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How Los Angeles County plans to help the San Gabriel Valley capture stormwater

An official from the San Gabriel Mountains Regional Conservancy tests the water for contaminants. Photo by flickr user tardigrade licensed under CC BY 2.0.


Alhambra , CA United States

Bassett High School’s athletic fields aren’t just for sports.

The promise of capturing, treating and using stormwater as drinking water is demonstrated by a project installed underneath these fields at this La Puente, Calif. school.

The non-profit organization Amigos de los Rios installed this system, which captures stormwater in La Puente, as well as from storm drains in surrounding San Gabriel Valley cities, treats it for contaminants and then stores it underground for future usage by residents.

Thomas Wong, president of the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, which provides Alhambra with its drinking water, spoke enthusiastically about this project.

“The need for and the opportunity that comes with building more of these projects is immense,” he said.

Wong and officials from other Los Angeles County agencies and community organizations discussed this and other possibilities for a countywide program that would capture stormwater and treat it for local use, at a panel organized by Ethnic Media Services last Friday.

L.A. County Supervisors voted to come up with a spending plan for capturing stormwater in 2017. After conducting research and outreach this year, L.A. County hopes to put a measure on the ballot as early as November 2018.

California’s recent five-year-long drought, as well as scarce rainfall this year, have underscored the need to better capture and treat stormwater for local use.

Record rainfall at the beginning of 2017 was a reminder of that missed opportunity. According to the L.A. County Department of Public Works, 107 billion gallons of stormwater was lost to the ocean from that rainfall.

L.A. County currently has to import around two-thirds of its drinking water from northern California and the Colorado River.

Importing water comes at a cost of $1,000 per acre-feet, said Mark Pestrella, Director of the L.A. County Department of Public Works, with an acre-foot able to provide water for a two families of four. Capturing water for local use could reduce costs to $300 per acre-feet.

Pollution is also an issue, with stormwater picking up contaminants that then flow into rivers, streams and then the ocean, threatening marine wildlife as well as beachgoers.

The goal of L.A. County’s stormwater capture plan would not only add more local water to the drinking supply, but make it safer for residents to consume.

This also fits in with opportunities to build green infrastructure, since more trees, bushes and grass means more opportunities to absorb rainwater and add it to the groundwater supply.

Officials spoke about how pocket parks and other green space could be built to accommodate groundwater treatment and storage, which would also generate enterprise opportunities jobs for L.A. County residents and businesses.

L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who spearheaded this research with her colleague Sheila Kuehl, said that the County has the resources and duty to solve this problem.

“It’s important for the County to take on this responsibility, because we do represent all 88 cities in such a vast land,” she said.

And while L.A. County figures out a response, the possibilities are numerous on a local level as well. “I think there are really great projects that Alhambra can do with outside bond funds that could implement really good stormwater mitigation programs that can also be used for expanding and enhancing park and open space opportunities for this city,” said Alhambra City Councilmember Jeff Maloney.

Residents who want to learn more and give input should visit ourwaterla.org and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Work’s page safecleanwaterla.org. The Prevention Institute is also running a workshop on Stormwater, Health & Regional Equity on April 4 with L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl as keynote speaker.

Updated March 19, 2018 at 11:42 a.m.

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