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Friday, January 29, 2010

The Ripples Behind and the Waves Ahead - A Message from the Stormwater Program Manager

It’s hard to believe that I’ll commemorate a decade with the Stormwater Program in 2010. It’s even harder to consider that Los Angeles’ Stormwater Program celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Time sure does fly!

The City’s Program has grown significantly in the past 20 years. In 1990, the original staff of the then-named Stormwater Group was comprised of just two people working to meet early stormwater regulations that were the result of the 1987 amendment to the 1972 Clean Water Act. Since those early days, the division has matured to more than 80 dedicated staff members implementing a comprehensive watershed protection program that includes education, engineering, enforcement, research and development, monitoring, and conducting scientific studies. And, in the process, the program has become one of the national leaders in stormwater management garnering the respect of agencies throughout the country with award winning projects and programs.

Of course, like all programs, we’ve also had our share of challenges, and we are currently facing some daunting issues that will test us for years to come. As our program enters its third decade, we face obstacles that range from multiple and increasingly stricter federal regulations to recent budget deficits that force us to do more and more with fewer resources.

These obstacles, however, are also opportunities for the program to grow and mature. Stricter water quality goals also mean greater impact on the work we do, which in turn speeds up the process to achieving these objectives. This of course, does not come without hard work, but I believe our staff and community partners are up to the challenge.

As we enter this new decade, I’m encouraged by a paradigm shift that I’m seeing and the opportunities afforded by this change. More and more in this era of drought, people are realizing that rainwater is a resource that can be used or infiltrated back into decreasing groundwater supplies, instead of a liability that needs to be diverted and removed as quickly as possible. The overwhelming residential support we’ve enjoyed with our pilot Rainwater Harvesting Program and the recent collaborative work we’ve done with the community to craft a workable yet flexible Low Impact Development (LID) ordinance demonstrates the desire on the part of City residents to do their part in conserving this most precious resource.

In this issue of the LA Stormwater newsletter (sign up here), we’ll take a glance back at the last 20 years and provide a look ahead at the future of the City’s program. You’ll enjoy interviews with a few of the Stormwater Survivors, those dedicated staff members who have been with the City’s Program through most of its history. We’ll also feature an article by guest-writer Mark Gold, President of Heal the Bay, who will provide an environmnetalist's viewpoint. Lastly, we’ll issue a challenge to you – the community – to make a few simple rainwater resolutions as we enter a new decade.

Even after 20 years, the solution to clean water remains the same. It calls for a team effort, with the City and community working together to bring about the change we all want – cleaner creeks, rivers, lakes and beaches for our families and children.

To all, a healthy and prosperous 2010!

Best Regards,

Shahram Kharaghani, Stormwater Program Manager

Click here to view all of the articles in Issue 9 of the LA Stormwater newsletter.

Heal the Bay's Executive Director Looks Back on the Stormwater Program's 20 Years

by Mark Gold

After 20 years, the City of Los Angeles’ stormwater program is at a crossroads.

The program has come a long way since its beginnings in the early nineties as a result of the Hyperion consent decree and new regulations under the federal Clean Water Act and the first countywide stormwater permit. The City has done a superb job on stormwater education for students, businesses and the public. During the early 1990s, we worked closely with the City on our Gutter Patrol program where volunteers helped stencil tens of thousands of catch basins all over the city. Today, the City runs the program and you can’t find a catch basin in the city without a “No Dumping” stencil.

Los Angeles has led the way on clean beaches by installing about a dozen dry weather runoff diversions. I still remember the press event with Mayor Bradley for the first diversion at the Pico-Kenter stormdrain at Santa Monica Beach. Dry weather runoff diversions have transformed numerous “F” beaches on Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card into “A” beaches during the summer months. Soon, thanks to Proposition O funds for year round dry weather runoff diversions, most LA beaches will soon get “A”s for the entire year. Runoff diversions have protected the public health of millions of swimmers and helped restore the image of beautiful and safe Santa Monica Bay beaches.

