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Rain barrels and permeable pavement are on LA agenda

January 21, 2010 | 10:21 am

Rainwatercurb2L.A.’s Department of Public Works unanimously approved a draft of its Low Impact Development ordinance last week. The ordinance would require newly constructed homes, larger developments and some redevelopments to capture, reuse or infiltrate 100% of the runoff generated on-site in a 3/4-inch rainstorm or to pay a storm water pollution mitigation fee that would help fund off-site, public LIDs.

Low Impact Development is a fairly new approach to managing storm water and urban runoff that mitigates the negative effects of development and urbanization by controlling runoff at its source with small, cost-effective natural systems instead of end-of-line treatment facilities. Reducing runoff improves water quality and also recharges the groundwater. Board of Public Works Commissioner Paula Daniels, who drafted the ordinance last July, said the new requirements would prevent 104 million gallons of polluted urban runoff from washing in to the ocean.

Under the ordinance, builders would be required to employ rainwater storage tanks, permeable pavement, infiltration swales or curb bumpouts to manage the water where it falls. Builders who are unable to manage 100% of a project’s runoff on site would be required to pay a penalty of $13 per gallon of runoff that was not handled on site -- a requirement the Building Industry Assn. has been fighting.

"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."

Schroeder says some building projects, such as those in downtown L.A. or in areas where the soil is high in clay, will have difficulty with the 100% retention standard and that the $13 mitigation fee is too high. A one-acre building on ground where runoff could not be managed on site, Schroeder said, could pay a fee as high as $238,000. "We’re seeking flexibility to reflect the site circumstance," said Schroeder.

At the urging of the many business groups that opposed an earlier draft of the LID ordinance, the Board of Public Works has already acquiesced on some points."We worked out something with the business community that they can release the runoff if they first run the water over a high-efficiency biofiltration system. In other words, they have to clean it first," Daniels said.

The Board also decreased the per-gallon mitigation fee from $20 to $13. The mitigation fees would fund public LIDs, such as the Oval Street project planned for Mar Vista, where 24,000 linear feet of parkway will be retrofitted with porous pavement, bioretention basins and other water infiltration strategies designed to capture 2 million gallons of storm water that would otherwise flow to the ocean.

Approved by the Board, the LID ordinance will now move on to the Energy and the Environment and the Planning and Land Use Management committees of the City Council, before moving on to a council vote and the mayor.

Daniels says she hopes the ordinance will be approved in the next six months and go in to effect by year’s end. "I don’t want to waste another rainy season," she said.

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times

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