LOS ANGELES, – Community health groups and policymakers are meeting in Los Angeles today to drum up support for a program to fight pollution and drought by capturing more rainwater and urban runoff.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is looking at adding a tax to sales of small parcels of land, to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for projects to capture rainwater instead of letting it flow into the ocean. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl says the county would become more self-sufficient and not have to spend millions to import water from other areas and treat polluted runoff.
“Right now, we capture enough water to supply a 1.5 million people,” she says. “But with these new investments that we hope we might get if the voters approve it, we could capture enough water to meet the needs of one third of the county’s residents.”
The tax would require voter approval. Some projects already in place involve removing a section of asphalt from parking lots and planting a tree, so storm water pools there and is absorbed to help replenish the aquifer.
Storm water and urban runoff picks up paint, solvents, pesticides and dog waste – making it the number one cause of water pollution in the county.
Elva Yanez, director of equity with a public health nonprofit known as the Prevention Institute, says runoff can make people sick – especially those with compromised immune systems. She says playing in puddles or being at the beach near a storm drain right after it rains can be hazardous.
“Children, pregnant women and the elderly are at the greatest risk for illnesses associated with contaminated stormwater,” says Yanez. “Gastroenteritis, respiratory diseases, hepatitis, eye ear skin infections. It’s a huge problem.”
UCLA Professor of Public Policy J.R. DeShazo says many projects would serve several purposes – adding green space to the concrete jungle, while boosting the local water supply.
“Everything from trying to make sure that the storm water that’s coming off of your roof at home flows into an area where it can be absorbed by the ground and filtrated,” says DeShazo, “to larger catchment basins at your local park.”
The county is seeking public comments online, at ‘SafeCleanWaterLA.org.’ Local cities are required to capture their storm water, so 40 percent of the funds would be used for local projects, like parks and green schoolyards.