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Thanks for your interest in the City of LA's Team Effort! Together, we are all working towards cleaner neighborhoods and beaches.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Enter Your Pooch In Our Photo Contest

We're getting into the Halloween spirit with a doggie photo contest! Just submit a holiday themed photo of your favorite four-legged friend to our Facebook page (no later than November 9) and you could win a gift card to Eco-Pet LA.*

Not on Facebook? That's OK, you can also email us at LAstormwater@lacity.org

* Thanks to Eco-Pet for the donation. You guys rock!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

LA Prepares for Tricks & Treats this Season

October marks the beginning of the rainy season here in Los Angeles. It is also the time of year when we celebrate a culturally popular holiday – Halloween. As we enter the wet winter months ahead, Los Angeles faces some potentially frightening challenges. Will the El Niño conditions predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists create monstrous storms knocking at LA’s door? How will the devastation left behind by the destructive Station Fire impact the quality of urban runoff in our watersheds? How can bacteria – a hideously hidden pollutant in urban runoff – potentially impact the health of beach goers and marine life?

In this issue of LA Stormwater, we highlight these challenges with a Halloween twist. The articles will feature very real obstacles facing Los Angeles in the months to come, but as you’ll see, every challenge presents an opportunity for Los Angeles to continue in its role as an environmental leader.

In July, NOAA scientists announced the arrival of El Niño, the periodic warming of central and eastern tropical Pacific waters. It is a climate phenomenon with significant influence on global weather and ocean conditions. El Niño’s chilling characteristics have typically included menacing winter storms in the Southland, causing severe flooding, mudslides and compromised water quality from the witch’s brew of polluted urban runoff flowing through creeks, rivers and lakes to our local bays. Even so, regular rainfall is a welcome occurrence in our dry climate. We need water for our crops, our rivers and our soil. It is a vital component of our ecological health. However, too large of a dose all at once can cause serious ramifications to our local waterways, if we're not prepared. Go to this article.

As the school year began in September, Los Angeles experienced the wicked Station Fire. Charring more than 250 square miles in LA County and the Angeles National Forest, this fiendish fire created a smoldering, barren moonscape that could have a devastating impact on water quality in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers’ watersheds. The rains may loosen sediment and rocks, send mudslides through foothill communities, and clog LA’s storm drain system. Go to this article.

During this season of ghosts and goblins, we are often scared by the monsters that we can see. But in urban runoff, it is an unseen pollutant that can cause the most harm. Bacteria are a hidden pollutant in urban runoff that can cause illnesses in beach goers and marine life alike. In this issue, we’ll explore the causes of bacterial pollution and the problems it can create in our waterways. Go to this article.

Despite the monstrous challenges facing us on this Hallows Eve, opportunities abound to meet and exceed these obstacles. Yes, an El Niño year presents LA with the threat of increased rainfall, but by adopting a few simple good housekeeping practices, homeowners can minimize El Niño’s impact. The damage created by the Station Fire has the potential to create mudslides and sediment flows, but Los Angeles crews are trained and prepared to meet this challenge. And, while bacteria remain a major pollutant of concern, Los Angeles continues to lead the way in developing programs and projects to combat this contaminant.

Enjoy this Halloween issue of LA Stormwater! I remain hopeful that the upcoming rainy season will be filled with more treats than tricks.


Shahram Kharaghani

Stormwater Program Manager

Taking the Boo out of Bacteria

You can’t see it but it’s there, hiding out, just waiting for you in the storm drain. It's not a ghost or a scary monster, although it is certainly frightening.

It's bacteria.

Unlike other stormwater pollutants such as oil and litter, bacteria cannot be seen with the naked eye. While most environmental microorganisms are part of a natural healthy ecosystem, there is a small percentage of them, found in dog waste and bird droppings, that threaten the health of our environment. And, because animal waste is, unfortunately, prevalent in our cityscape and can be easily broken down by rain and picked up by excess water flowing off of yards, bacteria are often found lurking in our rivers, creeks and lakes. When these harmful microorganisms find their way to our coastline, authorities are forced to close beaches.

As you may know, we have two water drainage systems in Los Angeles, one for wastewater (sanitary sewage system) and one for stormwater (regional storm drain system). Wastewater from our homes (showers, sinks, toilets, etc.) is treated before it is released back into the environment. Harmful bacteria are removed in the process. However, this is not the case with stormwater, which travels untreated through our regional waterways to the ocean.