Another milestone for the City was the passage of Proposition O. Over 76% of the public voted for the 500 million dollar measure to clean up our rivers, lakes, beaches and bays by reducing stormwater pollution. Proposition O is providing the capital funds needed to divert dry weather runoff, clean up Machado Lake and Echo Park Lake, capture and infiltrate runoff for local water supply in the Valley, and infiltrate stormwater in the Santa Monica Bay watershed to help clean up the Bay.

Although the pace of the projects isn’t as fast as I would have hoped, the vast majority of Proposition O projects are good projects that reduce runoff pollution and provide other benefits such as greening the City, reducing flood risk and augmenting local water supplies. Unfortunately, Proposition O only pays for building the projects themselves. The funds can not be used for operations and maintenance so the new projects are actually adding to the watershed protection programs ongoing budget difficulties.

Recently, the City has changed their approach to stormwater pollution prevention. They’ve always talked a good game on watershed protection, but in the last few years, there has been a transformation that has gone beyond calling the department the Watershed Protection Division. The division developed a Water Quality Compliance Master Plan that takes an engineering approach to linking watershed planning with water quality compliance.

The City is about to pass a far reaching Low Impact Development ordinance that will require new and redevelopment to capture and reuse or infiltrate 100% of the runoff generated from a three quarter inch storm. The ordinance will make developers, business and homeowners partners in efforts to reduce stormwater pollution and augment local water supplies by helping to create a green infrastructure in the City. I hope that the City will move forward with green streets and alleys requirements that will further the move towards Mayor Villaraigosa’s vision of making LA the cleanest, greenest major city in the country.

Finally, the City was an innovator in stormwater program funding. Back in the early 1990s, the City created a Stormwater Pollution Abatement Charge (SPAC) to pay for new programs. Unfortunately, thanks to Proposition 218, the City Council lost the ability to increase SPAC fees without a two thirds vote of the electorate. As a result, the SPAC has not been increased in nearly 20 years. The cost of the City’s stormwater and watershed protection program should be approximately $120 million a year, yet the SPAC generates less than $30 million a year. Even today’s stormwater and watershed protection programs cost the City about $60 million a year, so there the program always has to compete for general funds: an extremely difficult task in a poor economy.

Despite two decades of progress and the vision of Mayor Villaraigosa, the promise of Los Angeles’ efforts to transform into a City with a green infrastructure that protects our fundamental right to clean water is in jeopardy unless we do something to solve the funding crisis. Clean water is a necessity, a legal requirement and a right and is not something to be sacrificed during tough economic times. The challenge is, will we be bold enough to move forward on the promise and vision of a green LA with clean water, or will we maintain the status quo.

Mark Gold is president of Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica-based environmental organization.

Click here to view all of the articles in Issue 9 of the LA Stormwater newsletter.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Survivor: Stormwater Staff Reflect on the Last 20 Years

In 1990, a group of castaways (i.e. staff) were sent to the not-so-remote location of Los Angeles to start a tribe named the Stormwater Management Division that was faced with a challenge: protect water quality. OK, so maybe it's not exactly like the show Survivor, but you get where we're going with this. Now in its twentieth season the Stormwater tribe is bigger, but their challenge is still the same. We thought you'd like to hear from some of the folks who have been here since the beginning. First, some intros:

Name: Wing Tam
Years with the Tribe: 19
Official Title: Senior Environmental Engineer
What that Means:
As an Assistant Division Manager for the City’s Watershed Protection Division, Wing Tam provides leadership by developing and implementing green infrastructure projects. He is a Registered Professional Civil Engineer in the State of California and has more than 25 years of management experience in water resources, wastewater, stormwater, finance, and information management and geographic information systems technology. Wing has focused on urban runoff and stormwater quality management in the Los Angeles area for the last 19 years and currently leads the effort for the City’s Proposition O Clean Water Bond Program and Green Streets/Infrastructure Initiative.

Name: Joyce Amaro
Years with the Tribe: 18
Official Title: Senior Management Analyst I
What that Means:
Joyce Amaro is the Public Education Manager for the City's Stormwater Program. She began her career with the Stormwater Management Division in 1992 as a clerk typist. She promoted into her current position in 2000 and is proud to have been with the City's Stormwater Program for the majority of its 20-year history.

