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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Los Angeles Stormwater

As California’s legislative session nears its end, an important water bill passed out of the Assembly last Thursday, giving us hope that cities will soon find it easier to finance much-needed stormwater projects. SB 231, led by state Sen. Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), is now headed to the Governor’s desk. We believe it’s a great step to increase runoff capture, cleansing and reuse throughout the state.

What is SB 231?
SB 231 gives cities, counties and local water agencies broader authority to finance local projects to put stormwater to use. Cities currently charge residents for infrastructure like sewage treatment, but have been hamstrung by rules that prevent them from charging property owners for stormwater services. Cities need public funding measures to build enhanced runoff infrastructure that can augment local water supply while protecting against flooding. We need to treat stormwater as a resource instead of a nuisance.

What problem does it solve?
California suffers from an outdated water management system that has created serious long-term challenges that are intensified during times of drought and heavy rains. For example, an average 1-inch storm in Los Angeles County sends over 10 billion gallons of runoff to the Pacific Ocean, along with the pollutants picked up and carried with it. This wasteful and environmentally harmful practice could be improved by capturing, cleansing and reusing that stormwater. However, one of the biggest barriers to plumbing our cities has been confusion around the tools local government can use to finance new or updated infrastructure to put runoff to use. SB 231 helps address this problem by clarifying the definition of sewer service so that projects designed to capture and clean stormwater can be more easily financed, consistent with how municipalities support water, sewer and trash services.

I care about clean water, but what other benefits does it provide?
SB 231 will provide economic benefits by creating jobs through local infrastructure investments and upgrades. It will shield our communities from costly and devastating flood damage, and it would also help cities and counties invest in a more water-resilient future in the face of climate change – cleaning stormwater to help build local water supplies and reducing reliance on costly and uncertain imported water.

What will this allow greater L.A. to do?
Each day roughly 10 million gallons of water flows uselessly from the urban Los Angeles County area out to sea, even as we desperately need water. Up to 630,000 acre feet of water per year could be generated by better stormwater capture and reuse in the state. That volume is roughly equal to the amount of water used by the entire City of Los Angeles annually. Properly managing runoff and water supply is a critical responsibility of local government, and in L.A. it’s required by regulations set by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. If SB 231 is signed into law, it will provide L.A. region municipalities more options for funding these critical stormwater service investments, allowing us to modernize the way water is managed in the region.

What happens next?
SB 231 is now headed to the Governor’s desk. Gov. Brown has until Oct. 15 to sign the bill into law or reject it with a veto.

Follow @OurWaterLA to stay up to date with the latest news about building a more water-resilient region. You can also learn more and get involved at ourwaterla.org, a website created by a coalition of leading community groups including Heal the Bay.



Is all this rain a good or a bad thing for greater Los Angeles? It all depends on your point of view, explains Communications Director Matthew King.

As a surfer, I hate the rain. As a Californian, I love it.

The recent series of downpours has kept me out of the ocean for weeks. I’ve gotten violently ill from surfing in water polluted with runoff and have learned my lesson. Maybe the deluge up north has been a boon for our parched state. But we are not out of the desert yet…

Below, we’ve answered our top 10 most frequently asked questions about what the #LArain really means:

1. Does all this rain mean the drought is over?

The recent rain might temporarily relieve drought effects, but it is not a cure-all. Yes, reservoirs up north may be filling again, but SoCal reservoirs are still dry. It will take years for our depleted groundwater aquifers to catch up. A good analogy is relating the drought to your credit card: a series of big storms is like paying off the minimum balance. You have temporary relief, but you still have a lot of water debt to pay off from the water you took out before. We require much more water to reach healthy and secure levels.

Locally, our regional infrastructure is not set up to store rainwater or capture runoff, and reuse it. The system is currently designed to move rain water to the ocean as fast as possible. Only 12% of Southern California drinking water comes from locally captured rainwater seeping into our groundwater.

 

2. What is “stormwater capture” and why is Heal the Bay so excited about it?

The L.A. region now imports more than 80% of our water from Northern California and the Colorado River watershed, using enormous amounts of energy and capital to do so. In an era of permanent drought, we simply must do a better job of using the water we already have by investing in innovative infrastructure projects that capture and reuse stormwater. We need to capture and infiltrate water on-site, replenishing aquifers instead of funneling runoff uselessly to our seas via the stormdrain system.