To reduce the amount of bacteria in our city's urban runoff and to ensure compliance with state regulations (Bacteria Total Maximum Daily Loads, or TMDLs) regarding acceptable harmful bacteria levels in Ballona Creek and Los Angeles River, the City is employing an array of projects and programs to deal with this hidden hazard. "The first step in this process is to find out where the bacteria are hiding and that means ongoing monitoring of LA's rivers, creeks, lakes and shoreline," says Vivian Marquez, Environmental Supervisor with the City's Watershed Protection Program, in describing the City's strategy to first understand the nature of bacteria, its sources (human, warm-blooded animals or avian) and their hotspots. "Once we identify the type of bacteria in a certain waterbody, then we can figure out their source and develop and implement a best management practice that will successfully reduce the level of bacteria. You must know the beast first before you can slay it," continued Marquez.

Partnerships with other regional agencies have also been key in the fight to reduce bacteria levels along Santa Monica Bay. From Castlerock to Imperial Highway along Southern California's coast, 19 low-flow diversions, owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles, City of Santa Monica and County of Los Angeles, divert bacteria-laden urban runoff during the dry summer months to the City's Hyperion Wastewater Plant for treatment before discharge. Annually, these low-flow diversions redirect millions of gallons of polluted urban runoff away from our beaches and into our sanitary sewer system for treatment.

To address the bacteria challenge at the community level, the City recently implemented a pilot Take a Bag, Leave a Bag program in three communities. Working with community leaders in the Elysian Park, Ascot Hills and Sepulveda Basin areas, the City installed permanent dog waste bag dispensers in parks and on trails frequented by dogs and their owners. Partnering community groups agreed to maintain the dispensers by keeping them filled with reusable plastic bags. “We have to work together to reduce the waste and debris that carries harmful bacteria,” says Joyce Amaro, City of Los Angeles Stormwater Public Education Manager. "A big part of this is making dog waste bags accessible to dog owners so that it is convenient for them to always pick up after their dogs," Amaro continued. It is the City's hope to be able to expand this partnership program in future years.

There are several easy ways residents can team with the City to reduce bacteria levels in urban runoff. First, always pick up after your dog. In addition to carrying baleful bacteria which can cause illnesses in people, dog waste can also carry viruses such as Canine Distemper and Canine Parvovirus that are harmful to dogs. Second, only spot apply fertilizers (even if organic) and never use fertilizers or pesticides before a forecasted rain event. This will prevent the fertilizer from being washed off your lawn and into our creeks, rivers and lakes.

Reducing pollution in our creeks, rivers and lakes is a team effort. Utilizing evaluation, engineering and education, the City is doing its part to lower the levels of bacteria in our regional waterways to create a safer and healthier Los Angeles. Yes, bacteria may be a spooktacular pollutant, but together we can take the "Boo!" out of bacteria.

Are you a dog owner? Make sure you're signed up to receive our doggie eUpdates. Simply click here to update your profile, and check "I own a dog" under user preferences.

Wicked Wildfires with Wet Weather...Watershed Woes

Wicked wildfires and frightful floods are a natural and challenging part of the ecological cycle here in California. Fire is essential in Mediterranean ecosystems with certain species of native plants needing fire to guarantee their existence. All too often, however, these fires take place in the fall when the flames are fanned by fierce Santa Ana winds that hauntingly howl through our canyons. These fires leave behind ashy moonscapes and barren areas of land devoid of vegetation. It is these desolate landscapes onto which winter's first raindrops fall, and while rain is always welcomed here in Southern California, vast areas without groundcover mixed with heavy rain produces a new threat - mudslides. The fact that a high percentage of Los Angeles neighborhoods are within the Wildland Urban Interface (or WUI) - areas where homes meet forest or wildland - California's fire and flood cycle presents homeowners with added challenges.

The recent Station Fire vividly demonstrated the devastating impact that fire can have here in the Southland. It claimed two lives, destroyed dozens of homes and scorched a staggering 250 square miles in the foothill communities of La Canada-Flintridge, Altadena, Pasadena and Angeles National Forest. The next challenge we face with an El Niño winter predicted is the increased potential for flooding and mudslides. Barren hillsides and increased rainfall create a calamitous combination for destructive debris flows that can threaten communities, clog our storm drain system and create flooding in LA's watersheds.

In September, Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams from the U.S. Forest Service assessed the burn area and its potential for mudslides. The LA Times reported that scientists' concern revolves around a process called "entraining" which is when rain falls on bare ground and washes away topsoil, sand, small rocks and burned plant material creating an unstoppable avalanche.

"As a result of the recent wildfires there will likely be a larger than normal quantity of debris and pollutants captured by our storm drains this winter," says Robert Potter, with the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation. He adds, "In preparation for this season's rain, all City-owned catch basins and debris basins have been cleaned to minimize the possibility of flooding. Sanitation crews will be ready to respond to storm-related emergencies should they occur."

Earlier this month, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) issued a study stating that rainstorms could cause massive debris flows in our local waterways with even the slightest rain falls in the San Gabriel mountains this winter.