Name: Ammar Eltawil
Years with the Tribe: About 19
Official Title: Civil Engineering Associate IV
What that Means:
Ammar Eltawil is the lead plan check engineer for the Standard Urban Stormwater Mitigation Plan (SUSMP) counter. His duties include reviewing and checking plans for private and public developments to insure compliance with the current NPDES permit; provide technical assistance to private developers and other City Departments/ Bureau to determine adequate cost effective BMPs; and provide training, guidance and support for the SUSMP plan checking team.

Oscar Amaro
Years with the Tribe:
Official Title: Graphics Supervisor I
What that Means:
Oscar Amaro oversees all graphical and visual elements of the program including outreach materials, web presence, displays, presentations and conceptual art. This also includes creating visual materials for the Los Angeles River Revitalization efforts as well as the Plastic Bag Recycling Program.


What would you be doing if you were not working for the Program?

Oscar Amaro: I am incredibly fortunate to have a career that mirrors both my interest in art and illustration, and my commitment and passion for the environment — especially the ocean. Even if I were not working for the City's Stormwater Program, I would hope to be in a similar field of work related to water resources.

Ammar Eltawil: If I were not working for the Program, I would still be working in this field serving the environment. Even when I go on vacation to other States whether it is Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, or Montana, I continue to have the program in my mind; I am always on the look out for new ideas on how they are managing their stormwater runoff. And when I see something I explain it to my children.

How has the Program changed over these past 20 years?

Joyce Amaro: As far as the public education program is concerned, we're a lot more sophisticated and targeted in our outreach than we were 20 years ago. Back in the early 1990s, the focus was on simply educating people that Los Angeles had a storm drain system. Now that public awareness about the issue has increased, we're focusing on behavior change and targeting our messages to specific audiences.

Wing Tam: The program has evolved from its infancy into its current adolescent stage. It is still relatively new and is showing some signs of maturity. The stormwater field was a relatively new arena 20 years ago; it started out as simple developmental laboratory research in the field to implementation of natural sustainable practices. Valuable lessons were learned and knowledge gained during this time, which has helped us develop our current framework and approach to stormwater issues.

What has been your most memorable moment with the Program?

Oscar Amaro: On a purely selfish and personal perspective ... meeting my future wife (Joyce) — whom I still closely work with after all this time! We have a wonderful working relationship and it helps that we are both passionate about the ocean (we were married in Catalina!) and care about the sea life as well as the health of our natural resources. And now that we have a toddler, we want him to have that same love of nature — our environment. I also plan on making him my SCUBA buddy when he grows up!

On a professional level, it was seeing the program's initial art piece (the "Make the Connection" poster) resonate with so many people. This is the piece that launched our credibility and national presence on the stormwater issue. After that poster went public, we were getting calls from agencies from across the U.S. as well as from Australia and the Far East wanting to borrow or reuse the art. Another thrill has been seeing how passionate kids are about our ocean, the creatures in it — and being eager to want to help. We knew we had to tap into that passion in order to enlighten and change the habits of a new generation.

Joyce Amaro: Since I've spent almost my entire adult life working here in the City's Stormwater Program and met my husband Oscar here in 1992, I really do feel as though I live and breathe stormwater! I don't have a single 'most memorable moment' with the Stormwater Program. Instead I have 18 years of memories (happy, heartwarming and, yes, challenging at times) which all represent my personal passion and my work - a love and protection of the environment and Pacific Ocean.

Ammar Eltawil: Each assignment that I’ve worked on has a very memorable moment. One of the first assignments that I worked on was to update the drainage maps with all the storm drains that outlet into the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek. I filed my observations daily and became very familiar with most of the major large outlets. Some were large enough to drive a truck through. Because of this knowledge, the public outreach group asked me to accompany them on a tour with Huell Howser, the host of the TV show: California’s Gold. We spent a whole day showing him most of the Los Angeles River including some underground sections of major tributary channels. I believe that episode was a success, and I always remember this day every time I watch his show.

How was the issue of stormwater pollution approached when you were young?

