Recent ‘first flushes’ from around LA in November 2019. From left to right: Long Beach (by Jim LaVally), Santa Monica (by Katherine Pease), Ballona Creek (by Patrick Tyrrell).
As winter rains quench the LA region, local stormwater pollution issues surface and wreak havoc on water quality. Heal the Bay releases its first-ever Stormwater Report—a groundbreaking assessment of how well stormwater pollution is being managed in Los Angeles County.
Heal the Bay’s groundbreaking new Stormwater Report examines progress, or lack thereof, in stormwater pollution reduction efforts in LA County. We reviewed data from 12 watershed management groups who are responsible for implementing stormwater projects. Despite our region having had nearly 30 years to address stormwater pollution, and six years to execute the latest version of these plans, we found that, as of December 2018, the responsible groups that we looked at are only about 9% complete toward final goals. If the current rate of implementation continues, Los Angeles County groups will achieve their total collective goal in 2082, well past final deadlines ranging from 2021 to 2037.
Some areas have fast-approaching deadlines to meet strict stormwater pollution reduction limits. Yet many local cities are drastically behind, resulting in continued poor water quality across our region. Our report also reveals that monitoring and enforcing stormwater pollution is made more difficult by a lack of transparent reporting requirements and processes.
“Stormwater has the potential to be a wonderful resource for water supply, recreation, and so much more. But right now, it is more of a hazard polluting our waterways. We need to step up cleanup efforts if we are to see water quality improvements in our lifetimes. We should not have to wait 60 years for clean water,” says Annelisa Moe, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay and lead author of the Stormwater Report.
Here are some of the major findings:
- The Ballona Creek Watershed Management Group is 3.58% complete toward its final goal – their stormwater management projects can now capture 74.58 acre-feet of stormwater for treatment, out of their intended target of 2,081 acre-feet by 2021. (This group includes the Cities of Beverly Hills, Culver City, Inglewood, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood; Unincorporated County of Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.) Learn more on page A-3.
- The Upper LA River Watershed Management Group is 2.72% complete toward its final goal – their stormwater management projects that can now capture 141.28 acre-feet of stormwater out of their intended target of 5,191 acre-feet by 2037. (This group includes the Cities of Alhambra, Burbank, Calabasas, Glendale, Hidden Hills, La Cañada Flintridge, Los Angeles, Montebello, Monterey Park, Pasadena, Rosemead, San Fernando, San Gabriel, San Marino, South El Monte, South Pasadena, and Temple City; Unincorporated County of Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.) Learn more on page A-57.
- The Santa Monica Bay Jurisdictions 2 & 3 Watershed Management Group is 6.50% complete toward its final goal – their stormwater management projects can now capture 22.61 acre-feet of stormwater out of their intended target of 348.1 acre-feet by 2021. (This group includes the Cities of El Segundo, Los Angeles, and Santa Monica; Unincorporated County of Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.) Learn more on page A-51.
- The Malibu Creek Watershed Management Group is 0.36% complete toward its final goal – their stormwater management projects can now capture 0.35 acre-feet of stormwater for treatment out of their intended target of 96.3 acre-feet by 2032. (This group includes the Cities of Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, and Westlake Village; Unincorporated County of Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.) Learn more on page A-21.
- Some good news: The Dominguez Channel Watershed Management Group is 60.06% complete toward its final goal – their stormwater management projects can now capture 771.39 acre-feet of stormwater out of their intended target of 1,284.30 acre-feet by 2032. This means that the Dominguez Channel Watershed management group is on track to reach their final goal before the deadline passes, assuming that the rate of implementation continues. This success is due to large regional projects completed in the Machado Lake area. (This group includes the Cities of Carson, El Segundo, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, Lomita, and Los Angeles; Unincorporated County of Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.) Learn more on page A-15.
Progress report on local areas:
The graphic above is an overall aassessment of progress for each of the 12 watershed management groups, based on either total retention capacity in acre feet (AF) or total area addressed (acres). Each grey bar represents the final goal for each group, labelled with the final deadline to reach this goal. The orange portion of the bar represents the retention capacity of projects completed since the 2012 Los Angeles County MS4 Permit was approved, as a percentage of the total goal. Interim targets, when provided, are displayed with red vertical lines as a percentage of the total goal, and labeled with the relevant interim deadline year. A final goal was not provided in the Rio Hondo group, so progress cannot be displayed. Only an interim goal was provided in the Beach Cities group, so the final goal was uncertain, identified with a dashed line above.
While our Stormwater Report points out critical issues, we also offer solutions. We recommend clear and measurable guidelines regulators can adopt to strengthen the ability of watershed management groups to reduce stormwater pollution within their jurisdiction as quickly as possible. We also emphasize the importance of making stormwater pollution information readily available to the public, who are directly impacted by polluted waters (see more Recommendations on page 15).
So, what’s next? The LA County MS4 Permit, the primary mechanism for regulating city and county stormwater pollutant discharge, is up for renewal in early 2020. We are concerned that the MS4 Permit will be weakened and deadlines for stormwater pollution reduction goals will be extended, further delaying a much-needed cleanup of local waters. Simply put, groups must be held accountable when they are not on track.
Fortunately, there is new funding available to improve stormwater project implementation. Funding from the Safe, Clean Water Program will be allocated throughout LA County starting in spring 2020, increasing available funding for stormwater projects by approximately $280 million per year. This will more than double the annual amount spent by municipalities on stormwater projects in LA County. This revenue can be further leveraged with a variety of other sources to fund multi-benefit stormwater projects.
With long-term plans in place and new funding opportunities at hand, the approval of a strong 2020 LA County MS4 Permit will lead to more stormwater projects moving forward. Better stormwater management will significantly improve water quality throughout LA County, protecting both public and environmental health, while also providing multiple additional benefits to LA communities such as a new water supply, improved air quality, and climate resiliency.
“The power of local water in LA can only be realized if we protect and clean this precious resource,” says Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay’s CEO.
Download Local Summaries
Ballona Creek Watershed Management Group
Beach Cities Watershed Management Group
Dominguez Channel Watershed Management Group
Malibu Creek Watershed Management Group
Marina del Rey Watershed Management Group
North Santa Monica Bay Coastal Watersheds Management Group
Palos Verdes Peninsula Watershed Management Group
Rio Hondo / San Gabriel River Watershed Management Group
Santa Monica Bay Jurisdictions 2 & 3 Watershed Management Group
Upper Los Angeles River Watershed Management Group
Upper San Gabriel River Watershed Management Group
Upper Santa Clara River Watershed Management Group
We will keep you informed and may call on you to attend the MS4 Permit hearing in early 2020. To stay in the loop, sign up for Stormwater Pollution Action Alerts.