"We have calculated really high probabilities of really big flows," said Susan Cannon, a geologist for the USGS. "Some of the areas burned by the Station Fire show the highest likelihood for big debris flows I've ever seen."

Although the Station Fire has ceased, LA's fire season is far from over and our rainy season is just beginning. Residents can do their part to prepare.

Fire Preparedness and Prevention:
- Develop a home fire evacuation plan and discuss it with your family.
- Create a defensible space around your home. Manage the vegetation surrounding your property by removing dead plants and maintaining a 200 foot perimeter between structures and foliage.
- Keep rooftops and gutters free of flammable debris such as leaves or pine cones.
- Heed evacuation order when issued by authorities.

Flooding Preparedness and Prevention:
- Remove or secure loose debris on your property to prevent it from entering our waterways.
- Avoid outdoor watering on rainy days to conserve water and prevent street flooding.
- Use sand bags to direct mud flows away from property.

While the fires and floods here in Southern California are part of a natural cycle we have little control over, we can prepare and minimize their potentially devastating impacts. "The City is a partner with residents," Potter said. "Together we can promote public health and safety during LA's fire and flood season."

For information about fire prevention tips:

Public Works Department Residential Advisory Site: http://dpw.lacounty.gov/care/

City of LA Fire Department: http://lafd.org/

US Forest Service: http://www.fs.fed.us/fire/prev_ed/prevention/index.html

LA County Fire Department: http://www.fire.lacounty.gov/

For information about the connection between fires, flooding and water quality:

Los Angeles Times: Concerns rise about mudslides in areas burned by Station Fire

LA Creek Freak: Invasive plants: like pouring oil on water – and setting it on fire

Rambling LA Blog: Nature-loving Southern Californians are endangering the landscapes they love

National Public Radio: Long Recovery in Store for Scorched Calif. Hillsides

El Nino-He's Back...

In July, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists announced the return of El Niño, a climate phenomenon with significant influence on global weather. Occurring, on average, once every two to seven years and typically lasting 12 months, El Niño is the warming of central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean waters. Generally, an El Niño event will produce increased rainfall across the east-central and eastern Pacific and drier than normal conditions over northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The phenomenon was first recognized by South American fishermen who noticed unusually warm Pacific Ocean waters occurring near the beginning of the year. Because it typically happened around Christmas time, it was given the Spanish name El Niño meaning "the Little One."

Here in Southern California, El Niño’s creepy characteristics have typically included multiple menacing winter storms with the potential to cause severe flooding and mudslides. Additionally, the threat of major ocean pollution here in Los Angeles is very real in an El Niño year. "Even on the driest day here in LA, 10 million gallons of urban runoff flows through our rivers, creeks and lakes," states Enrique C. Zaldivar, director of the Bureau of Sanitation. "During one heavy rainstorm the quantity of stormwater runoff flow can increase to one billion gallons," continued Zaldivar. This rainwater unintentionally picks up lecherous litter, dastardly dog droppings and chilling car chemicals, creating a toxic witch's brew that flows untreated to our local bays where it threatens human and environmental health.

During a drought, rain is undoubtedly a welcome occurrence. The key is to ensure that we are treating that rain as a resource instead of a liability. Here are a few simple measures that we can adopt to minimize El Niño’s impact:

  • Organize a clean up in your own community. Remember that all storm drains lead straight to the ocean so picking up litter in your own neighborhood will create a cleaner ocean. For a listing of community clean-ups, visit LAStormwater.org/teameffort

  • Make sure all drains and gutters on your property are debris free and functioning properly. Check the storm drain at the end of your street. If it’s clogged, report it to the City’s Stormwater Hotline at (800) 974-9794.

  • Make sure your yard does not have large bare areas that could create mudflows during a storm. Autumn is a good time to put down mulch and establish native plants.

Yes, El Niño is back, but by adopting a few good housekeeping practices this winter we can work as a team to keep El Niño from becoming the monster that knocks down LA’s door.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Call for Comments on LID Ordinance

The City of LA wants to thank everyone who participated in the Low Impact Development (LID) workshops earlier this month.

A total of 66 program stakeholders attended the workshops, including representatives from a variety of organizations (business/development community, environmental community, neighboring cities and Los Angeles neighborhood councils).

The draft of the LID ordinance is now ready for your review and comments. Please email your comments directly to LAstormwater@lacity.org.

Low Impact Development (LID) is a relatively new approach to managing stormwater and urban runoff while mitigating the negative impacts of development and urbanization. The City has been in the process of developing this ordinance and accompanying Low-Impact Development (LID) manual to provide guidance for Low-Impact Development Standards.

The Stormwater Program is seeking public comments to be received no later than end of day November 6th. The LID ordinance will be presented to the Board of Public Works on November 13th.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stormwater Reuse Bill Passes in California

A new California bill 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.

With California facing both 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.

