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What is storm water pollution?
Storm water pollution is a major environmental and public health issue in Los Angeles County, leading to unsanitary living environments, unhealthy surface waters, such as lakes, creeks and rivers, unhealthy ocean and beach conditions, and street and neighborhood flooding during the rainy season. It's created when trash, cigarette butts, animal waste, pesticides, motor oil and other contaminants left on the ground are washed or thrown directly into storm drains. This toxic soup mixes with millions of gallons of rainwater and flows untreated into local creeks, rivers and the ocean - polluting our waterways, as well as degrading neighborhoods and other natural resources.

How big is the storm water pollution problem in Los Angeles County?
With nearly 10 million people living in Los Angeles County, each resident's contribution to storm water pollution adds up quickly to create a serious public health situation. In a 1997 study conducted by Pelegrin Research Group, an estimate of the number of times per month that Los Angeles County residents engage in polluting activities was established, known as pollution volumetrics. According to an updated 2001 study, it is conservatively estimated that each month in LA County, residents contribute to storm water pollution by:

  • Dropping cigarette butts on the ground nearly 915,000 times
  • Dropping litter on the ground or out a car window more than 830,000 times
  • Allowing paper or trash to blow into the street more than 800,000 times
  • Throwing something in the gutter or down a storm drain nearly 280,000 times
  • Emptying a car ashtray into the street more than 40,000 times
  • Hosing leaves or dirt off a driveway or sidewalk into the street nearly 420,000 times
  • Washing off paint brushes under an outdoor faucet more than 130,000 times
  • Spraying the garden or lawn with pesticide more than 210,000 times
  • Walking a dog without picking up the droppings more than 82,000 times

Also, in Los Angeles County, approximately 100 million gallons of contaminated water and debris drain through the storm drain system each dry day. That would fill the Rose Bowl 1.2 times. (On rainy days the daily flow can increase to 10 billion gallons per day).

What are the effects of storm water pollution?
Storm water pollution in Los Angeles County has significant impacts on the region's water quality, while also posing risks to the health and safety of residents, degrading natural resources, threatening the area's tourist driven economy and lowering property values in local neighborhoods. The impacts of storm water pollution include:

  • Public Health Risks
    Storm water pollution increases serious health risks to people swimming or fishing in the Santa Monica or San Pedro Bay, especially within 400 yards of storm drain outlets.
    • A study conducted by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project found that storm water pollution in the ocean leads to increased risk of viral infections, earaches, sinus problems, fever, flu and skin rashes and viral diseases such as hepatitis for those swimming in the ocean close to storm drain outfalls, especially following a rainstorm when litter and contaminants are flushed into the storm drain system. The Governor's Clean Beaches Initiative (CBI), funded by portions of four voter-approved bond measures, has already begun the cleanup effort statewide through construction of diversion and treatment facilities. The Erase the Waste campaign provides an educational link to the CBI, focused on Los Angeles County, and helps residents become part of the solution.
    • The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services recognizes the increased health danger associated with storm water pollution and has a standing rain advisory that "recommends that beach users avoid contact with ocean water, especially near flowing storm drains, creeks and rivers for a period of 3 days after rainfall ends."
    • Heal the Bay's 2002-2003 Annual Beach Report Card on the health of Los Angeles County's beaches gave 56 percent of monitored beaches a failing grade during wet weather, meaning the conditions were hazardous to human health and would have adverse health effects to swimmers who enter the water.
    • When bacteria levels exceed the State Standards, a warning sign is posted and swimmers are encouraged not to enter the water. Storm water contaminants are one of the main causes of increased bacteria levels at our local beaches. During 2002, there were 269 warnings posted on Los Angeles County beaches for a total of 1,181 days where the ocean was too polluted for human use.

  • Storm water pollution also poses public health threats in our neighborhoods.
    • Trash and animal waste left on the ground carry harmful disease-spreading bacteria, putting children and their families at risk in their local communities.
    • Each month in Los Angeles County, residents drop their cigarette butts on the ground more than 915,000 times. These cigarette butts pose imminent risks to child health and safety including the risk of swallowing, choking or burning themselves with discarded, toxin-laden butts.
  • Degradation of Natural Resources
    Research conducted by regional agencies, respected environmental nonprofit organizations and academic institutions have identified storm water pollution and urban runoff as the leading sources of pollutants to Los Angeles County's inland rivers, creeks, the ocean and beaches along the area's coastline. The widespread critical issue has reached a level that has prompted local, state and federal policymakers and regulatory agencies to enact and enforce more stringent storm water permit regulations, financial penalties and other compliance measures.

  • Economic Impacts
    Beach attendance has dropped by 56 percent since 1983. The recreation and tourism industry is one of the top employers in the nation, and is a particularly valuable part of the Los Angeles coastal economy. Each year, Americans take more than 1.8 billion trips to water destinations, largely for recreation, spending money and creating jobs in the process. Activities related to the county's $2 billion annual tourism industry depend largely on the access and enjoyment of clean waters. If the perception of our beaches deteriorates, it poses broader implications for the region's financial growth.

  • Neighborhood Value and Involvement
    When storm drains become clogged with trash and debris, it can result in street and neighborhood flooding during the rainy season. This water backup can lead to closed roads and increased traffic, and create an unhealthy environment of smelly and unsanitary conditions in communities, worsening local aesthetics and lowering property values. The cleanliness of communities has a further impact on the financial and personal investment residents make in their property, and contributes to the overall sense of community pride and civic engagement.