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State hopes to use storm water to counter drought

October 25, 2009|Susan Carpenter

During an average wet season, the city of Los Angeles sends 100 million gallons of storm water into the Pacific each day. Because it carries various effluents to the ocean, that water had, for many years, been handled as pollution.

But a new California law seeks to expand the role of storm water management to incorporate strategies that will use it as a resource.

The Stormwater Resource Planning Act, SB 790, allows municipalities to tap funds from two of the state's existing bond funds for projects that reduce or reuse storm water, recharge the groundwater supply, create green spaces and enhance wildlife habitats. The measure takes effect Jan. 1.

"I was proud to carry 790," said Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), who wrote the bill. "It uses existing funds to create new water supplies out of water that in the past was simply treated and dumped. This bill helps create a significant new source of water for our always water-short state."

With California in the throes of a budget crisis and a water crisis -- the state is in its third year of drought -- the competition will probably be fierce among the many government agencies that manage the state's storm water.

SB 790 allows agencies to apply for and, if approved, draw on funds remaining from Proposition 50, the $3.44-billion water security bond passed by California voters in 2002, and Proposition 84, the $5.4-billion safe drinking water bond passed in 2006. Exactly how much money is left from those bonds is unclear.

L.A.'s Bureau of Sanitation, which has received $22 million in bond funds from the state for various storm water projects, is expected to apply for more funds through SB 790.

According to Wing Tam, assistant division manager for the bureau's watershed protection division, the money will fund an expansion of the city's rainwater harvesting projects and green infrastructure, including large cisterns, stream restoration, biofiltration and downspout disconnections.

"It's important for us to capture storm water and use it as a resource," said Tam, who noted that the city's paradigm shift from viewing storm water as pollution to seeing it as a resource has been a gradual process evolving through 10 years of pilot projects.

"Not only does that help us with water quality, but quality of life. A wetland park deals with water quality, but it also creates a park for people to use. It's multiuse. That's our future," Tam said.

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susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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