LA will of course be one of the cities vying for the extra help. According to Wing Tam, assistant division manager of our Watershed Protection Division (WPD), the money will fund an expansion of the rainwater harvesting projects and green infrastructure, including large cisterns, stream restoration, biofiltration and downspout disconnections.

For more information and stories on this bill, check out L.A. Times's Greenspace Blog.

Rain Barrel Expert Needed ASAP!

The City of Los Angeles is seeking a rain barrel installation expert willing to participate as an instructor in a City of Los Angeles “How To” video.* The video will serve as a tool for residents who are looking to install a rain barrel at their property. The video will be available online as well as in DVD (by request).

Participation will include an announcement of your name and business in the introduction of the video. Please allow a full day (8 hours) of availability for production.

If interested, please send an email no later than Thursday, 10/22/09 to Codi Harris at charris@sga-inc.net with the following information:
How many years have you been installing rain barrels?

About how many rain barrels have you installed?

The following questions are applicable, only if you own or are affiliated with a business that installs rain barrels:

  • What is the business name, address, website?
  • Does the business service clients in the greater Los Angeles area?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Public Invited to Prop O COAC Meeting (10/21)

On Wednesday, October 21, the Citizens Oversight Advisory Committee (COAC) will be hosting a Prop O general meeting where they will be discussing Prop O funded projects such as Echo Park Lake’s rehab and the Westchester Stormwater best management practices project.

The public is welcome to attend this open forum meeting and will be given a slot on the agenda to allow for time to share their thoughts and concerns about Prop O related projects (see agenda items listed below).

The meeting will take place at 2:00 p.m. at the following location:

City Hall East, 15th Floor

200 North Main Street, Room 1500

Los Angeles, CA 90012


1. Approval of the Minutes for September 29, 2009 special meeting

2. City Administrative Officer (CAO)/Chief Legislative Analyst (CLA)/Citizens Oversight Advisory Committee (COAC) representative update on Proposition O (Prop O) issues and Administrative Oversight Committee (AOC) meetings

3. Discussion and Possible Action: Westchester Stormwater BMP project

4. Discussion and Possible Action: Peck Park Canyon Enhancement project Front-funding for Prop 50 grant o Cultural Affairs 1% Arts Fee requirement

5. Discussion and Possible Action: Echo Park Lake Rehabilitation project design update

6. Discussion and Possible Action: Bureaus of Sanitation and Engineering Update on TMDL compliance and project schedules

7. Discussion: Bureau of Engineering Monthly Reports – September 2009

8. Discussion and Possible Action: Biennial Report to City Council

9. Discussion: Low Impact Development Ordinance

10. Discussion and Possible Action: Future agenda items

11. General Public Comment

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's Raining, It's Pouring...The Barrels Are Working!

Today's rain has put those newly installed Rainwater Harvesting barrels to work! All of you who have already received your barrels know that they fill up quickly. One good thing to note is that the barrels come equipped with spouts to allow for additional barrels to be hooked up and collect overflow. Also, we've read blog posts about people filling up buckets (during lulls in the rain) to water plants and also hooking up hoses to help divert some of the water to permeable surfaces.

Read some Mar Vista bloggers who are talking about their experience:


(Photo from Sherri Akers' barrel)

Rainwater Harvesting to Stop Accepting Applications

Tomorrow is the last day (for residents) to submit an application for the Rainwater Harvesting program. If you have not yet submitted your application, please make sure to do so ASAP at www.larainwaterharvesting.org Please note that businesses are still encouraged to apply after tomorrow's deadline.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


The American Society of Civil Engineers, Metropolitan Los Angeles Branch (ASCE MLAB) named Dr. Shahram Kharaghani, manager of the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works Bureau of Sanitation Watershed Protection Division, as 2009 Outstanding Civil Engineer in Government. The honor is given to public servants who promote and implement innovative concepts, research and materials to help advance the field of civil engineering.

As manager of the City’s stormwater pollution abatement programs and flood control infrastructure, Shahram ensures the City’s compliance with the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit and Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL). He is also responsible for the implementation of five stormwater model programs in the areas of Illicit Connection/Discharge, Public Agency, Construction, Planning and Engineering.

Shahram is also credited for the successful passage of Proposition O, the $500-million clean water bond that funds more than 25 stormwater projects that improve water quality in the City of Los Angeles. A stormwater expert with more than 25 years of experience in various aspects of engineering, Shahram is a registered professional civil engineer in the State of California and board-certified environmental engineer.

Shahram will receive the award at the organization’s awards banquet on October 8 at the Tom Bradley Tower in downtown City Hall.

For more information about Shahram and the Watershed Protection Division, visit http://www.lastormwater.org/.

Also be sure to sign up for our e-newsletter to get news from Shahram and our Stormwater Program team.