Santa Monica

Santa Monica Aims to Convert Polluted Storm Water Runoff From Foe to Recycling Resource

Santa Monica is nearing completion of the second in a series of projects aimed at transforming rain runoff from a polluted foe to a recycling resource.

Runoff from downtown Santa Monica that has been funneled to the Bay will be diverted and captured in a 1.6 million gallon water tank newly-installed in a corner of the parking lot to the north of the Santa Monica pier. After project completion, which is targeted for August, the captured water will be piped to an existing, nearby facility for treatment, and the recycled water will then be used for irrigation, flushing toilets, or to recharge groundwater supplies, according to Rick Valte, City Engineer.

For years, Los Angeles County has captured mountain runoff in the San Gabriel River to recharge groundwater. But urban runoff brings special challenges with the notorious blend of oils, trash, animal feces, and other pollutants it accumulates traveling through roadways and storm sewers.

In recent years, it has drawn increasing attention from both perspectives--as target of the federal Clean Water Act, and as potential resource in a state that periodically endures drought and needs new sources of water.

"We hope this becomes a poster child for other cities," Valte said.

About a fourth of the $15 million cost is coming from state proposition 40 funds allocated by the state water resources control board, and the rest from Measure V parcel tax assessments that Santa Monica voters approved in 2006.

Meantime, Los Angeles County has been developing a water resiliency plan,  a vision for implementing and funding it laid out in a document called the Safe, Clean Water Program Draft Program Elements, profiled in a Los Angeles Times article.  The program proposal calls for a new countywide property tax assessment that would be determined by the size of a property's "impermeable" area, defined by hard surfaces such as roofs and paved surfaces from which water runs off.

The captured water from Santa Monica's downtown will be treated nearby at what is known as SMURRF--Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility. It was built to handle so-called "dry" runoff--what flows down storm sewers from sprinkler spillage, car washing, and other sources on days without rain. Valte said SMURFF can process about half a million gallons a day--not enough to keep up with rain runoff in real time. But the parking lot tank serves as a buffer, storing the captured runoff until SMURFF can get to it.

The amount of dry runoff dimished considerably with the conservation measures encouraged during the last drought, leaving SMURFF with available capacity. That will be used for what's known as "brackish" water, that will be pumped to SMURFF from the high water table below the beach.

Construction of the storage tank in the 1,200 space pier parking area has temporarily reduced its capabity by 260 spots. Aware demand will increase during the summer beach season, the city aims to restore 80 of those spots by Memorial Day weekend, and the rest in August when the tank is completely paved over, plus an additional 111 spaces to be reclaimed from an equipment storage and staging area.

Santa Monica still relies on imported water for 20 percent of its needs, but has made a goal of attaining self sufficiency, Valte said.

Last year, the city installed a 53,000 gallon tank beneath Los Amigos Park.

Downstream, the city plans additional water recycling projects, including a facility at Memorial Park that will treat about an eighth of the city's sewage, producing recycled water that, like the treated runoff, can be used for non-potable purchases, or to replenish groundwater.

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