More likely than not, it’s the county’s flood protection department. Unfortunately, this part of the county deals with land development permits, bridges, infrastructure, etc. Until now, very little was known about pollution. Some counties transferred this responsibility to the Department of Environmental Health Services, which then worked with the Department of Flood Control to oversee storm drainage. The state grants NPDES permits for local county town discharges. Each city in each county is supposed to adopt ordinances and develop a local runoff/pollution control plan through municipal codes. The district remains accountable to the state and the state remains accountable to the federal government. NPDES requirements are a descendant of the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, although they are enforced, permitted, and regulated locally by cities, counties, and states.

The actual law used to enforce these laws is found in California Water Code 13.260 – 13.265. At one point it actually reads:

“No person or persons shall discharge water into any waterway without a permit or authorization from the State Regional Water Quality Control Board.”

That sounds pretty absolute, doesn’t it. It is illegal to take a glass of water from the sink, walk up to the storm drain and pour the water down the drain. Of course, this in itself would not harm the environment, but regional water quality control boards, given absolute power, can consider everything on a case-by-case basis. So be serious about the water after washing those cars.

WASTEWATER DRAINAGE

City, county and state governments know that car washes have always been a popular fundraiser for sports teams, Boy Scouts, schools and other non-profit groups. Due to the low cost of capital investment, car wash fundraising can generate significant amounts of profit. For the past ten years, government agencies, especially in California, have worked with industry to find solutions to clean our water. Today, America’s waterways are significantly cleaner than they were in the past, even though many regions are more populated. It works great. Now we go one step further. No pollution from any source, including mobile dog groomers. Only in the last few years have government agencies decided that the adverse environmental impact is too great to allow car washes to fundraise. Along with heavy lobbying by the owners of permanent car washes, some cities and counties have actually banned these fundraisers unless certain procedures are followed to ensure that no wash wastewater enters storm drains, ditches or waterways.

Their rationale is this: dirty water containing soaps and detergents, exhaust fumes, gasoline and motor oils washes off cars and flows into nearby storm drains. Unlike the water we use in our homes and businesses, which goes down the drain and is treated at sewage treatment plants, water that goes into storm drains flows directly into rivers, bays, oceans and lakes without any treatment. Obviously, fundraising for the car wash alone will have little, if any, adverse impact on the environment. But government agencies know that collective fundraising for car washes contributes to significant pollution.

They also realize that biodegradable soaps do not reduce the impact. This is because biodegradable just means that the soap will break down over time. Also plutonium, just takes longer. Soaps and car washes are still toxic to aquatic organisms even if they are biodegradable. Think about it a little. If you really want the city to let you fundraise for a car wash, you’re going to have to figure out how to keep dirty soapy water out of the storm drain.

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