County plan to catch runoff is OKd

Of­fi­cials ap­prove a pro­posal that could be a state model for drought re­sponse.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Monte Morin

Amid a wors­en­ing drought, Cal­i­for­nia wa­ter of­fi­cials adopted new rules Tues­day aimed at cap­tur­ing and reusing huge amounts of storm wa­ter that have un­til now flowed down sew­ers and con­crete rivers into the sea.

Fed­eral clean wa­ter leg­is­la­tion has long re­quired mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to limit the amount of pol­lu­tion — in­clud­ing bac­te­ria, trash and automotive flu­ids — that is flushed into oceans and wa­ter­ways by storm runoff.

But only re­cently has Cal­i­for­nia con­sid­ered cap­tur­ing this wa­ter as a way of aug­ment­ing its dwin­dling wa­ter re­serves. The plan ap­proved by the State Wa­ter Re­sources Con­trol Board ap­plies to Los An­ge­les County but is seen as a model for other parts of wa­ter-starved Cal­i­for­nia.

“This could be quite his­toric and path-break­ing,” said Feli­cia Mar­cus, the board’s chair­woman. “Our col­lec­tive ob­jec­tive should be to use each scarce drop of wa­ter, and each lo­cal dol­lar, for mul­ti­ple lo­cal ben­e­fits — f lood con­trol, wa­ter sup­ply, wa­ter qual­ity and ur­ban green­ing in the face of cli­mate change.”

The board voted unan­i­mously to ap­prove a con­tro­ver­sial set of re­vi­sions to Los An­ge­les County’s storm wa­ter dis­charge per­mit.

Among other things, the re­vi­sions pro­vide a frame­work for cities to plan and build aquifer recharge sys­tems and other forms of “green in­fra­struc­ture,” of­fi­cials said.

Pro­po­nents of such sys­tems say that rain­wa­ter can be cap­tured be­fore it comes into con­tact with con­tam­i­nants and fun­neled into un­der­ground aquifers, or

over spread­ing fields where it per­co­lates through the soil.

In other cases, swales can di­rect the f low of rain­wa­ter to ar­eas of veg­e­ta­tion or land­scap­ing in­stead of plung­ing down gut­ters. Wa­ter could also be cap­tured in hold­ing ar­eas for use later in ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems.

Some en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists strongly op­posed the plan, com­plain­ing that the changes did not go far enough. And cash-strapped mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties also ob­jected, say­ing that they could not af­ford the ex­pense of new storm wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture.

“The re­vised draft or­der rep­re­sents a gross abuse of power and an ab­di­ca­tion of re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said Steve Fleis­chli, di­rec­tor of the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil wa­ter pro­gram.

Fleis­chli said the ap­proved rules al­lowed mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in cer­tain wa­ter­shed cat­e­gories to avoid the is­sue of rain­wa­ter re­use and also de­graded the state’s abil­ity to en­force wa­ter qual­ity. He said he feared the reg­u­la­tions would al­low some cities to plan wa­ter cap­ture sys­tems with­out ever hav­ing to build them.

The Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil has ar­gued that storm wa­ter cap­ture could po­ten­tially pro­vide more than 253,000 acre-feet of wa­ter for Los An­ge­les County af­ter ev­ery inch of rain­fall — or nearly 40% of the city of Los An­ge­les’ an­nual wa­ter use.

“This is a missed op­por­tu­nity,” Fleis­chli said.

Wa­ter board mem­bers said they were sat­is­fied with the word­ing of the changes but ac­knowl­edged that ver­i­fi­ca­tion would be the key to en­sur­ing that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties fol­lowed through with their plans.

“This is a risk we’re will­ing to take to a point,” board mem­ber Steven Moore said. “But if we hear from our per­mi­tees that they don’t be­lieve this is mean­ing­ful and that they don’t buy into green in­fra­struc­ture and they think it’s too ex­pen­sive and the heck with it.... That’s a big prob­lem.”

The re­vised per­mit has been the topic of dis­pute for a while now. The state wa­ter board had re­ceived 37 pe­ti­tions chal­leng­ing var­i­ous pro­vi­sions of the Los An­ge­les County MS4 Per­mit and sought to re­solve those con­cerns be­fore ar­riv­ing at the cur­rent re­vi­sion.

While gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Los An­ge­les County Depart­ment of Public Works voiced sup­port for the re­vised per­mit, a num­ber of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties said they were alarmed by the po­ten­tial cost.

Gar­dena City Coun­cil­man Dan Me­d­ina said com­pli­ance with the per­mit threat­ened to “bank­rupt our city and prob­a­bly force it into a dis­in­cor­po­ra­tion.”

Me­d­ina said a con­sul­tant had told the city that be­long­ing to an en­hanced wa­ter­shed man­age­ment pro­gram could cost the city $12 mil­lion to $24 mil­lion a year.

“The city’s gen­eral fund is only about $50 mil­lion a year,” Me­d­ina said. “Nearly 80% of that goes to public safety.”

How­ever, other speak­ers said the model that con­sul­tants were us­ing to es­ti­mate costs was flawed.

Mar­cus told mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials that the es­ti­mates seemed too high. “The low­est-cost thing that gets the job done is what you want peo­ple to do,” Mar­cus said.

Lawrence K. Ho Los An­ge­les Times

CAL­TRANS WORK­ERS try to clear a blocked storm drain in 2013. The county’s re­vi­sions pro­vide a frame­work for cities to build aquifer recharge sys­tems.

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