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California enacts law to encourage stormwater reuse

October 14, 2009 |  2:49 pm

Stormwaterrunoff During the wet season, the city of L.A. sends 100 million gallons of stormwater into the Pacific each day. That water had, for many years, been handled as pollution, since the water produced in rainstorms picks up various effluents that then flush into the ocean.

But a new California law seeks to expand the role of stormwater 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 and use the money for projects that reduce or reuse stormwater, recharge the groundwater supply, create green spaces and enhance wildlife habitats. SB 790 was signed into law Sunday and takes effect Jan. 1, 2010.

"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 currently enduring a third year of drought – the competition will likely be fierce among the many government agencies that manage the state’s stormwater. SB 790 allows agencies to apply for and, if approved, draw on remaining funds from Prop. 50, the $3.44-billion water security bond passed by California voters in 2002, and Prop. 84, the $5.4-billion safe drinking water bond passed in 2006. Exactly how much money is left over from those bonds is unclear.

L.A.’s Bureau of Sanitation, which has already received $22 million in bond funds from the state for various stormwater projects, is likely to apply for even 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 stormwater and use it as a resource," said Tam, who noted that the city's paradigm shift from viewing stormwater as pollution to stormwater as a resource has been a gradual process born 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 multi-use. That's our future."

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Bruce Huff / Los Angeles Times

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