Current mood ☂️🌧

A photo posted by Sol Angeles (@solangeles) on

 

3. What needs to be done to improve stormwater capture in Los Angeles?

Runoff — if held, filtered and cleansed naturally in groundwater basins — can provide a safe source of water for human use. That means building so-called multi-benefit projects like green streets, water-smart parks and low-impact commercial development. Philadelphia and Portland have made enormous strides in treating stormwater as a resource rather than a nuisance, and so can we. The city of Los Angeles, for example, has created an ambitious master plan for stormwater capture. But all this innovative replumbing requires capital. Heal the Bay has joined a broad array of environmental and business groups asking regional lawmakers to craft a public-funding measure, perhaps in the form of a reasonable parcel tax. It’s a needed investment, one that will replace outmoded ways of thinking and pay dividends for years to come.

A video posted by Manolow (@manolow) on

 

4. The rain increases supply, but what about reducing demand?

Most conversations about water in our state revolve around supply. We often fail to talk about demand, and how we can reduce the strain put on our unreliable delivery system by simply being smarter about the water we already have. Los Angeles residents have done a remarkable job of reducing their average daily per-gallon usage over the past decade, but we can still do better. The average DWP residential customer used about 68 gallons per day in November, compared to about 42 GPD in Santa Cruz. A good place to start is rethinking our love affair with gardens and lawns in arid Southern California. Nearly 50% of water used residentially in greater L.A. goes to watering lawns and other landscaping.

 

5. I thought rain was a good thing. Why is Heal the Bay worried about it?

Yes, we desperately need rain. But rain creates urban runoff — the No. 1 source of pollution at our beaches and ocean.

 

6. How does rain create pollution?

Rimmed by foothills and mountains, Los Angeles County is like a giant concrete bowl tilted toward the sea. When it rains, water rushes along paved streets, picking up trash, fertilizer, metals, pet waste and automotive fluids before heading to the ocean via the region’s extensive stormdrain system.

 

7. How do stormdrains trash the beach?

With memories of historical deluges on their mind, engineers designed L.A. County’s 2,800-mile stormdrain system in the ‘30s and ‘40s to prioritize flood prevention.  Moving stormwater out to sea quickly was their number one goal. But it also has the unintended function of moving trash and bacteria-laden runoff directly into the Santa Monica and San Pedro Bays, completely unchecked and untreated. An average one-inch storm will create about 10 billion gallons of runoff in L.A. County stormdrains. That’s 120 Rose Bowls’ worth of dirty water!

A photo posted by Josh Choo (@joshchoo4444) on

 

8. What does all this runoff have to do with the ocean and marine animals that call it home?

Hundreds of thousands of animals each year die from ingesting trash or getting entangled in human-made debris. Seawater laden with chemicals and metals makes it harder for local marine life to thrive and reproduce.

 

9. What about the human health impacts?

Beachgoers who come in contact with polluted water after storms face a much higher risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and skin rashes. A UCLA epidemiology study found that people are twice as likely to get sick from swimming in front of a flowing stormdrain than from swimming in open water.

 

10. How can ocean lovers stay safe during the storms?

  • Wait at least 72 hours before entering the water after a storm
  • Stay away from storm drains, piers and enclosed beaches with poor circulation
  • Go to Heal the Bay’s BeachReportCard.org to get the latest water quality grades and updates
  • If you find a gutter that’s blocked, call the City’s Storm Drain Hotline at (800) 974-9794 so that L.A. Sanitation can remove the debris

 


You can support Heal the Bay’s efforts to make L.A. smarter about water. Here’s how:

  • Come to a volunteer cleanup to learn more about stormwater pollution and what can be done to prevent it. Invite family and friends to help spread the word
  • Share information on your social networks and support our green infrastructure campaigns
  • Become a member. Your donation will underwrite volunteer cleanups, citizen data-collection efforts and advocacy efforts by our science and policy team to develop more sustainable water policies throughout Southern California.


Dec. 16, 2016 — Once again, rain is falling throughout the Los Angeles Basin.

Angelenos are expected to experience heavy rainfall during winter months. This weekend’s storm is predicted to generate an inch or two of precipitation throughout the basin, with some areas receiving as much as four inches.

How much water is that?

The County of Los Angeles estimates that during a typical storm event upwards of 10 billion gallons of storm water flushes into the ocean. That’s enough to fill nearly 120 Rose Bowls. Thinking about it another way, 10 billion gallons would provide enough water for a city the size of Santa Monica for more than three months.

Dang, that is a lot of water! Wait… Aren’t we in a drought?

Why are we letting this precious water resource flow into the ocean without trying to capture it? That is odd given we Angelenos import nearly 80% of our potable (safe to drink) water.

What a waste.

Our historic single-use approach to water has long shaped our hydrologic infrastructure, yet the non-use of large quantities of storm water is wasteful. In case you didn’t know, the gutters and catch basins at the end of almost every street in Los Angeles drain to a local river, stream, or creek, and ultimately out to the ocean.

