Greening Our Streets Helps Keep Our Water Clean

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Last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted to develop an ordinance to integrate urban runoff control into all construction and reconstruction of public streets and alleys throughout the city. This means that instead of street repair solely focusing on new impervious surfaces that increase runoff of pollutants to our rivers and ocean, the city will include methods for capturing and infiltrating runoff before it pollutes downstream.

This measure, although seemingly minor, could actually have an enormous impact on water quality in Los Angeles. The City of Los Angeles has approximately 28,000 lane miles of streets with 11,000 miles of sidewalks, 800 linear miles of alleys, and 34,000 catch basins. Streets and alleys convey millions of gallons of urban runoff every year, which carries toxic metals, bacteria and trash directly to our rivers and ocean.

In practice, city agencies will incorporate best management practices for stormwater, including green infrastructure in street construction. BMPs include bioswales, curb cuts and tree wells that allow stormwater to slowly infiltrate on-site and remove pollutants naturally before discharge. Greener streets could also result in local water supply where infiltration of stormwater is linked to underground aquifers. This is a critical part of the effort as Mayor Garcetti aims to cut water imports in half by 2024 and the current drought has no end in sight.

And not only will this ordinance improve water quality, it will reduce the City’s exposure to penalties and enforcement actions for violations of water quality regulations. The City is subject to a region-wide municipal stormwater permit that sets strict limits on pollution and imposes penalties of $37,500 per violation per day.

So, projects under this ordinance will yield multiple benefits including (1) water quality improvement, (2) regulatory standards achievement, (3) stormwater infiltration, and (4) flood mitigation.

LA Waterkeeper worked with Councilmember Felipe Fuentes in his drafting of the motion behind this action, and is grateful for the leadership at the Council to find innovative ways to truly integrate the City’s departments and activities to re-build a more sustainable and cleaner city for all Angelinos to enjoy.

-Liz Crosson, Executive Director

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