L.A. recycles rain to protect its ocean


Bob Moon: As we speak this morning, rain is drenching us here in Los Angeles. Much of the water usually runs into the ocean, but officials want to get individual developers to catch the water and recycle it. And L.A.'s effort is becoming a model. From the Sustainability Desk, Marketplace's Jennifer Collins reports.

Jennifer Collins: Sherri Akers has a secret weapon when it comes to her garden:

Sherri Akers: I'll just take water from the rain barrel. Take a bucket.

Akers shows off a 55-gallon plastic barrel in the backyard of her L.A. home. The city gave it to her as part of a pilot program to use more of the rain that falls.

Akers: To water my potted plants. This is a dwarf blood red orange tree.

Normally, when the clouds open up, rain falls on her orange tree. But it also washes off streets and driveways and gets channelled to the ocean. The city wants to prevent that.

Paula Daniels: It's the number one source of pollution to the ocean.

Paula Daniels is a commissioner on L.A.'s board of public works. She says the city is considering making developers build in a way to catch rainwater, and among other things, redirect it to the water table below.

Daniels: It's about trying to change the way we work the landscape and keep the runoff on the property as much as possible.

Daniels says developers could easily do that with planted areas, cisterns or pavement that filters water instead shuttling it to the drains. This could help recycle water in the drought-stricken area.

Daniels: We will take the burden off of having to import water from Northern California.

If developers can't catch the water, the city will charge them a fee, that on a large construction site could total more than $200,000.

Bill Davis: They're looking for money.

Bill Davis is with the Southern California Contractors Association. Davis says the city's desperate for money, and this is a sure-fire way to raise it. He says the contractors he works with aren't trained to meet these kinds of requirements.

Davis: We know how to handle the water, what we don't know is how to keep it on a job site instead of sending it someplace.

Davis says the additional fees will cripple an already battered construction industry. Still, Philadelphia and the state of Maryland are forging ahead with similar requirements.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

About the author

Jennifer Collins is a reporter for the Marketplace portfolio of programs. She is based in Los Angeles, where she covers media, retail, the entertainment industry and the West Coast.
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I converted by backyard swimming pool into a rainwater harvesting system last weekend. I will be able to trap about 4000 gallons and then reuse this water to irrigate my plants with drip irrigation. I will post pictures on facebook.

If you would like to learn more about the City of LA’s Low Impact Development (LID) Ordinance, and find out how you can become a community voice, consulting advisor or technical partner as the City develops a LID handbook, check out the following link http://tiny.cc/qyd4z.

While the idea of finding ways to preserve and keep rain water in the water table instead of flowing down to the ocean is a laudable idea, it seems that Los Angeles is trying to speak out of both sides of its corporate mouth.

For many years, houses had "gray water" cisterns built near the house, into which rain water could be directed, and made available to use for yard maintenance purposes. And, for many years, the city allowed "gray water" from laundry, washing machines, and even lavatories, to go into leach fields that would put more water back into the ground. Not sewage, mind you, just water that had into which had been inserted soap or other biodegradable detergents. But around WWII, as the city was expanding its sewage capabilities, they banned having such gray water cisterns or leach fields in back yards.

As a resident of Los Angeles whose family has consistently lived here since 1901, I can't help but asking why the City of Los Angeles can't decide what it wants to do and then stick with it, when it comes to water run-off.

Good Morning

This is the moron contractor refered to above....well, actually the association guy for a bunch of really smart contractors who already do containment structures and other innovative approaches for storm water.

These structures are designed to move water off the surface and into other systems...sometimes holding basins, sometimes storm sewers...but are not designed to take the water and keep it for people to water their blood orange trees in their back yards.

We spent about 30 minutes with Jennifer, discussing the technical and political issues revolving around storm water in Los Angeles and the rest of southern California. We certainly understand that not all of that material was suitable for broadcasting.

One thing the City of Los Angeles proposal is not is a "model" for other communities. It may be an experiment, but whether it is an experiment in scientific stormwater pollution prevention or an experiement in raising fees and fines for a nearly bankrupt city remains to be seen.

If it were truly a storm water pollution prevention effort, you would think the city would offer incentives for creative and effective approaches to the problem.

Since they only offer fines, one wonders.

Thanks for the opportunity to set the record straight.

Bill Davis
Southern California Contractors Association

Australia is well versed in rain water catchment systems and large areas on the island of Hawaii must use rain water for all their household needs (and have been doing so for decades). Architects can borrow from these existing tested/functional systems. A qualified builder/contractor can follow the design plans. The cost will be passed on to the buyer/owner. Will there be a time when all existing homes in the L.A. basin need to be retrofit with a basic system? This could be a niche industry for unemployed construction workers. Will government appropriations be labeled a "rainy day fund"?

This was truly a lame story. Duh that LA is rain-deprived. Not news that rain barrels can collect rainfall, been doing that for literally years in New England, and a lot of other places. And duh, also to your half-assed report on building standards that preserve rainwater on the site where it falls. The moron contractor who was a lazy-bones, couldn't be bothered to learn about the kinds of measures needed to avoid being fined. These measures are already part of building codes in many other parts of the country. But this poor-dear couldn't be bothered because the trade was soooo decimated by the recession. Well, tell that jerk that all he has to do is go on line to find out about permeable driveway surfacing, etc.

Look further, for a real story-this one was, well, a sorry attempt at being with-it. There are numerous, ingenious efforts being made to preserve water by people who are enthusiastic as there are many, viable efforts at sustainable building. Do the research, find out who's doing that and tell us.

I was disaapointed by the lack of balance in the close of the story. All across this country workers are increasing training and findining was to stay employed - so what if your workers aren't trained in reain catchments systems. Get them trained...the green revolution is here and is where some of the hottest jobs are. This contractor sounded lazyand teh reporter just conceeded that this would harm teh constrution industry. Find a contractor who is providing these services and talk to them about how their business is doing as they add green construction services. I expect better reporting on balance on a story from this program.

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