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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Well, a Big Win for Santa Monica

Santa Monica's Water Treatment Plant

The city of Santa Monica is celebrating the return of its local water supply. In a classic David vs. Goliath case, Santa Monica took on Big Oil to restore the people’s rights to a clean, local water supply.  The combination of leaking underground gasoline storage tanks and the addition of MTBE as an oxygenate in gasoline led to massive contamination of Santa Monica’s Charnock well field in the mid 1990s. The groundwater pollution left Santa Monica completely reliant on high priced MWD water imported from the Delta and the Colorado River. Until the wells were shut off in 1996, approximately 70% of the city’s water supply came from local groundwater. After an incredibly hard fought litigation and negotiations, Shell Oil (the biggest aquifer polluter), ExxonMobil and Chevron settled with the city for about $250 million.

In a world that seems increasingly dominated by Big Oil, Santa Monica stood up to the polluters and successfully fought for one of our basic human rights: clean water.

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Let It Rain!

Low Impact Development will be reality in L.A.

What a surprising way to end a two-year journey.  As rain fell outside City Hall on Friday morning, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved the proposed Low Impact Development ordinance . . . on consent.  For more than a year, the Building Industry Assn., the Central City Assn. and others provided numerous objections on the LID ordinance. As a result, staff included a number of changes to accommodate developer concerns.

The measure now includes a grandfather clause to exempt most proposed development in the city approval pipeline.  Also, the “in lieu fee clause” option has been eliminated because it’s viewed as a fee rather than an alternative for developers to comply with the LID  requirements.  The proposed measure now includes a strict biofiltration option to be used if on-site LID approaches prove unfeasible.

With all of these changes and yet another pitch for greater exemptions for the LID regulations, the environmental community expected success at City Council, but not without a fight from the development community.

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Getting the LID Out

The Santa Monica City Council passed a Low Impact Development ordinance on first reading Tuesday night. The measure requires all new development and redevelopment projects to infiltrate or capture and reuse 100% of the runoff generated from a three-quarter-inch storm unless LID measures are infeasible on site. The policy is based on the Ventura County stormwater permit and an earlier draft of the long-stalled LID ordinance by the city of Los Angeles.

The most progressive section of the ordinance focuses on green streets, requiring full LID compliance for all projects that cost more than $1 million. Councilman Kevin McKeown tried to get the LID ordinance to apply to all city projects. But his bold proposal gave way to a more modest but critical green streets approach. Leadership from Mayor Bobby Shriver and Councilman Terry O’Day helped carry the day.

Santa Monica leaders deserve accolades for practicing what they preach and requiring developers to embrace LID technology. The city has long been a leader in California on stormwater pollution prevention and LID requirements. Its groundbreaking 1992 ordinance included significant LID components, long before the coining of the 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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