More galling than the opportunity cost lost from not capturing rainwater and instead allowing it to flow out to sea, is the actual cost incurred from these events.

The usual, depressing detritus littered Santa Monica beaches after the recent storm.

The usual, depressing detritus littered Santa Monica beaches after the recent storm.

Almost every storm event brings physical debris, mostly plastics, to our rivers, creeks, and oceans. In addition, poor water quality after a rainstorm can make rivers and oceans unhealthy for aquatic organisms and recreational users.

In Los Angeles County alone, there are more than 70 major outfalls that spew trash, animal waste, pesticides, automotive fluids, and human-gastrointestinal viruses into our county’s bodies of water. This urban micro-brew of pollution can accumulate in just a couple days on sidewalks and roadways – 12 million people in a highly urbanized landscape – before being washed into the storm drains after a rain event.

The storm drain system is responsible for discharging this pollution into our rivers, creeks, and ocean. This causes potential human health risks, harms marine life, and dampens the tourist economy by littering shorelines.

The more we know, the better the flow.

Rainwater runoff can be captured for future use, whether we are in a drought or not.

Water literacy is a way of understanding the connections between the drought and imported drinking water, local storm water runoff and sewage, land-use and flooding, water quality, and water use.

Rain provides an ideal opportunity to explore water scarcity.

As individuals, we must reflect on our daily water consumption, our own ability to conserve and capture water, and evaluate with a critical eye the systems that handle water. Let the rain hit you, let it revitalize your thoughts on water, and then let’s begin to learn how to use it more efficiently.

Tips for Angelenos after rain storms:

  • Stay out of the water. The County of Los Angeles Environmental Health Department and Heal the Bay urge residents and visitors to avoid water contact at Los Angeles County beaches for at least 72 hours following rain event. In some locations and for long-duration rainstorms, staying out of the ocean for more than five days may be more appropriate.
  • Know the flow. Test your water knowledge, and share insights about rainwater runoff and where Los Angeles gets its water in your community.
  • Be a responder. Heal the Bay’s volunteer Storm Response Team goes on scene at local beaches after big storms to remove the nasty debris flushed from across Los Angeles before this waste ends up in the ocean. Get alerts for more info.


June 13, 2016 — The drought has harmed California’s economy and environment, exposing serious water management issues throughout the state. We applaud Senator Hertzberg for his leadership today in introducing SB 1298, a bill that will help modernize how California manages its precious water resources by providing local governments a path towards the flexibility needed to ensure a healthy and reliable water future for their communities. This will be especially beneficial in the Los Angeles region, where there are great opportunities to capture and treat runoff, turning a nuisance into a much-needed resource.

Given the importance and urgency of this issue, we’ve been disappointed to see opposition arise, especially among agencies who stand to benefit the most directly from its passage. While the bill isn’t a perfectly conclusive fix, it doesn’t preclude further work towards a more ideal solution. In addition, it addresses an urgent need in a timely manner – to date, the only strategy we’re aware of that can make this claim.

Water policy is tough. It has deep history. And, it’s laden with political wonkiness. Here we break down why SB 1298 is so important.

WHAT THE PROBLEM IS?

Communities need better tools to conserve, reuse, and recycle water. The lack of funding for essential water services continues to grow, as shown in a recent Public Policy Institute of California report that identified a $2-3 billion annual funding deficit for critical water services in California.

Additionally, low and fixed income residents struggle to pay their water bills, and it is currently difficult for local agencies to provide financial assistance. It is also difficult for water agencies to create pricing structures designed to conserve water.

WHAT’S THE FIX?

We are seeking a legislative solution that would empower local communities to modernize water management and improve public health, water reliability, environmental protection, and economic stability. Specifically, providing local government better tools in three key areas:

  1. Creating opportunities to fund projects and programs that turn the public health nuisance of urban runoff into a resource. This includes capturing and cleaning polluted runoff and then recycling it or using it to recharge our aquifers. Think nature-based solutions like native plant and soil lined roadways that filter urban runoff, or large stormwater treatment facilities, like Santa Monica’s Urban Runoff Recycling Facility that captures and cleans stormwater, which can then be used for landscape irrigation. SB 1298 gives local agencies more options for supporting local water services.
  2. Providing affordable water. California’s Human Right to Water law says that everyone has a right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water. Unfortunately, our current water management system leaves systems that subsidize low-income ratepayers vulnerable to legal challenge. This leaves many Californians in situations where they are unable to pay for high water rates. SB 1298 would allow water agencies to set rate structures that provide affordable rates to qualifying customers most in need of assistance.
  3. In many parts of the country, water rates are tiered to promote conservation and discourage wasteful overuse – high volume customers are charged higher rates while water savers pay lower rates. Yet, unfortunately current policy contains barriers for local agencies to incentivize water conservation and penalize water wasters. SB 1298 provides a method for water agencies to create financial incentives for water wasters to reduce their use.

WHY NOW?

With the severity of the drought, there is an urgent need to source water locally and reliably. For years, Heal the Bay has provided technical and policy expertise to shape recommendations on ways to improve water management throughout the state, alongside environmental groups, resource managers, and decision makers. SB 1298 incorporates many of our recommendations, and outlines straightforward improvements to current water management inefficiencies. It is an important step in addressing California’s water crisis.

WHAT YOU CAN DO?

Call your legislator and tell them how important smart water management is to you by urging them to support SB 1298. Find your legislator here: http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/.



March 8, 2015 — Heal the Bay has spent the past 18 months working with a coalition of local environmental groups building a case for the implementation of so-called “Living Streets” in the city of L.A. In a nutshell, we need to a better job of building streets that are green, cool and complete. James Alamillo, our urban programs manager, took the lead on creating an economic analysis that demonstrates that building environmentally friendly streets that do such things as capture and infiltrate stormwater provides 75% more benefits to society than usual street projects.

The purpose of this document is to provide elected leaders, city staff, advocates and community members with information and resources to accelerate development of “Living Streets” in Los Angeles as a strategy to adapt to a changing climate and make the city more livable and resilient.

Our streets are arterials that touch and connect every neighborhood in Los Angeles. They span the length of the city and are utilized by everyone. Because of this, there are arguably no other infrastructure projects that can have a greater impact on the health and environment of an urban area like L.A. For most of the city’s history our streets have been built largely with the sole purpose of servicing the automobile. It’s time for a new perspective. It’s no longer acceptable to build roads the way we did in 1950; we must start building the streets of 2050 and beyond. Those new streets should be Living Streets.

Below are links to PDFs of the just-completed work Heal the Bay has been conducting with the city of L.A. to make our region more resilient and livable:

Living Streets Guide

Living Streets Executive Summary

Policy Recommendations for Implementing Living Streets

Living Streets Economic Feasibility Study 

Heal the Bay Partners

Green L.A. Coaltion is a volunteer-run network of organizations and advocates working on local water issues facing the City of Los Angeles and our region. Stephanie Taylor and Holly Harper, formerly staff of Green LA Coalition, worked on this Living Streets project.

Climate Resolve is a Los Angeles based climate change advocacy organization dedicated to creating real, practical solutions to meet the climate challenge while creating a better Southern California today and in the future.

Acknowledgements

The authors of the report would like to thank the numerous people who assisted in this endeavor by contributing their time and energy reviewing the docment and providing insightful feedback to make it a stronger document.

Grant Team

James Alamillo, Heal the Bay; David Fink, Climate Resolve; Holly Harper, North East Trees; Meredith McCarthy, Heal the Bay; Stephanie Taylor, Green LA Coalition; Evyan Borgnis, California Coastal Conservancy

Peer Review Team

Mark Gold, UCLA; Madeline Brozen, UCLA; Monobina Mukherjee, UCLA; Rebecca Drayse, LASAN/One Water LA Team; Rita Kampalath, Heal the Bay; Mike Antos, CSUN; Carolyn Casavan, Casavan Consulting; Jessica Meany, Investing in Place; Wing K. Tam P.E., City of Los Angeles

Supporting Individuals

Melanie Winter, The River Project; Johnathan Perisho, The River Project; Jeff Newman, CalTrans; Richard Watson, Richard Watson & Associates, Inc.; Andy Lipkis, Tree People; Mike Sullivan, Los Angeles County Sanitation District; Dave Snider, Los Angeles County Sanitation District; Paul Herzog, Surfrider; Derek Wieske, City of Long Beach; Anthony Arevalo, City of Long Beach; Taejin Moon, Los Angeles County; Bruce Hamamoto, Los Angeles County; Allen Sheth, City of Santa Monica



Feb. 16, 2016 — Matthew King, Heal the Bay’s communications director, peers into the dirty laundry at Loews Hotel. When it comes to a more sustainable L.A., he likes what he sees. 

“What’s good for the environment is good for business.”

It’s a saying I often throw around the office when crafting talking points for various Heal the Bay initiatives. But it’s great to see those words put into action locally, as I did Tuesday morning during a tour of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.

I joined a few journalists on a junket arranged by the city of Santa Monica to highlight innovative stormwater capture and water recycling projects in our town. We stopped at Loews because the hotel has implemented an effective program to reduce its water use via recycling.

