February 2, 2010

LA Attempting To Save Rainwater

In an attempt to mitigate the negative effects of urbanization, a proposed law would require new developments in Los Angeles to capture and recycle runoff from rainstorms. Those affected are builders of new homes, larger developments and some redevelopments, according to the LA Times.

The Department of Public Works approved the ordinance in January that would require projects to capture, reuse or infiltrate 100% of the runoff generated in a 3/4-inch rainstorm, or to pay a storm water pollution mitigation fee that would help fund off-site, low-impact public developments.

This new approach is designed to control runoff at its source with small, cost-effective natural systems instead of treatment facilities.  This would also help improve water quality and recharge groundwater.

Paula Daniels, Board of Public Works Commissioner, said the new requirements would prevent 104 million gallons of polluted urban runoff from ending up in the ocean.

Builders would be required, under the ordinance, to use rainwater storage tanks, permeable pavement, infiltration swales or curb bump-outs to manage the water where it falls.

The builders who are unable to manage 100% of a project's runoff on site would be fined $13 a gallon of runoff not handled there. The Building Industry Association has been fighting this.

"The Building Industry Assn. is supportive of the concept of low-impact development and has invested a lot of time and energy in educating our members on those techniques and advancing those technologies," said Holly Schroeder, executive officer of the L.A.-Ventura County chapter of the association.

"But when we now start talking about using LIDs as a regulatory tool, we need to make sure we devise a regulation that can be implemented successfully."

According to Schroeder, some building projects, like the ones in downtown L.A. where soil is high in clay, would have difficulty with a 100% retention rule, leaving the $13-a-gallon mitigation fee to be very costly.

She said one could pay a fee as high as $238,000 on a one-acre building on ground where runoff could not be managed on site.

"We're seeking flexibility to reflect the site circumstance," she said.

The Board of Public Works has acquiesced on some points because of the business groups that were opposed to an earlier draft.

"We worked out something with the business community that they can release the runoff if they first run the water over a high-efficiency bio-filtration system," Daniels said. "In other words, they have to clean it first."

The mitigation fee has already been decreased from $20 a gallon. 

The Times reported that the fees will help fund public low-impact developments, like the Oval Street project planned for Mar Vista, where 24,000 linear feet of parkway will be retrofitted with porous pavement, bio-retention basins and other water infiltration strategies designed to capture 2 million gallons of storm water that would otherwise flow to the ocean.

Daniels hopes this ordinance will be approved in the next six months and take effect by 2011.

"I don't want to waste another rainy season," she said.