Image from Hansen Spreading Grounds (Photo by Charlene Muhammad)

Los Angeles County – facing threats of drought and pollution from extreme storms – is looking to transform the vast infrastructure that captures storm runoff.

On a recent tour for ethnic media reporters, the Department of Public Works showed off its stormwater infrastructure and outlined plans to capture, clean and transport water.

The “Building Water Resilience in L.A. County” media tour was led by Kerjon Lee, strategic communications manager, L.A. County Department of Public Works. The June 26 tour was organized and hosted by the L.A. County Department of Public Works and Ethnic Media Services.

During visits to the Hansen Spreading Grounds and Rory Shaw Wetlands Park in Sun Valley, and Vista Hermosa Natural Park near downtown L.A., county experts and engineers explained the driving factors of water scarcity, and how extreme weather conditions and the five-year drought have severely impacted communities.

“It’s always a pleasure to go out and show everybody our facilities. We have some really cool infrastructure,” said Edel Vizcarra, Community and Government Relations spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Public Works Department.

The over 100-year-old Flood Control District consists of 14 major dams and reservoirs, 27 spreading grounds, and over 500 miles of open channel, said Mr. Vizcarra, before he delved into L.A. County’s Safe Clean Water program.

L.A. County Department of Public Works Senior Civil Engineer Adam Walden explains water capture/cleansing operations at Hansen Spreading Grounds (Photo by Charlene Muhammad)

Its plan is to use modern solutions to help address threats to water, such as pollutants, toxins, and extreme, severe weather, he stated. Climate change, drought, and the reliability or lack thereof of imported water from Northern California and from the Colorado River, compelled the county to reach out to stakeholders in local communities for input on how to achieve the program’s goals, according to Mr. Vizcarra.

“We have a local supply water problem. About 2/3 of our drinking water, the water you get when you turn on your faucet or take a shower, comes from outside Southern California … It’s not a very reliable system,” Mr. Vizcarra continued.

Safe Clean Water for L.A. is seeking a proposed ballot measure to fund the modernization of L.A.’s 80-year old stormwater capture system with 2.5 cents property tax for every square foot of private property that’s considered permeable or allows water to fall on the ground and filter into it, Vizcarra said. That will help increase the local water supply and better protect L.A. County communities’ health and environment, said Mr. Vizcarra.

Some reporters questioned how the project would manifest in terms of more trees in disadvantaged communities. Mr. Lee cited South L.A.’s Wetlands Park as a great example. Just east of the 110 Harbor Freeway, on the site of an old, Rapid Transit District bus depot, the park takes in water from the local community and then filters it naturally with vegetation.

“It’s a fantastic project, symbolic of what we would be doing if this measure passes,” said Mr. Lee.

L.A. County Department of Public Works Associate Engineer Cristina Wartman and Chief, Public Affairs Kerjon Lee display and discuss Sun Valley Park / Rory Shaw Wetlands Park project (Photo by Charlene Muhammad)

During a tour of the Hansen Spreading Grounds, Reporters noticed how the grounds were green, though cracked. Adam Walden, Senior Civil Engineer for L.A. County Public Works, explained they would eventually plug up if left wet all the time, and prevent water from percolating through. He said it’s a part of the responsible operation in managing how water moves through the system.

Most of the Sun Valley Watershed is industrial, in fact, 60 percent, according to Cristina Wartman, associate Civil Engineer. She told reporters how the area has historically suffered from water quality issues due in part to pollutants, flooding, and a build out issue due to a lack of green space areas.

She said L.A. County’s Flood Control District solution was to depart from the traditional role of putting water in a storm drain then flowing it out into the L.A. River. Instead, it pulled together Sun Valley residents, city officials, business owners, and other regulatory agencies to tackle the problem.

The result was the Sun Valley Watershed Management Plan, comprised of 16 pilot projects focused on local, residential, and regional flooding issues.

After implementation of the 16 projects, the next step was to eradicate the flooding issue, capture the water in the watershed, clean it, and put it back into the ground for reuse, Ms. Wartman stated.

The Sun Valley Park project was the first constructed. It was a residential area surrounding the park. Passersby see a regular park with soccer and baseball fields, but underground is a water quality treatment system that cleans the water and puts it back into the ground, said Ms. Wartman.

The project also includes two large infiltration basins that hold storm water before it infiltrates into the ground, she added.

“It’s a multi-benefit project that not only takes care of water quality, but some of the flooding issues in the residential area, and we were able to create additional park space. We added soccer fields. We were able to improve some of the park facilities with our project partners,” Ms. Wartman continued.

For her, the Rory Shaw Wetlands Project was the most exciting and largest project identified in the watershed management plan. It is situated in a 46-acre pit that will be transformed into a park and place to hold and improve water quality, she explained. The first of its kind project is slated for completion in Spring 2023, according to Ms. Waterman.

Image from Hansen Spreading Grounds (Photo by Charlene Muhammad)

The project is emblematic of the L.A. County’s planning, which is finding out directly from communities what their needs and desires are, and working with them to plan, added Kerjon Lee, Chief of Public Affairs for L.A. County Public Works.