The Press

Area cities to tackle watershed management plans

SOUTH GATE — A regional watershed management program to reduce or halt storm water runoff pollution into the Los Angeles River is under study by the Regional Water Quality Control Board and is expected to be approved in the coming months, resulting in efforts by city officials and administrators on how to pay for it.

The long-term overall cost has not been determined but estimates are that it could cost South Gate alone up to $61 million in the next 12 years, according to John L. Hunter, of the Buena Park-based consulting firm of Hunter and Associates.

The firm has been hired by most Southeast cities to help meet federal and state anti-pollution storm water runoff mandates

In a report to the South Gate City Council Feb. 24, Hunter said two organizations the represent municipalities throughout the state — the California Contract Cities Association (made up of cities which contract for services from Los Angeles County) and the League of California Cities (made up of all California cities) — are seeking ways to fund the future efforts.

A state city managers group is also involved in the effort, and 40 city administrators met Jan. 21 to discuss the cost and funding sources, he added.

In September 2013, South Gate joined eight surrounding cities whose storm water runoff flows into the lower Los Angeles River (and eventually the Pacific Ocean) to work together and comply with the mandates to reduce pollution.

Other area cities whose storm water flow goes into such tributaries as the Los Coyote Creek, the Rio Hondo River and the San Gabriel River, have formed similar groups to share the cost of complying with the watershed management program plans and how to fund those plans.

Based on federal legislation, the storm water runoff rules are overseen locally by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which requires cities to meet a number of runoff requirements in order to obtain a national pollution discharge elimination system permit. In order to obtain that permit, cities have required developers and builders seeking construction permits to show how their projects will reduce or halt storm water runoff from their sites.

Some of the efforts include keeping storm water on site and letting it trickle into the ground, treating the storm water on site by digging bioswales, shallow ditches filled with vegetation that filter debris from storm water flowing through it.

Most cities have also adapted a green street plan in which future street construction would include porous cement, which allows water to trickle through it into the ground, or open spaces of landscaping along streets and sidewalks, also to allow storm water to go into the ground instead of flowing into storm drains, rivers and eventually the ocean.

Hunter noted that the watershed management program mandate came from the Regional Water Quality Control Board in December 2012 and is among the most stringent of its rules.

The mandate includes requirements such as analyzing water quality (with samples), listing the most common pollutants expected in the area, day-to-day activities the city must implement to reduce the pollution and a computer model report estimating the number of construction projects that will be needed and a time line for those projects, South Gate Public Works Director Arturo Cervantes said.

Once the watershed management program is approved by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, it will have a significant long-term financial impact county-wide, Cervantes told his City Council in a written report.

Cervantes said the fund-raising efforts alone will cost the affected cities an estimated $202,000. That cost will be shared by the cities based on their land size and population. South Gate’s share is expected to range from $4,000 to $10,000 but will be based on the number of cities that agree to take part, he added.

Some of the major projects to be taken by the city managers’ steering committee for fundraising includes coordination with the Los Angeles County Sanitation District and watershed groups, explaining the situation to the public, seeking grants, investigating legal aspects of the issue, implementing an affordability criteria for state projects and complying with Proposition 218 rules which would require a public hearing on any taxpayer levy.

The South Gate City Council formally received and filed the report.