Saving For a Rainy Day

New guidelines issued this week by L.A. County will lead to increased use of rainwater barrels.

L.A. County’s Department of Public Health has just released rainwater harvesting guidelines that  help transform the region’s management of stormwater runoff.  The guidelines apply to rainwater harvesting projects, including rain barrels and cisterns, and they significantly shift the approach from treating rainwater as a pollution source and flood control problem to managing it as a critical resource.

The guidelines were released at the site of a massive Proposition O project at Penmar Park in Venice.  A giant pit and a huge dirt mound served as the backdrop Tuesday for the modest press event (the Conrad Murray verdict occurred an hour earlier).  The Penmar Park project will capture runoff from the watershed from south-east Sunset Park in Santa Monica and the Santa Monica Airport and the Rose Avenue neighborhood near Walgrove Avenue.  The cistern will store approximately 1 million gallons of runoff, which will then be disinfected and used for irrigation at the Penmar golf course and park.

The rainwater harvesting guidelines were negotiated over a two-year period with the City of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and the environmental community, led by Heal the Bay and Treepeople.  They provide clarity and certainty to project developers on how to move forward with projects that capture and reuse rainwater.  L.A. County Public Health, especially Angelo Bellomo and Kenneth Murray, earn major props for moving the guidelines forward.

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LID at Last in L.A.

Rain barrels will be sprouting up all over L.A. now under a newly approved Low Impact Development ordinance.

Today the city of Los Angeles took a giant step forward on its long-promised goal to green itself — one new development at a time.  After three years of negotiations, hearings, educational forums and technical discussions, the City Council voted 13-0 to support a Low Impact Development ordinance.

The vote means that nearly all new development and redevelopment in Los Angeles will have to treat rainwater as a resource rather than just a flood risk by early next summer.  The approach is groundbreaking (or concrete breaking) in its wide-ranging application to all significant new and redevelopment – even single family homes.

So what does it mean from a practical point of view?

All new and redevelopment must capture and reuse or infiltrate 100% of the runoff generated by a three-quarter inch rain. As a result, development will be greener, flood control risks and runoff pollution will be reduced, and local groundwater supplies will be augmented. Single family homes will only have to include rain barrels, cisterns, rain gutter downspout redirects to landscaping, or rain gardens to comply with the ordinance.

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Go With The Flow

Transparency has cost the Bureau of Sanitation.

About six months ago, the city of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Sanitation (BoS) started setting up dozens of meetings with the public and the environmental  community on the city’s wastewater system upgrade plan and the need for a major increase in sewer service charges. After all, the BoS had frozen fee increases 14 out of the last 20 years. And it’s held the line the last three years at height of the recession, but wastewater infrastructure waits for no one.

BoS sought to demonstrate that the sewer infrastructure and its four sewage treatment plants (Terminal Island, Glendale, Tillman and Hyperion) are in danger of falling apart. The deteriorating pipes and plants pose a significant risk to public health and safety. Emergency repairs on the infrastructure may cost the city infintely more than replacing it. The delayed maintenance also exposes the city to costly litigation, enforcement and penalties.

Heal the Bay was founded in 1985 on the issue of decaying sewer infrastructure.  Some Santa Monica Bay bottom-dwelling fish had tumors and fin rot, and there was a dead zone seven miles out in the middle of the Bay where Hyperion dumped its1200+ tons of sludge every day.  Also, million gallon sewage spills were commonplace.

After the city rebuilt Hyperion and major sections of the sewer infrastructure, the dead zone went away, the massive sewage spills decreased in frequency, and the Bay began to heal.

However, in the late 1990s, the frequency of sewage spills started to rise again.  Then Santa Monica Baykeeper sued the city and the end result was an agreement to repair and replace much more of the sewer infrastructure.  Just as important, the city ramped up its sewer inspection and repair program.  The end result was a more than 80% drop in sewage spills.  The days of students walking through raw sewage-filled streets on their way to school were a thing of the past.

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“Rango” & Me

There are uncanny parallels between "Rango" and the author's life ... not to mention the Polanski classic "Chinatown."

As the father of an 11-year-old daughter, I end up going to a lot of movies that would never make my must-see list.  This weekend, I was one of the many parents that took in “Rango.” I actually enjoyed the film, and I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities between my life and this latest animated feature from Nickelodeon.  As life goes on, the parallels between art and life are easier to find, but “Rango” hit pretty close to the mark.

Over 25 years ago, as a master’s student at UCLA, my field work focused on the behavioral ecology of lizards.  I know… kind of a shock for a water guy. The field site for my research on lizard escape behavior (a major theme of the film) was in beautiful Desert Center — a remote outpost off Interstate 10, halfway between Indio and Blythe. The connections between Desert Center and the fictional town of Dirt in the movie are eerie.

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Dream Schools

LAUSD is taking smart steps to save water.

Today a guest post from Susie Santilena, a member of Heal the Bay’s Science and Policy department:

I graduated from Middle College High School in Los Angeles Unified School District nearly a decade ago, and I’ve had nightmares about returning ever since. In one vivid scene, I come back and end up taking a pop quiz I didn’t study for. Or there’s the one where after years of thinking I graduated, I find out I’m missing a single credit that prevents me from getting my diploma and nullifies all of the college degrees I’ve received since.

After being haunted by these crazy visions, who knew that my work as a Water Quality Engineer at Heal the Bay would bring me back to LAUSD this month? Or that my return would have such a dreamy ending?

On Dec. 14, I testified at an LAUSD School Board meeting on behalf of Heal the Bay in support of a resolution that is sure to save the district a lot of water and a ton of money. That’s great news for all of us.

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A High Impact Ordinance

The L.A. Board of Public Works' LID ordinance is a giant step in the fight to reduce runoff pollution.

Jan. 15, 2010 is the day that the Los Angeles Board of Public Works enlisted the help of the development and business communities and homeowners to green L.A. and clean local rivers and beaches.

The cost of clean water is high and we all need to do our part to reduce runoff pollution. The newly adopted Low Impact Development ordinance is an equitable approach to reducing runoff and will help the city keep down the cost of compliance with water quality standards.

The board unanimously approved the draft LID ordinance, which requires 100% of the runoff generated from a three-quarter-inch storm at newly constructed homes, larger developments and certain redevelopments to be captured and reused or infiltrated on site. If compliance is infeasible on site, developers can pay a stormwater pollution mitigation fee to help pay for off-site public LID projects like green streets and alleys.

Support came from diverse parties, including the Green L.A. Coalition, the L.A. Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, NRDC, local business leaders, the Sierra Club, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, local developers, Heal the Bay, the Assn. of Professional Landscape Designers, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, the Regional Water Board, neighborhood councils, TreePeople, local gardeners and many other individuals and environmental groups. An incredibly impressive group realizes that LID is a cost-effective way to reduce runoff pollution, augment local water supply, and green L.A. 

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Memo to Antonio … continued

It's time to treat L.A.'s rivers as habitat rather than flood control channels. Photo: lacreekfreak.org

Yesterday,  I outlined  my top three green initiatives that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa should tackle in the remainder of his second term. Here’s a look at some other environmental issues that he should make a priority:

Fast-track city approval of a Stream Protection Ordinance in 2010. The Department of Public Works has spent three and a half years working on a stream protection ordinance.  Based on Watershed Protection Division analysis, there are approximately 462 miles of riparian habitat that would receive some level of protection under the draft ordinance.  Council districts 11 (Rosendahl), 2 (Krekorian), and 12 (Smith) all have over 60 miles of habitat, while 11 out of 15 districts have at least 12 miles of habitat.  The ordinance would protect the city’s remaining stream habitat by requiring development buffer zones of 100 feet for soft-bottomed habitat and 30 feet for concrete-lined channels. We need to start treating streams like habitat rather than flood control channels. Unfortunately, the ordinance has been frozen in the mayor’s office for over two years. If the mayor says he wants to protect L.A.’s streams, the ordinance would likely sail through City Council.  Unfortunately, the ordinance is not on the mayor’s radar.

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Memo to Antonio

Mayor Villaraigosa can accomplish three major green goals if he stays focused in 2010.

Last year marked a difficult time in Los Angeles and 2010 promises to pose even greater challenges due to an unprecedented fiscal crisis.  Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s promise to make L.A. the cleanest, greenest major city in America has a long way to go, but I really believe that the Mayor’s powers of persuasion and expert use of the bully pulpit can lead to tangible environmental improvements by the end of his second term.  Without the mayor’s leadership, major policies and projects often fall into a state of suspended animation. The Los Angeles Times today published a piece about the mayor narrowing his focus at the beginning of his second term to ensure greater follow through on promises. When Villaraigosa sets his mind to a specific issue, it’s amazing how quickly things can move, e.g. renewable portfolio standards, support for Measure R, the green port program and the promise to get off coal by 2020. However, a great deal more needs to be done to meet his lofty green city goals.

Here’s my take on the three biggest green initiatives that Mayor Villaraigosa should resolve to achieve in the remainder of his term:

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Putting the Lid on LID

trash cansDespite tremendous turnout from the environmental community, the L.A. Board of Public Works today delayed its decision on a staff-proposed Low Impact Development ordinance for at least another month. The Board voted 2-1 to postpone the measure, disregarding strong backing from Sanitation staff and the DWP. (Paula Daniels, the board lead on the LID ordinance, cast the dissenting vote.)

Many Green LA members, businesses, gardeners and landscape architects came out to support the reasonable and much-needed ordinance. But the lobbying efforts of the Building Industry Assn., the same folks that have opposed LID efforts throughout the state, succeeded at the Board level. The fact that the Regional Water Board earlier passed a Ventura County stormwater permit with a strong LID component fell on deaf ears.

The proposed ordinance calls for all significant new construction and redevelopment projects in the city to infiltrate or capture and use 100% of the runoff generated by three-quarter inch storms. In the event developers can’t comply with the requirements on site, they can provide offsite mitigation or pay an in-lieu fee to the city to fund LID projects like green streets and parking-lot retrofits.

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Watered Down Reform

pig

State's water bill is heavy on the pork

The California Legislature approved a water deal this week, but sadly it’s weaker than the proposal that almost got jammed through at the end of session a few weeks ago. Sen. Fran Pavley’s effort to put meaningful water rights reform into the measure fell victim to 11th-hour dealmaking. Pavley’s reasonable initiative was perhaps the most critical part of the package. The proposed bond measure also has soared to over $11 billion (water pork for all!), and claims that the funds have not been earmarked for a peripheral canal and storage may be legally accurate but surely not politically correct. Statements from the governor, water districts and legislators make it clear that the intent of the water legislation is to enable the ill-conceived re-plumbing of the Delta to proceed. 

I certainly wasn’t surprised that a water package passed through the legislature in special session. The water crisis is as big a problem in California as the financial crisis.  However, I am deeply disappointed.

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