As the heat rolls into Los Angeles and California enters another period of drought, you may be wondering why stormwater pollution is even an issue during these dry summer months. If there is no rain then there is no urban runoff, right?

Well, not exactly.

It’s true that the rainy months in our area increase the amount of water that flows through our city’s creeks and rivers; however, even during months with minimal or no rainfall, approximately 100 million gallons of untreated water still flow from our streets to the ocean every day. That’s the equivalent of filling up the Rose Bowl with water 1.2 times.

Where does this water come from? It comes from you and me. It comes from our sprinklers, from our driveways and gardens. Anytime we use water outside our homes and businesses, it has the potential to wash into our storm drains, even in the middle of a dry summer. If you wash your vehicle in your driveway, the soapy water may wash into the street, eventually flowing to the ocean. If you water your lawn excessively, that water, too, may end up flowing to our beaches where it doesn’t belong. Certainly not all the water that enters our storm drains is dirty to begin with, but the chemicals and debris that it picks up along the way are extremely hazardous to our health and safety. Pesticides applied to gardens, fluids leaking from an old car, soap used to wash a new car, StyrofoamÒ cups discarded in the gutter by partygoers – urban runoff mixes with all these pollutants creating the toxic soup that flows to our local beaches.

The good news is that by applying a few simple tips we can prevent all of this. This is where good housekeeping practices and water conservation work hand in hand. Not only is it cost effective to limit the amount of water we use, it is also environmentally sound. The less we water our lawns, the less likely we are to contribute to stormwater pollution. Likewise, the less we use pesticides or fertilizer (even if it is organic), the less likely these substances are to enter our waterways.

There are many options available to residents who want to enjoy an attractive garden and reduce their urban runoff footprint. Nurseries can provide gardeners with information about native plants,* as well as creative tips on reducing or eliminating their lawn size, as grass needs a significant amount of water to survive in LA’s Mediterranean climate. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the average American family uses 400 gallons of water per day, with 120 gallons of that water used for outdoor purposes. By simply changing outdoor watering habits like installing a drip irrigation system or replanting a portion of a yard with native plant species, each family could potentially decrease or eliminate 840 gallons of water used per week!

Of course in LA where the car is king we all want a clean vehicle, but doing it ourselves in our driveways or on the street creates problems. Not only does it consume quite a bit of water, but the soaps we use, even if biodegradable, can negatively affect water quality, too. When washing a vehicle, consider taking it to a car wash where the water is reused and captured onsite.

These are just a few of the things residents can do this summer to aid the City’s effort in cleaning up our streets and improving our ocean’s water quality. It doesn’t take a great deal of sacrifice to make a significant environmental impact. Our work is dependent on engaged citizens such as yourself to push our city forward. Remember – conserving water and improving its quality is a team effort.


Shahram Kharaghani
Stormwater Program Manager

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In Brief:

On a dry day, 100 million gallons of water flow to the ocean through the storm drain system. Tips to help reduce storm drain runoff include:
- Reducing sprinkler and landscape watering habits
- Consider replacing grass with native plants
- Reducing water pollution is a community effort and begins with each of us