As one of the bigger commercial water users in Santa Monica, Loews worked with city officials to conduct an audit of how the hotel used water each year and how the business could manage it more efficiently. Guests are doing a better job of reusing towels and not demanding new sheets each morning, but laundry still remains the biggest user of water on the property, according to the hotel’s spokeswoman, Rachel Kaye.

So last year the hotel installed an onsite, closed-loop system to recycle 70% of the water used each day for laundry. Using ultraviolet technology, the system disinfects laundry wastewater during the final rinse cycle. That cleansed water is then pumped back to start the wash cycle of subsequent loads. Because that water is already heated from the previous cycle, the system requires far less energy than conventional washing.

In all, Loews has reduced its overall annual water use by 22% by installing the system – some 4.3 million gallons a year. They also reduced their energy consumption related to laundry by more than 50%.

Buoyed by that success, Loews is in the middle of installing low-flow showerheads, toilets and faucets in its 347 guest rooms, with a goal of reducing in-room water use by more than 40%, according to Kaye. She says surveys of guests who have stayed in the rooms that have already been converted don’t indicate any concerns with the changes.

Economic forces drive change in our society, so it’s encouraging to see Loews saving on energy and water costs. The switch to recycled water and low-flow infrastructure will surely benefit their bottom line and shareholders, which will serve as an incentive for further changes. But most important (to us), the switch will benefit the local environment. Businesses like Loews have the scale and visibility to hopefully nudge other companies sitting on the sustainability fence.

Before Loews, the city’s Neal Shapiro took us to a few other stops. The operations and maintenance center for the new Metro light-rail network near Centinela Boulevard has installed a 400,000 gallon cistern that will capture stormwater runoff from local stormdrains. The water will be reused for irrigation of the grounds and to clean equipment at the site. At our next stop, I learned that the city of Santa Monica has also received a $1 million grant to tap into the city of L.A.’s massive stormwater collection cistern underneath Penmar Park, which is located near the border of Santa Monica and Venice. A pipeline will carry reclaimed water to irrigate Santa Monica’s Marine Park, which is located less than a mile away.

The media tour, capably organized by the city’s Andrew Basmajian and PR whiz Julie Du Brow, served as context for today’s unveiling of a multiagency-shaped roadmap for scaling up alternative water supplies in L.A. County. Heal the Bay and partner NGOs helped announce the roadmap – dubbed Matrix 2.0 – at a ceremony today at the Pico Library in Santa Monica.

Matrix 2.0 provides legal and practical guidelines on how individuals, businesses, cities and other entities can use rainwater, graywater, stormwater and so-called blackwater to gain better water self-sufficiency.

The rules will help simplify the regulatory patchwork involved in trying to get recycling and capture systems installed and approved in our region.

The document took months of work by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation and the City of Santa Monica Office of Sustainability and the Environment. The backbone of L.A’s environmental movement – TreePeople, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Heal the Bay – also helped shape the final product. Kudos to all! You can see the new guidelines here.

Hopefully these guidelines will spur companies and municipalities to follow in the footsteps of Loews and the city of Santa Monica. With the L.A. region still importing 80% of its water, it’s time to get shovels in the dirt – not just study proposals and prepare PowerPoints.

Terri Williams, L.A. County’s Acting Director of Environmental Health, signs the Matrix 2.0 guidelines. HtB’s Rita Kampalath (2nd from left) looks on.   Loews Santa Monice Beach Hotel’s Rachel Kaye discusses the benefits of its water recycling system with members of the local media.


Protect your beach and vulnerable marine life by joining our Storm Response Team! 

SRT is a volunteer-powered program where trusty souls brave the elements immediately following a rain event to pick up trash on the beach–before it heads out to sea and threatens wildlife.

Why is the work important?

Stormwater is the No. 1 source of coastal pollution. When it rains, a slurry of water, toxins and harmful trash flows freely along our streets and into catch basins. Carried through the extensive stormdrain system, the runoff dumps a veritable mountain of trash onto shorelines without any treatment or screening. With a record-breaking El Niño coming our way, the stormwater deluge will be bigger than ever–and so will the mountain of trash.

What do I have to do as a SRT volunteer?

It’s easy and fun, just like one of our regular Nothin’ But Sand beach cleanups. When you get the SRT text or email alert, head to the beach and spend an hour with your fellow SRT’ers picking up trash. You can take pride in knowing you made a major impact on local beaches on days when they need us the most. 

Which beaches need SRT volunteers?

Mobilized volunteers will sweep sites that historically have taken the biggest brunt after a rainfall: locations may include the beaches near Ballona Creek and the beaches near the Pico-Kenter storm drain in Santa Monica. We will let you know where to go when we send our text and email alerts.

Do I need to be an SRT volunteer to clean up the beach?

