29 Million Gallons a Minute

April 4, 2017

How would you define the rather nebulous term “green infrastructure” to people who, for the most part, don’t care about stormwater? Now that California is getting rain again and reservoirs are refilling, at least to an extent, many people would like to believe everything’s back to normal and we can finally stop nattering on, already, about water shortages. But others know that there won’t be a better time—at least not until the next big drought, when it will once again be too late to do much about it—to talk about what we’re doing with our stormwater. Or, rather, what we’re not doing.

This article from the Los Angeles Times does a fairly good job of explaining the benefits of green infrastructure—without ever mentioning the words “green infrastructure,” but that’s okay. It describes adding “sieve-like qualities to parts of the hardscape” and touts the benefits for flood control, groundwater recharge, and water quality along the coast. It points out that during a large storm, the Los Angeles River channel sends 29 million gallons per minute of stormwater runoff into the sea, which the director of one environmental group calls a tragic waste of “free liquid gold.”

Los Angeles County is once again considering a parcel fee to fund stormwater capture projects. There was a lot of opposition four years ago, when the fee was proposed and struck down, but the county board of supervisors is hoping the drought might have changed some attitudes. By some estimates the county could use up to $500 million a year for such projects, not all of which would be generated by the fee. Some might come from state water bonds and other sources.

Communities across the country have struggled with the same issue—how to promote green infrastructure and other stormwater projects, and, of course, how to pay for them. The LA Times article offers some clear numbers to illustrate what such projects could accomplish: the amount of water city of Los Angeles uses in a year (550,000 acre-feet), the amount captured by the city (12,000) and by the county flood control district (200,000 in dams and reservoirs along a 40-mile stretch of land), and how much more could be retained (300,000) if only the money were available.

I think providing detailed numbers like this is a good strategy to convince people that investing in such projects is worth the price. With Infrastructure Week coming up (May 15–19), this may be as good a time as any for cities, counties, and flood control districts across the country to make a plug for stormwater projects. What efforts have been made in your area to promote stormwater projects or stormwater fees, and how successful have they been?

About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines.