A lifetime of work keeping water clean

Los Osos sewer and San Luis Creek restoration are just a couple of the accomplishments in director’s nearly 40-year career

dsneed@thetribunenews.comJuly 25, 2012 

Roger Briggs has headed up the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board since 1994, working at its San Luis Obispo office.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenenews.com Buy Photo

After nearly 40 years at the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, executive officer Roger Briggs is retiring.

Briggs’ last day at the district is Tuesday. He said he hopes to have his desk cleaned out by Thursday and take the rest of the month as vacation.

No replacement for Briggs has been selected. The regional board is holding a series of meetings to interview candidates, but in the meantime, assistant executive officer Michael Thomas is expected to fill in for Briggs until a replacement is chosen.

Since 1994, Briggs, 61, has headed the state’s Central Coast Region, headquartered in San Luis Obispo. The sprawling district stretches from Santa Cruz County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south and is tasked with preventing water pollution.

During the time he has been with the agency, Briggs has seen the size of the agency grow exponentially from 14 employees when he started to a high of 75 several years ago. Due to the state’s budget crisis, the district now employs 64, but not all of them are full-time employees.

“We have a lot broader scope of responsibilities than we did nearly four decades ago,” Briggs said.

Some of the newer state-mandated programs the agency must implement include regulations on underwater gasoline storage tanks, total daily maximum load limits for pollutants in creeks, storm water management programs and cleanups at hazardous waste sites. The agency’s annual budget is nearly $10 million.

Briggs has also been involved in some of the agency’s biggest controversies. These include the decades-long Los Osos sewer saga and newly adopted limits for agricultural runoff.

Originally, high nitrate levels in the Los Osos groundwater triggered the need to eliminate septic systems there, but the aquifer has also become polluted by bacteria and seawater intrusion. Briggs described the controversy caused by his agency’s efforts to stop the water pollution in Los Osos as “not a happy memory.”

“If anything, the magnitude of the problem has gotten worse and backs up what the board has been trying to correct all these years,” he said.

The county has begun construction of a $173 million wastewater collection and treatment system in Los Osos. County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, whose district includes Los Osos, said Briggs angered some in Los Osos because they felt he took a hard-line stance on the sewer issue.

“I know him as an executive officer who is deeply committed to preservation of groundwater quality,” Gibson said. “I think he pursued his job with a great deal of integrity.”

Briggs said he hopes the agency’s many successes over the years will be his legacy. These include restoration of San Luis Obispo Creek, which was once so polluted it was toxic to fish.

Another is the funding of worthy programs like the Morro Bay National Estuary Program as well as helping to fund several important land conservation efforts including San Luis Obispo’s highly popular Johnson Ranch Open Space.

Briggs has no specific plans for his retirement. He and his wife, Marney, will pursue sailing and other interests.

He said he also hopes to stay active in the field of protecting water quality, which he describes as a “calling and noble cause.” “It’s really rewarding because it’s such important work,” he said.

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