A Commitment to Storm Water Management

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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’s 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 recently discussed Santa Monica’s approach to storm water management with Water & Wastes Digest.

WWD: 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 best management practices (BMPs) for their property or 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 a 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.

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

Shapiro: Total maximum daily loads and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System requirements continue to impose rising costs on cities. Existing funding sources are inadequate, and in California, Proposition 218 has made raising storm water fees nearly impossible.

WWD: 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 by not cleaning business equipment in alleys; not feeding or 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, will also help.

WWD: 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.

WWD: Is there anything you would change about Santa Monica’s storm water management program?

Shapiro: No—what better program can there be than one that employs a long-term, watershed approach; enjoys the support of the city council and management; incorporates a variety of BMPs; promotes low-impact development and smart growth; and expects all sectors of society to contribute to the solutions, from the individual property owner to the city itself? This is a program that respects people’s rights to live but also strives to safeguard our environment so that future generations have the same opportunities and adequate natural resources with which we have been blessed.

Amy Osgood is assistant editor for Water & Wastes Digest. She can be reached at 847/391-1025 or by e-mail at aosgood@sgcmail.com.

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