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Storm Runoff and Santa Monica Bay

February 23, 1992

Mathis Chazanov's article on our flood control system (The Times, Feb. 13) was interesting as far as it went. But the article misses the mark on two key points. The first, ironically enough, is brought up in the headline: "System Easily Absorbs Storm's Runoff." The truth is that so much of Los Angeles is paved over--including all of the rivers and creeks mentioned in the article--that virtually none of our runoff is being absorbed. Storm water enters the concrete channels on its way to the ocean because it is offered no other choice. Your story mentions that a retention basin for the Westside would be impractical, but fails to note that there are several other methods of reducing the amounts of runoff flowing into our storm drain system.

Secondly, the article falls short in making clear the enormity of the pollution problem inherent in our storm drains. Chazanov refers to Ballona Creek (the largest of our storm drains), and to Pico/Kenter (the most infamous), but there are actually 64 storm drains pouring their contents directly into Santa Monica Bay. Along the way the runoff picks up oil and grease from parking lots and streets, herbicides and pesticides from lawns and gardens, trash and chemicals dumped carelessly or deliberately into our gutters, and droppings from the thousands of dogs walked daily on our streets. In addition to performing the very necessary function of flood control, our storm drains also become the conduit for all this pollution, flushing it directly onto our beaches. Storm water runoff is the single largest source of pollution entering Santa Monica Bay.

If we are to reduce these two concerns, the amount of water in our drains and the pollution it carries, we must begin upstream. Working with Heal the Bay, the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu have created ordinances designed to reduce the volume and the toxicity of storm water runoff. We plan to carry this idea to every municipality in the watershed. Working with other environmental groups--among them TreePeople and Friends of the Los Angeles River--Heal the Bay is embarking on a project called Unpave L.A., designed to change portions of our basin from asphalt and concrete to green grass and earthen waterways.

The result will not only be cities more pleasant to look at, but an urban area that can withstand the ravages of our winter storms while reducing the pollution and runoff problems they create.

GREG ELLIOT

Editor's note: Elliot is co-chairman of the Storm Drain Committee for Heal the Bay.

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