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Stormwater: Capture it, Clean It, Keep it
Stormwater: Capture it, Clean It, Keep it Image

The new Safe Clean Water Program creates a more sustainable water future for Los Angeles


A few years from now, on a sunny day following an early spring rainstorm, a horse and his rider slowly meander along a newly constructed creekside equestrian trail…a little league player throws the first pitch of the new season on a rehabilitated baseball field…a family discovers a Monarch butterfly flitting through a new neighborhood pocket park.  And, while these Angelenos enjoy these new green spaces after the rain, the innovative nature-based solutions built into that equestrian trail, little league field and pocket park capture, clean, store and use the rainfall from that spring storm.

This is the goal of LA’s new Safe Clean Water Program – to design and construct multi-beneficial projects that simultaneously improve water quality, increase water supply and create community benefits to build a more sustainable water future for our city.


A Brief Background

In November 2018, Los Angeles County residents approved Measure W, which created the Safe Clean Water Program (or SCWP), which is administered by the County of Los Angeles Flood Control District. Generating an estimated $285 million annually from a countywide property tax assessment, the SCWP aims to design, develop, and build projects that:

  • Improve water quality
  • Capture and infiltrate stormwater into underground aquifers
  • Protect local rivers, creeks, lakes, and bays
  • Provide flood control
  • Create more green space, and
  • Assist cities with federal Clean Water Act compliance mandates.


Multi-Benefit Projects with Nature-Based Solutions

“Angelenos are already familiar with the types of nature-based, multi-beneficial projects that the SCWP will fund,” stated Enrique C. Zaldivar, Director and General Manager of LA Sanitation and Environment. “Proposition O, Los Angeles’ 2004 $500 million stormwater bond measure was more than a proof of concept for LA’s signature water quality projects and provided funding for projects that use ‘ green stormwater infrastructure’ to solve water pollution problems,” continued Zaldivar. 

The Echo Park Lake Rehabilitation Project, the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, the Machado Lake EcoSystem Rehabilitation Project, the Albion Riverside Park Project, the Penmar Park Water Quality Improvement Project and several low-flow diversion projects along Santa Monica Bay are just a sampling of Proposition O-funded water quality projects. Proposition O also funded many smaller neighborhood-based projects including green streets and alleys in South Los Angeles, Elysian Valley, and the San Fernando Valley. All told, Proposition O has funded 42 projects. These projects have the potential to capture, divert, treat and/or infiltrate hundreds of millions of gallons of water annually.  


Regional and Municipal Funding Opportunities

The SCWP includes both regional and municipal funding opportunities. On the Los Angeles County regional level, 50% of the revenues generated annually (an estimated $142 million) are allocated to LA County’s nine watersheds with the percentage of funds that each watershed receives being proportional to the tax revenues collected within each watershed boundary. Watershed Advisory Steering Committees in each of the nine watersheds, as well as a Regional Oversight Committee and a Scoring Committee, provide oversight and guidance on the selection of stormwater quality and capture projects and the expenditure of the funds.

On the municipal side of the SCWP, an estimated $114 million will be allocated to LA County’s 87 cities and unincorporated areas for multi-benefit water quality and water capture projects. The City of Los Angeles will receive an estimated $37 million annually. LA Sanitation and Environment (LASAN) has been identified as the City of Los Angeles’ lead for the SCWP, overseeing an internal working group of key departments to coordinate efforts and determine which projects move forward for municipal funding.


SCWP’s First Regional Call for Projects

In late 2019, the County of Los Angeles officially launched the Safe Clean Water Program’s first regional Call for Projects. Dozens of water quality projects were submitted throughout Los Angeles County’s nine watersheds. The City of Los Angeles submitted 11 projects for consideration in its three watersheds – the Upper Los Angeles River Watershed, the Central Santa Monica Bay Watershed, and the South Santa Monica Bay Watershed. The submitted projects included multi-beneficial proposals that would rehabilitate parks, divert polluted runoff to the sanitary sewer, provide operations and maintenance funds to Proposition O-funded projects, and conduct scientific studies. The projects have the potential to capture more than 200 million gallons of stormwater each year.  


Next Steps for the SCWP

For the regional program, the nine Watershed Area Steering Committees will make their final recommendations in May 2020 on which Round 1 regional projects will be funded. Those projects will be included in each watershed’s first five-year Stormwater Investment Plan (or SIP). Those SIPs will be forwarded to the Regional Oversight Committee and the Board of Supervisors for review and consideration this summer. Los Angeles County’s Round 2 Regional Call for Projects deadline for project submittals is July 31, 2020.

On the municipal side, the next steps for the City of Los Angeles is the development and adoption of a governance structure for the Safe Clean Water Program that includes finalizing funding transfer agreements with the County of Los Angeles, adopting an ordinance, setting up an Administrative Oversight Committee, and drafting a public outreach strategy. Another vitally important task will be determining which projects will be funded using City of Los Angeles municipal SCWP revenues and which projects will be submitted for consideration in LA County’s Round 2 Regional Call for Projects.


A Sustainable Water Future for LA 

As Los Angeles embarks on this new endeavor, it’s exciting to think about creating a time where Southern California’s dependence on outside water sources is significantly reduced. It’s a vision of a sustainable water future for our city – a time when Angelenos will visit new parks, trails, and ball fields with the knowledge that innovative, nature-based solutions within that park, under that baseball field and beside that equestrian trail are working hard to capture, clean and keep stormwater – one of LA’s most precious resources.

If you’re interested in learning more about the City of Los Angeles’ Safe Clean Water Program, please visit the program’s web pages or view the program’s City Council file


Should you have any questions about the City of Los Angeles’ Safe Clean Water Program, please e-mail us at san.safecleanwater@lacity.org.


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