LA and its storm water “issue”

December 16th, I spoke at a public hearing at the LA Metropolitan District in Downtown LA for the public and the State Water Resource Control Board to discuss the draft of a new storm water permit proposed by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. Now I know that may sound like a dry topic, but sometimes it does rain in LA.

Storm water is what it sounds like. It is the water that falls on the earth from a storm clouds in the sky. Although LA County does not have much of it annually, the water we do receive is extremely valuable.

It is valuable is it is managed properly. When it flows through our gutters, over our freeways, and through facilities that handle hazardous waste materials, the storm water becomes far less useful. In fact, most storm water runoff does not meet water quality standards.

Some questions are raised with this knowledge. How is that water being processed? Is it being treated?

Here is a handy, dandy website that answers a bunch of questions about storm water in LA.


A key take-away point from that website is that “storm water flows do not receive any treatment because of the sheer volume of runoff – tens of millions of gallons on even the driest day

The percent of paved surfaces in LA County has been steadily increasing, leaving most of our urban environment with surfaces that do not let water move into the soil. Instead, the water moves into our gutter and storm drain system. For the majority of LA this water runs directly from the street into the ocean via a local river.

This hearing attempted to hear what all of the interested parties (cities, private facilities, environmental resource groups, and the general public) have to say about the new permit that gives the permitee ways to manage and deal with their storm water discharge.

The specific concern of each party varied. Some were very concerned about the cost of management programs. Some groups were not accepting of the vague language or potential loopholes. It is no doubt a complicated topic.

One of the SWRCB members made an enitrely valid and important point that the root of most of these problems is an infrastructure design issue. We have old pipes. As evidenced clearly by the recent mishaps of many of Southern California’s water mains.

We have a storm drain system that was built without much foresight about our ever-growing populations and increasing non-point pollution sources.

One of the main problems that environmental advocate groups (NRDC, Heal the Bay, LA Waterkeeper) have with the permit is that it provides an indefinite timeline for a “Safe Harbor.” The permitees that are in compliance with the water board are those that choose to implement region specific storm water management plans and practices. As long as they comply, they are essentially free of responsibility from their storm water runoff that does not meet water quality standards.

Certain plans could be in process until 2040.

I spoke to the SWRCB to tell them that they should priortize the protection of our waters first and foremost. They should be sure to remove loopholes that allow the Clean Water Act to be brushed aside. Management programs are important and take time to implement and improve. We still need to make sure that the language of the permit reflects the seriousness and heavy responsibility for everyone to meet water quality standards, to protect our beaches, rivers, and rains!






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