Joyce Amaro: When I was young, growing up here in LA in the 1970s, the issue of stormwater pollution wasn't on anyone's radar and environmental issues as a whole were sadly lacking in school. I've always had a love of the ocean and remember sitting on a rock jetty many times in Long Beach as a child, enjoying the waves and looking out towards Catalina Island. My work with the City's program is a natural extension of the love I had as a child.

Ammar Eltawil: As a refugee, I lived the first seventeen years of my life in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Average annual rainfall there is less than 7 inches! Streets were always flooded every time it rained because they do not have adequate storm drainage systems. Stormwater pollution was never on anybody’s radar, but I was always interested in solving the flooding problem. My work and experience with the Watershed Protection Division is more than what I bargained for; I was fortunate to be part of the Sun Valley Watershed Stakeholder Group working on a similar situation. Not only can we solve the flooding problem; all stormwater can be retained from the watershed for infiltration or capture and use. The Sun Valley Park pilot project will testify to that.

Where do you see the Program in the next 20 years (i.e. 2030)?

Oscar Amaro: Hmm...interesting question. With Los Angeles having an arid climate, rainwater should be a valuable resource rather than simply being something that gets routed off and away. I'd like to see that attitude change not only on a public level, but also from a municipal level. Even though we’ve had a lot of rainfall recently, this is not the norm year round. I'm a huge advocate of open space, but I also know how powerful developer's "influence" can sway politicians and their decision-making. That said I'd like to see developers taxed to pay for building some type of stormwater retention/recycling facility. If their developments are going to prevent rainwater from being absorbed into aquifers (from increased paving), then they should shoulder the responsibility for making sure runoff is not only free of contaminants, but also put to good re-use.

Wing Tam: With the dawn of a new decade, I am encouraged that people are beginning to realize rainwater is a precious resource that needs to be captured and used to enhance our limited water supply. In 2009, we launched the wildly popular Rainwater Harvesting Program and the Green Streets Initiative. The overwhelming residential and development community support was phenomenal and I hope, by 2030, rainwater harvesting will be the norm -- something practiced by every homeowner and developer in all LA communities.

Click here to view all of the articles in Issue 9 of the LA Stormwater newsletter.

Monday, January 25, 2010

5 Rainwater Resolutions for the New Year

The New Year means a rebirth of sorts.

It is a time to reflect and a time to look forward. While we like to look at our accomplishments, it's even more important to look at the work ahead. As such, what better way to ring in a new decade than by making a few simple rainwater resolutions to improve the quality of your neighborhood and our city. Take a look below and pick one, or two (or five if you're really a super star) clean water resolutions that you'd like to commit to in 2010.
****Make sure to visit our Facebook page and post your rainwater resolution on our wall. As a way of saying great job we'll mail you the item of your choice from our 'swag' album. After you've posted your resolution, just email us at LAstormwater@lacity.org to tell us your pick.***

Resolution #1
Make the One-a-Day Pledge
We know that everyone reading this blog is already putting your garbage in a trash can, but how about if you commit to picking up one piece of litter everyday? It's very simple. Just think of this: if everyone who reads this post were to pick up one piece of trash every day of 2010, we would eliminate over 1 million pieces of trash from entering the storm drain system. That's a lot of garbage! You may not be creating the litter, but it certainly doesn't hurt to help keep it out of our waterways.

Resolution #2
Volunteer Your Time for Clean Water
Commit to participating in at least one day of service to help protect our lakes, rivers and ocean. A day of service may involve a beach clean-up or a tree planting. There are many non-profits throughout the City that are committed to improving our waterways and that offer opportunities for you to volunteer. Check out our calendar at www.lastormwater.org/teameffort where you will find one that fits with a location and time that is most convenient for you. And if you do decide to volunteer, why not check out Disney's volunteer page? Volunteer for an event in your zip code and you will receive a free pass to Disneyland!

Resolution #3
Become a Facebook Fan....and Tell a Friend!
The LA Stormwater Facebook page helps you stay connected with all of the latest and greatest water quality updates. You will also be the first to find out about giveaways and programs that the City is offering to help improve our community, such as the rain barrel giveaway that was part of the Rainwater Harvesting program. Already a fan? Invite your family and friends to join too!

