Feb 16, 2006

A Commitment to Storm Water

At last year’s StormCon, the annual North American Surface Water Quality Conference and Exposition, Santa Monica’s Urban Runoff Management Coordinator Neal Shapiro co-presented a seminar on the city of Santa Monica Watershed Management Program. The city’s long-term strategy is to promote projects that work with nature’s water cycle, rather than against it, toward increasing the city’s overall permeability percentage and away from paving over land and moving runoff to a receiving water body. By treating and reusing runoff, the city is developing a local water resource. Benefits of the program include cleaner water, less dependence on imported water, lower water and sewer bills and protection of aquatic habitats. Shapiro discussed Santa Monica’s approach to storm water management with Storm Water 2006.

SW06: Is there any specific technology employed by the city of Santa Monica that makes storm water management easier?

Neal Shapiro: The city allows property owners to come up with the BMP(s) for his or her property and project. There is an extensive suite of BMPs from which to select, from a typical infiltration pit to cisterns to green roofs, from infiltration back into the ground to collection and reuse of runoff. The city does not employ any specific technology because each site is different.

The city does, however, have a hierarchy of BMPs to employ. The highest priority is to use a BMP that collects runoff for immediate reuse in the landscape or indoor flushing in order to reduce the need for imported and far more expensive potable water. The second priority is to collect runoff and infiltrate it back into the ground and recharge aquifers, if they exist in the area, to be extracted for reuse at a future time. The third priority is to treat runoff and release it to the storm drain system, where it will flow into the Santa Monica Bay, hopefully far cleaner, so that water quality is protected, and beneficial uses are safeguarded.

What makes storm water management easier is proper planning during the design phase of a project, to design BMPs into one’s project and to design the building and landscape with runoff mitigation in the forefront of planning, employing low-impact development principles. In most cases, it is easier and cheaper to incorporate BMPs in a construction project than to retrofit an existing building with BMPs.

SW06: What are some storm water challenges the city of Santa Monica faces today?

Shapiro: TMDL and NPDES requirements continue to impose rising costs on cities. Existing funding sources are inadequate, and in California, proposition 218 has made raising storm water fees near impossible.

SW06: What are the best solutions to these challenges?

Shapiro: Creative funding strategies—the public is going to have to come to the plate in a bigger way to help fund these challenges. A supportive community, especially in terms of dramatic behavioral changes such as picking up after your pet; not littering, in fact, picking up litter when you see it; restaurant cooperation in not cleaning business equipment in alleys; not feeding, and thereby attracting, birds; and preventing runoff from sprinkler systems and other cleaning and gardening practices. Requiring BMPs for all land uses and most construction projects, whether new or retrofit, is another solution.

SW06: What does the future hold for storm water management in Santa Monica?

Shapiro: Commitment by the city to work with its residents, businesses and environmental groups to develop equitable and fair strategies to raise funding for future runoff management efforts, development of a long-term funding program and public capital improvement projects schedule and participation by the residents and businesses in implementing runoff solutions so that the city meets the deadlines imposed by the state and federal governments.

About the author

Osgood is an assistant editor with Water & Wastes Digest. She can be reached at 847/397-1025 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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