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Now Is the Time to Fund Stormwater Projects in Los Angeles County
By Corinne Bell
This November, voters in Los Angeles County will have the opportunity to help address the largest source of pollution to surface waters in our region: stormwater. Measure W would finally create a funding stream to pay for projects necessary to address stormwater pollution and flooding.
These projects would also increase local water supply, improve air quality and reduce the urban "heat island" effect, among other benefits. Measure W ensures that the communities that typically bear the burden of environmental harms will get their fair share of these beneficial projects, as the Measure seeks to provide Disadvantaged Community (DAC) benefits in proportion to the DAC population in the County.
Stormwater has been a major problem in our region for decades, but storm drain systems, unlike drinking water and wastewater systems, have gone without a dedicated funding stream because of California's Proposition 218. Prop 218 requires that stormwater fees survive a protest hearing and either a majority landowner vote or supermajority electorate vote. Without a dedicated revenue stream, projects to address stormwater pollution and flooding must be built by piecing together funding from various sources, including inconsistent sources like cities' general funds. Now, Measure W seeks to remedy this issue.
LA's Stormwater Problem
Much of Los Angeles' urban and suburban landscape is covered by impervious surfaces (e.g., roads, rooftops and parking lots), which do not allow rain to soak into the ground. The rainfall runs off these surfaces and picks up harmful contaminants, such as trash, pesticides, heavy metals, automobile oil and bacteria along the way. This polluted mixture, known as "stormwater runoff," enters storm drain systems which then discharge the runoff—untreated—into the ocean, rivers and other waterbodies.
Urban runoff is the leading source of surface water pollution for the Los Angeles area. Polluted runoff not only harms aquatic life, but also poses serious human health risks. We've known since at least 1996 that urban runoff is "a source of fecal bacteria and a public health concern at swimming beaches." It causes hundreds of thousands of excess gastrointestinal illnesses and is responsible for between 119 to 278 million dollars of public health costs annually. The Los Angeles Regional Water Board has stated that "[p]olluted storm water and non-storm water discharges … are a leading cause of water quality impairment in the Los Angeles Region."
The tax imposed by Measure W is based on the amount of impervious surface on a property and will cost the average homeowner about $83 per year. It is up to landlords whether or not they pass the tax on to their renters. The tax will generate approximately $300 million annually, and property owners can apply for a tax credit if they reduce impervious area and/or install and maintain a stormwater project on site.
Vegetated bioswales slow, infiltrate and filter stormwater flows, and provide other benefits to communities.EPA.gov
Measure W will help fund projects that reduce stormwater pollution, increase the area's local water supply and thus decrease our reliance on costly imported water, and provide other environmental and community and public health benefits. Funded projects could be small, such as residential rain gardens, or larger projects such as parks.
Watts Green Streets Plan
The Measure prioritizes projects that decrease water pollution and increase water supply, and those that are nature-based, which rely on plants and soils to slow, filter and infiltrate stormwater. Such projects provide additional community benefits, such as increasing access to green space, while strengthening LA's resilience to climate change.
This November, voters have the opportunity to help finance these projects in their own neighborhoods and reduce the amount of polluted runoff that harms our communities and ecosystems. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and voters should take advantage of it by voting yes on Measure W.
If you are interested in learning more about Measure W, you can visit the campaign website at: https://www.yesonwforcleanwater.com/.
Corinne Bell focuses on stormwater runoff and green infrastructure in Los Angeles and beyond, as well as the water-related impacts of climate change, for Natural Resources Defense Council.
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