Resolution #4
Start Harvesting Rainwater
The words L.A. and rain aren't usually a likely pair, but these past couple weeks have taught us that sometimes when it rains it pours! Despite all of the showers we've received, we are still in drought. So how about capturing that water for later use? It helps conserve potable water from being used outdoors and it prevents all that urban runoff from picking up pollutants before it leads directly to our rivers and ocean.
The LA Rainwater Harvesting Program, which some of you may have been part of, is in the process of providing more than 500 rain barrel installations to properties in the Ballona Creek watershed. The pilot program has received an overwhelming response, and we hope that we will be able to continue this program in the future by expanding it to other areas in the City. If you're itching to get started now, refer to our How-To Guide to install your own rain barrel. Also coming soon is an instructional barrel installation video. Stay tuned!

Resolution #5
Pick Up After Your Pooch
Nobody likes to step on a pile of poop on the sidewalk. And no one enjoys beaches and rivers flowing with fecal matter. When we don't pick up after our dogs when we take them for a walk, or when they do their business in the backyard, we are a part of the problem, not the solution. Unattended dog waste can cause health issues with other pets as well as humans who come into contact with them. Not only that, when rains come and wash dog waste into our storm drain system, that dog waste ends up entering our stormwater and is released completely untreated into the ocean. Beachgoers don't want poop in their water and aquatic life too, would prefer to go without it. So make a little resolution to continue picking up after your pet.

So there you go! Five good reasons to ditch the "lose 15 pounds" routine and go for a resolution you can keep, and one that makes you feel good about giving back to your community! Clean water and a clean conscience, what more can you ask for?

Click here to view all of the articles in Issue 9 of the LA Stormwater newsletter.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rainwater Resolutions for Rover

It’s hard to believe that we’re already celebrating a new year and a new decade! It seems like just yesterday we were all ushering in a new millennium and hoping Y2K wouldn’t impact us too much.

With the start of 2010, we’re all making resolutions, so how about keeping your dog in mind when making a few new pledges that will pawsitively impact the health of our communities and the environment? Here are a few simple rainwater resolutions for Rover as we enter 2010:

Always Pick Up After Your Dog – Make a pledge to always pick up after your dog. As you may know, unattended dog waste is a major pollutant in our neighborhoods and can be flushed into our storm drain system when it rains. The toxic mix of bacteria from dog waste and water then flows untreated into our rivers, creeks, lakes and ocean. The City of LA’s Stormwater Public Education Program even makes it easy to keep this pledge. E-mail us at lastormwater@lacity.org or call (800) 974-9794 and request your free Bags on Board leash-sized canister of dog waste bags. All we need is your mailing address!

Make Every Day a Clean Up Day – We walk our dogs every day. What a perfect opportunity to clean up our neighborhoods! Make the pledge to pick up just one piece of litter as you’re walking your dog. My dog, Dodger and I do mini-neighborhood clean-ups when we go for our daily walks– picking up just a few pieces of litter every time we’re out. It’s my way to simultaneously improve the aesthetics of my neighborhood and keep litter out of our waterways.

Stay Connected – Resolve to stay connected! Sign-up to receive our quarterly e-Newsletter and pet-related e-Updates by visiting the new LA Stormwater pet website You can also join us on the LA Stormwater Facebook fan page to learn more about what the City is doing to keep our waterways clean.

Here at the City’s Stormwater Public Education Program, we’re working hard to get the message out about the importance of keeping our rivers, creeks, lakes and beaches clean. Join us in making a few simple canine commitments that will result in cleaner communities and a cleaner coast!

*Photo of Dodger, one of the Stormwater Program's favorite dogs!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2010 Resolution - Time to Walk The Talk

By: Joyce Amaro
Stormwater Public Education Manager

With a week of rain forecasted, last Sunday afternoon seemed like the perfect time for me to put my New Year resolution of doing “personal community clean-ups” into action. With my dog Dodger at my side and armed with a plastic bag and a pair of gardening gloves, Dodger and I walked a short half mile loop in the Alhambra neighborhood where I live as the drizzle began to fall. Dodger sniffed the trees and I picked up about a pound of trash in the streets’ gutters.