All the cool kids are doing it, but you’re welcome to go freelance! Just be sure to hit the beach at low tide (usually late afternoon in Santa Monica) with garden gloves and a reusable bucket and you’re good to go. If you’re flying solo, take a picture of your trashy haul and send it to info@healthebay.org or share it on social media with #StormResponseTeam hashtagged.

I’m down! How do I sign up? 

Awesome! Click the button below, and be sure to add your email and phone number. We promise to only bug you when it rains…

Sign up for the Storm Response Team

 



In a time of severe drought, one El Niño isn’t going to solve all our problems. But here’s how cities can prepare to take maximum benefit of what rains do come.

CAPTURING STORMWATER AND OTHER URBAN RUNOFF 

Wasteful: After a storm, as much as 10 billion gallons of water is wasted flowing into the sea from urban runoff. That’s enough to fill 100 Rose Bowls! Even when it doesn’t rain, 10 million gallons of urban runoff flows through L.A County stormdrains each day, picking up pollutants and eventually reaching the ocean without the benefit of any treatment. It’s why many of our beaches, rivers and creeks remain chronically polluted. This pollution along our shorelines is terrible, but the waste of water in a time of extreme drought is equally maddening.

Smart: Capturing that runoff, cleaning it, and using it to augment regional water supplies.

The potential:  Up to 630,000 acre feet per year could potentially be generated by better stormwater capture and reuse in the state, according to estimates by the NRDC. This volume is roughly equal to the amount of water used by the entire city of Los Angeles annually.  Using this water for non-potable uses and groundwater recharge can greatly increase local water supplies.

How to get there: It will take significant resolve and funding, but watershed management plans that prioritize green infrastructure and multi-benefit stormwater capture projects must be embraced. Portland and Philadelphia are doing it, and so can we.

What Heal the Bay is doing: Our policy team is working to ensure stormwater management planning and implementation includes multi-benefit solutions that improve greenspace, beautify communities, and capture water onsite for reuse or recharging groundwater.  Our staff scientists are working with state and local governments to find creative ways to fund stormwater programs. We hope to get funding in place before 2020.

CLEANING UP OUR LOCAL AQUIFERS

Wasteful:   Contaminated plumes continue to expand in aquifers in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, infringing on and reducing groundwater that is available to greater Los Angeles. Much of our groundwater contamination is due to historic improper handling and disposal of industrial chemicals.

Smart: Removing pollutants from groundwater basins in order to enhance available storage space for stormwater and reclaimed water recharge.

The potential: The city of Los Angeles has the rights to pump up to 87,000 acre-feet of water annually. That’s enough water to meet the demands of the greater L.A. Basin for two months out of the year.

How to get there:  We need to find the funding to clean up our groundwater basins. Investment is necessary to allow for our local aquifers to be used to their fullest extent in the future once we do a better job of capturing runoff and recycling treated runoff

What Heal the Bay is doing: Our advocacy staff supports funding through state bond money and the Metropolitan Water District to help clean up the San Fernando Valley and San Gabriel Valley aquifers. LADWP hopes to have two San Fernando Valley aquifer remediation facilities in operation by 2022.

Improved water supply and improved water quality are inextricably linked. Heal the Bay will continue to advocate for smart projects that help us achieve both goals. The drought will require sacrifice and investment. Let’s just make sure we are investing wisely.

Illustration by Jenny Adams



WHAT TO DO ON YOUR PROPERTY

Keep water from collecting on your property. Make sure to regularly clean out leaf clutter and other debris that may have been collecting on your roof, gutters and downspouts. Clogs can create serious blockages that will be a lot harder to deal with once rains actually come. Also, make sure any downspouts on your property are directed away from your home’s foundation. You may need to buy easy-to-install extensions to guarantee clearance. You may also want to examine the soil around your home’s foundation, making sure that there is enough slope to carry water away instead of puddling.

Install a rain-capture device. As a first step, install a rain barrel and have the downspout empty into it. For every inch of rain that falls on one square foot of your roof, you’ll collect a little more than a half of a gallon in your rain barrel (.6 gallons to be exact). For example, say you have a 10×10 shed and one inch of rain falls on it. You’ll collect .6 gallons x 100 square feet, or 60 gallons of rainwater! If you are feeling more ambitious, you can install a larger-volume rain tank or cistern on your property. For more information, visit www.heytanksla.com, www.rainreserve.com or www.urbanwatergroup.com

Create landscapes that are able to capture and store as much rainwater and runoff as possible.  Whether it’s rain from a few small storms or a devastating El Niño, you can help retain more water and recharge local aquifers. Small-scale residential projects help reduce a site’s impervious surface, improve ability to infiltrate stormwater, conserve stormwater runoff and reduce negative impacts downstream.

