L.A. County Agrees to Fund $4 Million in Stormwater Projects and Watts Green Street

Settlement with NRDC and LA Waterkeeper will support regional clean water projects and long-standing revitalization efforts in the historic community

LOS ANGELES — A judge approved a settlement with Los Angeles County on Wednesday afternoon that will result in the County funding $4 million in environmental improvements – including $2.8 million for a Green Streets project in the historic community of Watts and $1.2 million for residential retrofits across the county to capture stormwater that otherwise might run off into the ocean.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit originally filed in 2008 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Los Angeles Waterkeeper against the County and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. The lawsuit succeeded in holding the County liable for nearly 500 violations of the County’s federal Clean Water Act permit in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers. The environmental projects in this settlement agreement will help the County clean up the toxic mix of pollution found in billions of gallons of annual stormwater runoff.

“For years, the urban slobber that’s picked up by rainwater as it flows into drains and waterways has been a real issue for Southern California – a source of pollution that’s also an underutilized supply of reusable water if it’s captured before it picks up all these pollutants,” said Steve Fleischli, senior attorney and NRDC water program director. “We’re excited that this settlement helps build infrastructure for stormwater capture and also improves environmental conditions, public health and economic opportunities in the Watts community.”

The Watts Green Street project along 103rd Street will include bioswales, porous pavement, solar-powered trashcans, tree plantings, drought-tolerant and native landscaping, and parkway improvements designed to capture and retain stormwater and reduce polluted runoff to the Los Angeles River.

“The settlement builds on years of local work, and it supports a vision for a diverse and thriving community that honors local history and culture, values prosperity, and preserves our natural resources,” says Chris Jordan, executive director of Grant Housing & Economic Development Corp (Grant EDC) and a leader of the Watts Re:Imagined coalition.

The agreement also includes $1.2 million for residential stormwater retrofit projects in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. Residential stormwater retrofits are small-scale distributed-infrastructure projects – like rain gardens, cisterns, and green roofs – intended to reduce stormwater runoff, improve water quality, and promote water infiltration for water supply benefits from area homes.

“Local households can do a lot to reduce water consumption and polluted runoff in the L.A. area,” noted Cindy Montañez, chief executive officer for TreePeople. “This funding will support projects needed to help local homeowners to capture rainwater onsite and reduce the need for watering lawns while decreasing urban runoff.”

The settlement also prioritizes job training for local residents to install and maintain these residential retrofits.

“The projects to be funded through this settlement mitigate the environmental and health impacts of drought, polluted runoff and flooding, creating healthier and more climate-resilient communities,” says LA Waterkeeper Executive Director Bruce Reznik. “This settlement will result in an investment with long-lasting impacts on our neighborhoods for today’s and tomorrow’s generations.”

Stormwater pollution is created when rain mixes with debris, chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants and flows into storm sewer systems and then into local waterways. Anything that enters a storm sewer system is discharged, largely untreated, into the bodies of water we use for swimming, fishing and recreation. Each year, billions of gallons of this untreated stormwater pollution are discharged into Los Angeles rivers and ultimately popular beaches, causing residents and tourists alike to become ill.

This pollution can be prevented through the deployment of green infrastructure solutions, such as on-site water capture and filtration. These techniques trap stormwater pollution at the source, rather than allow it to flow to the sea untreated, and allow rainwater to be reused instead of wasted. Green infrastructure is not only good for public health and smart environmental policy, it will save money, increase water supplies, reduce flood risks and clean up local beaches and rivers.

The lawsuit, initiated by NRDC and Waterkeeper in 2008, sought to hold the County responsible for documented violations of the County’s Clean Water Act permit in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, and to require the County to act immediately to clean up the toxic mix of pollution found in billions of gallons of annual stormwater runoff. 

The case has had a long history, including review by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.  Ultimately, on March 30, 2015, the District Court enumerated 498 total violations of Clean Water Act permit limits based on the discharge of the pollutants aluminum, copper, cyanide, zinc, pH, and fecal bacteria into the Los Angeles River and San Gabriel River, and for discharge of waste into a coastal Area of Special Biological Significance.





The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

Founded in 1993 (as Santa Monica BayKeeper), Los Angeles Waterkeeper works to protect and restore Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Bay and adjacent waters through enforcement, fieldwork, and community action.  One of nearly 300 members of the international Waterkeeper Alliance and a founding member of the California Coastkeeper Alliance, for nearly a quarter-century LA Waterkeeper has been working to ensure that every Angeleno has access to swimmable, fishable and drinkable waters.

Grant Housing and Economic Development Corporation (GHEDC) is a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was created by the Grant AME Church in an effort to provide community and economic development to the residents of Watts. Since 1988, GHEDC has been instrumental in the provision of social service projects and programs as well as affordable housing and technical training for the Watts community.  

TreePeople is an environmental nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire, engage and support people to take personal responsibility for the urban environment, making it safe, healthy, fun and sustainable and to share our process as a model for the world.  

Representing LA Waterkeeper in this litigation was Lawyers for Clean Water, Inc., which represents environmental and community groups in litigation and administrative advocacy designed to advance environmental protection and enforcement of environmental laws. Lawyers for Clean Water provides legal services to organizations throughout the State of California, and beyond.

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