Los Angeles County supervisors approved a ballot measure Tuesday that would increase parcel taxes to pay for stormwater capture to increase local water supplies and improve water quality.
If voters approve the parcel tax of 2.5 cents per square foot of impermeable surface in November, it will bring in an estimated $300 million a year. It must pass with a two-thirds supermajority vote.
“Over fifty million people visit our beaches annually, and too often, many of them are unsafe for swimming due to polluted runoff,” Mark Gold, Associate Vice Chancellor for Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, said. “Our beaches and rivers look like trash dumps after every rain, and stormwater runoff in our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters is often toxic to a wide variety of aquatic life.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works outlined the program in a letter presented to the supervisors ahead of the vote.
“This is a historic opportunity to modernize L.A. County’s water infrastructure to meet the needs of the 21st Century,” said Mark Pestrella, Director of L.A. County Public Works. “This program will continue the county’s mission of flood safety while protecting water quality within our communities and providing water resiliency for current and future generations.”
If the measure passes, 40% of the revenue would return to cities for local priority projects; 50% would be returned proportionally to each of the region’s nine watersheds to fund projects best and most cost-effectively tackled at a regional scale that no individual city could do alone; and 10% of funds would go to the Los Angeles County Flood Control District for stormwater education, projects, and administration.
Schools would be exempt from the parcel tax, and property owners who have recently made qualifying improvements to their properties would be eligible for credits.
“Every year a full 100 billion gallons of water runs down our curbs and out into the ocean, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, chair of the Board of Supervisors, said. “We need smarter ways to capture, clean, and store stormwater, so we can increase our local water supply, clean that water, and save it for future use.”
The program would not only dramatically increase the amount of stormwater captured, ”it will provide health benefits to residents by reducing trash and toxins and increasing green space throughout the county,” she said.
A group of elected, business, public health, and environmental leaders, as well as firefighters, came out in support of the measure.
“The Safe, Clean Water program will help L.A. and cities across the county meet our obligations under the federal Clean Water Act — and put new momentum behind our efforts to conserve a precious resource, shield our communities from flooding, and protect waterways from pollution,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
Wildfires are putting new and greater demands on the water supply, said L.A. County Fire Department Chief Daryl L. Osby, who estimated that 100 billion gallons of storm runoff is going unused.
“We simply can’t afford to waste water anymore,” Osby said. “Water is a firefighter’s best friend during several types of emergencies.”
Jerry Velasco, chairman of the San Gabriel Civic Alliance called the plan sound, fiscally prudent public policy.