Specific small-scale residential solutions include:

  1. Driveway Cross 
  2. Dry/Gravel Swales
  3. Dry Wells 
  4. Permeable Pavements 
  5. Planter Boxes
  6. Rain Barrels & Small Cisterns
  7. Rain Gardens
  8. Vegetated Swales

HOW TO KEEP YOUR HOME AND FAMILY SAFE

Check your property. Clear drains, rain gutters and downspouts of debris.

Get flood insurance. If you already have it, check your policy to make sure you have enough coverage-most policies don’t cover flooding. Residents can identify their flood risk by entering their addresses at the government’s floodsmart website you can also get an estimate for annual premium costs.

Put together a disaster supply kit and to practice a family communication plan. A basic disaster supply kit, should include a clear gallon tub filled with:

  • a battery powered hand crank radio to listen to evacuation routes
  • a flashlight
  • batteries
  • a first aid kit
  • a whistle
  • water
  • canned food and can opener
  • a cell phone with external chargers or solar powered chargers
  • prescription medications
  • extra eyeglasses — even an old prescription is better than nothing
  • formula and diapers for babies
  • pet food and water for animals

Check out our Ultimate El Niño FAQ here.



Kicking off El Niño Week, Heal the Bay staff scientists and program directors have assembled simple answers to the complex questions about what El Niño may bring to your home, our beaches and greater L.A.

What does El Niño mean anyway?

El Niño is a global climate event that occurs at unpredictable, two-to-seven-year intervals. The hallmark of El Niño is more than a year of above-average surface temperatures in much of the Pacific Ocean. This has impacts on weather over most of the world, but can mean more rain for the southwestern U.S. 

The direct translation from the Spanish word means “the little boy.” According to one version of the name’s derivation, Peruvian fisherman noticed a pattern of unusually warmer waters around Christmas time and called it “El Niño” in reference to baby Jesus. Scientists in Peru adopted the name and evolved the meaning when they recognized more intense and irregular changes in climate within seven-year intervals seen throughout the entire Pacific Ocean, not just along the coast of Peru.

el ninoWhat causes an El Niño?

An El Niño is caused by the prolonged warming water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. It occurs alongside Southern Oscillation, which is the change of atmospheric pressure over the eastern and western Pacific Ocean. Because they happen at the same time, El Niño and Southern Oscillation are often referred to as ENSO. Today, scientists use ENSO and El Niño interchangeably, so El Niño does refer to the entire phenomenon.

With a decrease in atmospheric pressure over the eastern Pacific, we also see an associated decrease in the westward blowing Trade Winds along the equator. This allows the warmer waters to travel north, and during heavy El Niños the subtropical jet stream can move north. The subtropical jet stream usually runs over Mexican and Nicaraguan rainforests. If it were to move over the southwestern U.S. this year, we could see heavier rains and a stronger El Niño.

When is it coming?

We will be feeling the effects of El Niño in the late fall/early winter of 2015. We already have experienced some early signs, with unusual stretches of humidity this summer and our thunder storms in July from Hurricane Dolores (warmer oceanic waters help to fuel hurricanes). The effects are expected to diminish in spring 2016.

Will it definitely bring heavy storms?

Experts predict a 95% chance of moderate El Niño conditions to continue into the winter, which may bring rain to California during a few large rain events.  El Niños don’t guarantee rain and can be unpredictable, which is why you probably heard discussion on the matter on-and-off for years without seeing a lot of rain. Some El Niño years have remained dry while others have produced epic rains.

The last major El Niño we saw in Southern California was in 1997-98, and the above average ocean temperatures this summer have mirrored the ones we saw in 1997. As of now, we are seeing predictions of El Monstruo-type storm events this winter.

record el nino graphHow much rain are we talking about?

The ocean temperatures suggest that we will see an El Niño that matches, and may even surpass, the strength of the 1997 El Niño, the strongest on record (represented by graph on right). In February 1998, downtown L.A. saw 13.68 inches of rain, which is almost equivalent to a full year’s worth of rainfall seen in only one month. If it does indeed mirror 1997, we could see double the rainfall in Southern California. However, this is all dependent on the wind patterns, which we have yet to see. These uncertainties make El Niño so unpredictable and why we keep speaking in terms of hypotheticals.

What’s a “Godzilla” El Niño?

A Godzilla El Niño refers to an exceptionally strong El Niño that can actually move the subtropical jet stream over California. We have only seen these Godzilla storms in the El Niños of 1982-83 and 1997-98.

What areas in L.A. will likely be hit hardest? 

El Niño events can bring much rain to Southern California, which can result in mudslides, erosion and flooding. Homes located in areas known to be at risk of mudslides will likely be hit hardest–for example, houses built on the side of steep mountains or hills. Also, any areas in L.A. that have storm drains that are clogged by trash and debris could experience flooding in their neighborhoods. If you find a gutter that’s blocked, call the City’s Storm Drain Hotline at (800) 974-9794 so that L.A. Sanitation can remove the debris before the rain hits. (And look out for our blog post later this week on how you can better prepare your home for expected rains.)

If it rains, will it mean the drought is over?

No. California has 43 million acre-feet of water storage in reservoirs, and 75% of that storage is located north of Fresno. The majority of the rains are expected to hit Southern California, and currently our regional infrastructure is not set up to store rainwater or dry weather runoff. The system is designed to move rain water to the ocean as fast as possible. Only 12% of Southern California drinking water comes from locally captured rainwater seeping into our groundwater. It might temporarily relieve drought effects, but it is not the silver bullet answer.

A good analogy is relating the drought to using your credit card: an El Niño winter is like paying off the minimum balance on your credit card. You have temporary relief, but you still have a lot of water debt to pay off from the water you took out before. Our depleted reservoirs require much more water to reach healthy and secure levels.”

Is this a sign of the future? Are storms going to continue to be more intense?

Climate change impacts are already happening now in L.A., and can be intensified in an El Niño year. Impacts from climate change along our coasts include increased storm intensity, ocean temperature increases, changing currents, sea level rise, species range shifts, coastal erosion, and ocean acidification. To make matters worse, a combination of impacts may collide during an El Niño year — such as high tides, sea level rise, storm surges, and inland flooding. The projected inundation could severely impact our freshwater supplies, wastewater treatment plants, power plants, and other infrastructure, not to mention public health and the environment. (See our blog post later this week about how climate change could impact local shorelines in Venice and Malibu.)

I thought rain was a good thing. Why is Heal the Bay worried about it?

Yes, we desperately need rain in our drought-parched state. But rain creates urban runoff — the No. 1 source of pollution at our beaches and ocean.

What is “stormwater capture” and why is Heal the Bay so excited about it?

The L.A. region now imports more than 80% of our water from Northern California and the Colorado River watershed, using enormous amounts of energy and capital to do so. In an era of permanent drought, we simply must do a better job of using the water we already have by investing in innovative infrastructure projects that capture and reuse stormwater instead of sending it to senselessly pollute our seas. Runoff — if held, filtered and cleansed naturally in groundwater basins — can provide a safe source of water for human use.

First Flush TrashHow does rain create pollution?

Rimmed by foothills and mountains, Los Angeles County is like a giant concrete bowl tilted toward the sea. When it rains, water rushes along paved streets, picking up trash, fertilizer, metals, pet waste and automotive fluids before heading to the ocean via the region’s extensive stormdrain system.

How do stormdrains trash the beach?

With memories of historical deluges on their mind, engineers designed L.A. County’s 2,800-mile stormdrain system in the ‘30s and ‘40s to prioritize flood prevention.  Moving stormwater out to sea quickly was their number one goal. But it also has the unintended function of moving trash and bacteria-laden runoff directly into the Santa Monica and San Pedro Bays, completely unchecked and untreated. An average one-inch storm will create about 10 billion gallons of runoff in L.A. County stormdrains. That’s 120 Rose Bowls’ worth of dirty water.

What does all this runoff to do the ocean and the animals that call it home?

Hundreds of thousands of animals each year die from ingesting trash or getting entangled in manmade debris. Seawater laden with chemicals and metals makes it harder for local marine life to thrive and reproduce.

What about the human health impacts?

Beachgoers who come in contact with polluted water after storms face a much higher risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections and skin rashes. A UCLA epidemiology study found that people are twice as likely to get sick from swimming in front of a flowing stormdrain than from swimming in open water.

How can ocean lovers stay safe during the El Niño months?

  • Wait at least 72 hours before entering the water after a storm 
  • Stay away from storm drains, piers and enclosed beaches with poor circulation 
  • Go to Heal the Bay’s beachreportcard.org to get the latest water quality grades and updates 

How can I support Heal the Bay’s efforts to make L.A. smarter about stormwater?

  • Come to a volunteer cleanup to learn more about stormwater pollution and what can be done to prevent it. Invite family and friends to help spread the word.
  • Share information on your social networks and support our green infrastructure campaigns.
  • Become a member. Your donation will underwrite volunteer cleanups, citizen data-collection efforts and advocacy efforts by our science and policy team to develop more sustainable water policies throughout Southern California.

 Heal the Bay staff members Nancy Shrodes, Matthew King and Dana Murray contributed to this report.

El Niño Week