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Supervisors Advance Plan For Smarter LA Stormwater System

Effort will improve local water quality and water supply

Today, the Board of Supervisors voted to move forward with a comprehensive plan to increase local water supply and improve water quality. Known as the Safe Clean Water Program, the plan would fund projects and programs that capture, clean, and conserve stormwater, increasing local water supplies, improving water quality, and creating opportunities for new recreational green space and habitat, making communities safer, greener, healthier, and more livable. The Safe Clean Water Program was outlined in a Board Letter presented to the Supervisors today by the L.A. County Department of Public Works.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Chair of the Board of Supervisors, said, “Every year a full 100 billion gallons of water runs down our curbs and out into the ocean. We have to get water-wise. Extreme weather is our new normal and recurring cycles of drought are a reality. We need smarter ways to capture, clean, and store stormwater, so we can increase our local water supply, clean that water, and save it for future use.”

The Safe Clean Water Program would be paid for by a parcel tax that will go before voters in November 2018. The 2.5 cent tax would only apply to impermeable areas such as concrete roofs and sidewalks. The measure will raise an estimated $300 million per year.

Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, co-author of the motion that directed the Department of Public Works to develop a long-term plan for improving water quality and supply, said, “The Safe Clean Water program not only dramatically increases the amount of stormwater we capture, it will provide health benefits to residents by reducing trash and toxins and increasing green space throughout the county. Clean water is not only an issue for coastal communities: What ends up in the ground and in our water affects us all. Everyone will benefit from improved water quality and enhanced water conservation efforts, including underserved communities with unique water needs.”

A diverse group of elected, business, public health, and environmental leaders, as well as firefighters, has expressed support for the plan, commending the county’s action. Supporters cited a wide array of benefits, from securing future water supplies and improving water quality, to protecting marine life and adding much-needed green space to local communities.

“Capturing and cleaning stormwater is an imperative and an opportunity — work that is made more urgent by the effects of a changing climate,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “The Safe, Clean Water program will help L.A. and cities across the county meet our obligations under the federal Clean Water Act — and put new momentum behind our efforts to conserve a precious resource, shield our communities from flooding, and protect waterways from pollution.”

L.A. County Fire Department Chief Daryl L. Osby said, “Wildfires are putting new and greater demands on our water supply. Currently 100 billion gallons of precious water are not captured during storm run-off. Additionally, preserving our environment and its natural resources is extremely important to the mission of the Fire Department. We simply can’t afford to waste water anymore. Water is a firefighter’s best friend during several types of emergencies. The Safe Clean Water Program takes important steps toward securing our future water supply.”

L.A. County’s Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer noted, “There is a direct connection between stormwater runoff and public health. Pollution and toxins from stormwater pose a real public health threat, and the Safe Clean Water Program would help provide the resources to address it. Access to safe, clean water is a critical determinant of health, with social, economic, and environmental consequences.”

Jerry Velasco, Chairman of the San Gabriel Valley Civic Alliance, a coalition of Business, Labor, Government, Education and Community groups, said, “I am very enthusiastic about this plan which will help ensure our future regional water supply. I hope voters will also support it because it represents sound, fiscally-prudent public policy that addresses an urgent need.”

Mark Gold, Associate Vice Chancellor for Environment and Sustainability at UCLA said, “Over fifty million people visit our beaches annually, and too often, many of them are unsafe for swimming due to polluted runoff. Also, our beaches and rivers look like trash dumps after every rain, and stormwater runoff in our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters is often toxic to a wide variety of aquatic life. If this measure is approved by the voters, it will be the most important water quality action in L.A. County history.”

If the measure passes, 40 percent of the revenue would return to cities for local priority projects; 50 percent would be returned proportionally to each of the region’s nine watersheds to fund projects best and most cost-effectively tackled at a regional scale that no individual city could do alone; and 10 percent of funds would go to the L.A. County Flood Control District for stormwater education, projects, and administration. Schools would be exempt from the parcel tax, and property owners who have recently made qualifying improvements to their properties would be eligible for credits.

“This is a historic opportunity to modernize L.A. County’s water infrastructure to meet the needs of the 21st Century,” said Mark Pestrella, Director of L.A. County Public Works. “The flood protection system designed and built in the 1940s and ‘50s has done an outstanding job managing flood risk within the L.A. Basin. But it was never designed to handle the tremendous population growth and urbanization that has contributed to the volume of pollutants we see in our waterways today. This program will continue the county’s mission of flood safety while protecting water quality within our communities and providing water resiliency for current and future generations.”

Read the Board Letter