Now I’ve been working in the area of watershed protection for close to 20 years (February marks my 18th year with the City of Los Angeles’ Stormwater Public Education Program Division), and I know the realities and challenges of keeping our local creeks, rivers and beaches clean. I’ve seen the pictures of trash-strewn beaches and am aware of the amount of trash that finds its way into our regional waterways. But even my years of experience didn’t prepare me for the amount of cigarette butts I found in my own relatively clean middle-class neighborhood. I found plenty of flyers that had blown off of cars, several plastic candy and gum wrappers, a plastic bag here and there. This was to be expected. What I didn’t expect were the 83 cigarette butts I picked up on my half mile walk. That’s right – 83 within a half mile! I was surprised and became almost obsessive in picking them up towards the end of our walk.

I came home on Sunday having had my eyes re-opened as to how a neighborhood can appear clean, but still generate a significant number of cigarette butts that can wreak havoc on our ocean. I also returned home re-committed to continue doing personal community clean-ups at least once a week in my neighborhood. While its difficult for me to participate in larger organized community clean-ups, I can still do my part in keeping our ocean clean by doing my own personal community clean-up every week. It’s a great way to get some exercise and do my part in reducing the amount of trash flowing to our ocean.

I’ve talked the talk for almost two decades here in LA. Now it’s time to walk the talk as well!

*Photo courtesy of Long Beach's Signal Tribune

Board Passes Low Impact Development Ordinance!

The Stormwater Program is excited to announce that on January 15, 2010 the Low Impact Development (LID) ordinance was approved by a unanimous City of Los Angeles Board of Public Works’ vote.

The ordinance will require 100% of runoff from a storm of three-quarter-inch magnitude to be captured or reused at new homes, larger commercial developments and some redevelopments.

If these requirements are not met; developers will pay a stormwater pollution fee that will be allocated to other public LID projects.

Many environmental and civic organizations supported the measure, which has been on the Board of Public Works’ table since fall of 2009. The passing of LID shows that the City of LA is serious about clean water.

Next, the City Council will have to approve the ordinance at which point it will be sent to the City Attorney’s office, and then final approval by the Council. Implementation is then expected to happen no later than early 2011.

Thanks to all those who showed up and supported this important, groundbreaking measure!

For more reading material, please check out Mark Gold's blog from Heal the Bay.

As well as LA Creek Freak’s coverage.

*Photo courtesy of Oregon State University

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reminder: LID Ordinance Hearing on January 15, 2010

Dear Clean Water Supporter,

We are excited to kick off 2010 with a proposed Low Impact Development (LID) Ordinance that will be heard by the City of Los Angeles, Board of Public Works on Friday, January 15, 2010.

The Board of Public Works will consider this LID Ordinance at 9:30 a.m. on January 15, 2010; City of Los Angeles, City Hall, 200 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012, Room 350. Click here to view the meeting agenda.

The proposed Low Impact Development Ordinance and related documents are available online at the City of Los Angeles Stormwater Program web site.

Thank you to everyone for your excellent feedback and input regarding the proposed LID Ordinance. We greatly appreciate the time and effort everyone has put into creating this ordinance.

For ongoing updates about the LID Ordinance, please continue to visit our blog and join our Stormwater Facebook page. And, of course, you can always send us your comments and concerns at lastormwater@lacity.org.

Best Regards,

Shahram Kharaghani

L.A. Stormwater Program Manager

Friday, January 8, 2010

Volunteering Can Earn a Free Ticket to the Happiest Place on Earth

Usually when one decides to donate their time to volunteer for a good cause they do not expect anything more than a sense of satisfaction in return for the work they’ve accomplished.

However, that is about to change with the help of Disney.

The equation is simple: Do a day of volunteer work and you will receive 1 free day of rides and entertainment at Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World Resort for absolutely free!

All you have to do is visit this page and search for volunteer opportunities in your area. Many of the programs available in Los Angeles will directly help reduce stormwater pollution and improve our beaches.

Then, once you’ve completed your volunteer event, Disney will reward your day of service.

It’s hard to imagine a better way to celebrate a volunteer outing than a day at a Disney resort.

So volunteer and enjoy the ride!

*Photo courtesy of Disneyland.