Stormwater Redux

Clearer minds at L.A. City Hall prevailed Monday on the issue of raising stormwater fees. The city chose to develop a game plan for passing the fee rather than rushing it to the ballot.

Now the city can focus on passing the long-awaited Water Quality Plan, the blueprint for cleaning up local polluted waters. In addition, the city can use the plan to educate the public on the stormwater pollution problems and develop support for the initiative.

The ballot should be sent to property owners only when the public understands the problems and solutions, and when there is strong city leadership on a well- crafted campaign.  A new poll to determine the level of public support for an increase is needed ASAP.

The city should use the next two to three months to move forward, not use the recent public outcry about a poorly planned fee-increase as a reason to kill the needed hike.

Again, without additional funds, the chances of the city making our rivers, beaches and bays safe for people and aquatic life is zero.

Serious About Stormwater

Mail-in ballots may determine hike in stormwater fees

Mail-in ballots may determine hike in stormwater fees

I’ve spent three years talking to the L.A  Department of Public Works and Mayor’s Office staff about the glaring need for sustainable funding for the city’s efforts to curb stormwater pollution. After all, the city has long been in violation of the summer beach bacteria regulatory requirements and looming regulatory deadlines exist for winter beach bacteria, nutrients and toxins in Machado Lake and Echo Park Lake and metals in the L.A. River and Ballona Creek.

In addition, there is no operation and maintenance funding for the $500 million in Proposition O stormwater cleanup projects that are currently under design and construction. Yet funding for stormwater programs is already $30 million a year upside down due to tougher stormwater regulations and a pollution abatement charge that hasn’t gone up in 16 years.

The good news is that the Department of Public Works approved a plan to clean up the city’s chronically polluted beaches, rivers and lakes. It also urged the council to increase the stormwater fees. Both of these are long overdue actions.

However, the issue has gotten complicated and controversial in the last few days.

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EPA in Surf City

Laird Hamilton keynoted EPA confab

Laird Hamilton keynoted EPA confab

I’m here in Huntington Beach, participating in an EPA-hosted national conference focusing on beach water quality issues. More than 330 experts from the U.S., Canada and Europe have convened for three days of discussion and debate.

Among the hot topics:
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Holy Trash

Israel is more like LA than I possibly imagined.

Both areas definitely suffer from the scourge of plastic pollution. From the iconic Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem to the shores of Lake Kinneret, one can follow the histories of three great religions through trash. Important Muslim, Christian and Jewish historic sites were all tainted by plastic bags. Nothing was more disgusting than seeing the dirty diapers along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

As a society, if we can’t protect and respect the holiest places on Earth, what does that say about humanity’s chances for providing effective environmental stewardship?

Note: This being the last of my Israel trip posts, you can read more at the Jewish Journal: No Easy Solution for Israel’s Water Problem.

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Rivers of Hope

The headwaters of the Jordan

The headwaters of the Jordan

Yael Mason, an Israeli friend of mine from my UCLA days, is an environmental chemist with years of experience at Israel’s Ministry of the Environment. During my trip to Israel, Yael set me up on a river tour with the nation’s premier watershed management and river restoration expert, Eyal Yaffe.

Yaffe and I explored the small Soreq River, which winds through farmland not too far from the city of Rehovot. He has been leading the effort to enhance the river, hoping to transform it from being a straight irrigation ditch (with farmland to the riverbanks) into a meandering stream with buffer zones of swales and olive trees.

A pragmatist, he readily admits that this Herculean effort is not a restoration. Continue reading

L.A’s Sister River

Tel Aviv's Yarkon River mirrors L.A.

Tel Aviv's Yarkon River mirrors L.A.

Many Americans first became aware of Israel’s polluted rivers after a horrific bridge collapse on the Yarkon River near Tel Aviv in 1997.  An Australian athlete who fell into the toxic waters actually died from exposure to pollution. The catastrophic event catalyzed a movement to clean up and restore Tel Aviv’s major river and others in Israel. 

That terrible event played in my mind as I sat with my Israeli colleagues during the recent L.A.-Tel Aviv environmental exchange, which I have been posting about over the past week. There are many connection points between the L.A. River Revitalization Plan and the Yarkon River Authority’s efforts to restore its waters. Continue reading

A Real Beach Bummer

Sewage has closed Tel Aviv beaches for 60 days in a row

Sewage has closed Tel Aviv beaches for 60 days

Imagine this scenario. An old sewer line ruptures because tons of garbage gets piled on top of the ground above it. The sewer spews over 1 million gallons per day into the nearby river. As a result, the health agency closes miles of popular beaches to protect the public.

The closure continues for days, weeks and on to two months, yet no one repairs the broken sewer line despite the constant media attention and the outcry from beach-dependent businesses.

 It may sound a bit like L.A. in the early 1980s, but this is Tel Aviv today.

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Greetings from Tel Aviv

Fish farms in Eilat

Fish farms in Eilat

I was fortunate enough to get invited by the Jewish Federation to visit Los Angeles’ sister city, Tel Aviv, to discuss environmental issues with leaders here. I joined city and county officials and Federation activists to share stories about water quality, sustainability and river restoration.  We’ve met with people in the NGO community, the mayor of Tel Aviv and his staff, representatives from the Ministry of the Environment, academics and even a couple of members of the Knesset.

After four days in Israel, my overall assessment is that this is a nation of contrasts. Continue reading