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Santa Monica to Build Underground Storm Water Runoff Tanks

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

November 30, 2015 -- A $5.2 million proposal to build underground tanks to capture much of the runoff that pollutes the Santa Monica Bay after big rains is getting underway early next year, officials said.

As part of the “Clean Beaches Project,” the City of Santa Monica plans to construct a set of concrete subgrade storm-water runoff storage tanks north of the Santa Monica Pier beneath the Deauville Parking Lot, said Rick Valte, the project’s principal civil engineer.

Once built, the project would divert an estimated 1.6 million gallons of often-polluted runoff from the Pier and Pico Kenter drainage basins away from the Santa Monica Bay, he said. In addition, a set of smaller prefabricated storm water runoff storage tanks will be placed at the Pico-Kenter Outfall pump station, which is located just south of the Pier.

Those tanks will be used to “harvest" runoff from the drainage basins then diverted for treatment at the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF) and distributed for non-potable uses, according to officials from the City’s Public Works Department.

The City is still working out details of a grant for the project it received last year from the state Water Resources Control Board. The project moves on to the design phase in January, Valte said. Construction is expected to start in the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

Although Santa Monica, like most of California, is bracing for troubles that could be prompted by El Nino rain, Valte notes that the City’s new project was started long before a major El Nino was predicted. The new project is designed only to deal with runoff from storms during typical years. Even then, Santa Monica sees no more than approximately 1.1-inches of rain per 24 hours, at most.

Still, the project is particularly notable because it tackles both cleaning up ocean pollution and increasing the city’s “drought resiliency,” Valte said. “It is ahead of the curve compared to other agencies. We’re really quite excited about it.”

About $3.7 million of the project’s total cost comes from a grant from the State Water Resources Control Board, he said. The remainder of the total bill is being funded by the Measure V, or the Santa Monica Clean Beaches and Ocean Parcel Tax.

Santa Monica’s beach waters are routinely rated among the most polluted in California. The beach adjacent to the Santa Monica Pier this year hit the top 10 in the “Beach Bummer” list compiled by Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica environmental organization. The Pier’s beach waters were ranked the sixth worst, up a slot from last year.

The problem is that when it rains -- especially for the first time after a dry spell -- runoff contaminated with everything from plastic bags to bacteria and fecal matter can overflow from struggling storm drain systems into the ocean.

Health officials often warn of the dangers of swimming or surfing in ocean waters after a big rain.

Heal the Bay has estimated that Los Angeles County generates an average of 30 billion gallons of storm water and urban runoff annually. Even in during dry weather, up to 25 million of gallons of water flow through storm drains into the ocean every day, much of it contaminated, the organization says.

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