Low Impact Development Ordinance Tightens Stormwater Regulations

Rain BarrelDevelopment and redevelopment projects in Los Angeles will soon have to comply with new regulations concerning sustainability and rainwater.

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to approve an ordinance that would integrate Low Impact Development (LID) strategies to existing regulations concerning stormwater pollution control.

The objective of the ordinance is to "integrate LID practices and standards for stormwater pollution mitigation, and maximize open, green and pervious space on all Developments and Redevelopments."

Los Angeles has been working on a LID program for about two years that would alleviate problems with water retention and runoff in the city that often results in pollution. Adding LID to the existing Standard Urban Stormwater Mitigation Plan (SUSMP) requirements would make sustainable water practices mandatory for a larger number of projects.

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"To keep the stormwater here, to recharge the groundwater, to remediate contaminating there by using more of natural stormwater on site makes 100 percent good sense," said Councilmember Paul Krekorian.

LID practices would focus largely design modifications, using permeable surfacing like porous concrete and rain barrels to catch runoff. Other possibilities outlined in the Development Best Management Practices (BMP) Handbook adopted by the Board of Public Works include rain gardens, driveway cuts to redirect water flow and dry wells. Different types of projects would be subjected to fees and regulations according to the size of surface area being built or modified.

Smaller residential projects would have to include one or two of the LID practices into their design plans. Fees for projects involved in 500 square feet of land or more would incur fees between $20 and $200.

Non-residential projects using LID standards would be charged fees ranging between $800 and $1,000 based on the percentage of impervious surfaces being altered and other detailed requirements illustrated in the BMP handbook.

Despite higher building costs and extra regulations there was a large amount of support from members of the public at the council meeting. People from Heal the Bay, Central City Association of LA, Building Industry Association of Southern California, Tree People, Green LA, Southern California Watershed Alliance and LA residents showed up in support of the ordinance.

Tom LaBonge voiced one of the biggest objections early on saying he wanted "to see the word street cleaning in this somewhere." LaBonge said he didn't want to stop momentum, but wanted to integrate street sweeping to prevent litter from ending up in the drains and the river. Even with his objections, he voted in favor of the ordinance.

Brian Sheridan from the Council for Watershed Health said a 7-year study proved capturing stormwater cleans local aquifers. He added that a storm bringing ¾ inch rain could yield 383,000 acre-feet of water - 60 percent of water demand in Los Angeles.

Krekorian also added that the plan would help reduce the demand on outside water sources. "It is a tremendous step towards restoring our ecosystem to a natural state that is very cost effective, especially where you compare it to our continued dependency on imported water."

According to a fiscal impact statement submitted last December, the LID ordinance does not require an additional staff and the work load would be absorbed into existing SUSMP staffing. The cost of the positions is about $500,000 with revenue from SUSMP and LID covering the cost. Additional revenue from LID fees is estimated at $500,000 annually.

The effective date for the ordinance is 180 days from adoption plus an addition 30 days notice. All developments and redevelopments that are complete and approved before the effective date will be exempt.

Mary Beth Barker is a graduate student at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which has partnered with KCET-TV to produce this blog about policy in Los Angeles.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user grifray. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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