My Journey into Stormwater Capture

I’m Hannah, and I recently began my positon as a Climate Corps AmeriCorps Fellow with Los Angeles Waterkeeper. Throughout college, I conducted ethnographic research focusing on the environmental needs of various communities. Though I focused on historical and interview-based research, I enjoy a challenge and pushed myself to enroll in a science-based study abroad program researching marine and rainforest systems. It’s only fitting that I would be thrown into a new position where I had to learn everything there is to know about stormwater capture.

Before I interviewed for this job, I scoured LAW’s website. Even as an environmental major, I scanned the information about stormwater and thought to myself “is stormwater really what it sounds like?” While I had taken environmental science classes at my Southern Californian college, they had not focused on issues related to stormwater. Looking back, this was a huge missed opportunity to educate students about a vital water pollution issue—and water supply solution.

Whenever friends or family ask what my fellowship is focused on, I tell them about stormwater capture and I always qualify “you know, rain!” Because no one likes to feel like they don’t know what you’re talking about. Then I explain that when it rains, pollutants (like motor oil, grease, fertilizers, pesticides and trash) run off into the storm drains on the sides of our streets. From there, these pollutants are swept up with stormwater and eventually make their way to our rivers and oceans, often without any treatment. When I tell them that stormwater is the biggest source of pollution of our oceans, they’re shocked! From experience, I know that I never put it together that when it rains, the ocean was getting polluted.

As explained by our Watershed Programs Manager, Melissa von Mayrhauser, “Contaminants, such as bacteria, greases and metals, build up on our largely impervious pavements during dry weather, and then rapidly wash into our storm drains, streams and ocean when rain comes.”

After an extreme 5 year drought, and record rainfall last winter, minimizing flood risk and capturing stormwater to bolster a local L.A. water source is more vital than ever. According to the L.A. County Department of Public Works, from January 18th to 31st, there were 25 billion gallons of stormwater drained into the ocean from the L.A. River–about 1/6th of the water the entire city of L.A. uses in a year.

When I read that fact, I was shocked. Why are we letting such a valuable resource like stormwater pollute our oceans, when it could be captured, treated, and used? It turns out that capturing the water and treating it in a plant can be challenging. So what if nature could do the work for us? Over 50% of L.A. County is covered with impermeable surfaces like concrete, which means the water floods out into storm drains, instead of permeating into the soil. By increasing the amount of permeable surfaces—including permeable concrete, parks, green space, bioswales, and other nature-based solutions options—we can work to save the LA region water and money while supporting healthier communities.

Check back here for my next post in this series on stormwater capture. Next time, I’ll explain more about environmentally friendly, cost effective projects that can benefit communities throughout LA.

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