A collaboration between government entities and environmental organizations on a rainwater-harvesting project is being touted as a model for future sustainability projects that could carry Los Angles further into the 21st century.

The rainwater project was unveiled Nov. 7 at Penmar Park in Venice by representatives from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay and TreePeople.

One of the advantages to the rainwater capture structure was that it will provide irrigation through reused water both for the park and the nearby Penmar Golf Course. And a new development ordinance will make it easier for governments to take advantage of storm water runoff, said a city recreation department head.

“By having a policy in place that will help us to streamline the process for reusing the storm water runoff, it’s really going to be beneficial to the parks department as well,” said Kevin Reagan, the assistant manger of the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks.

Adel Hagekhalil, assistant manager for the Bureau of Sanitation, noted that the parks department is the city’s largest commercial user of water. “These types of systems would help us reduce our dependence on that type of water,” he said.

Hagekhalil said Recreation and Parks has had to spend money out of its own budget for its water use over the last few fiscal years.

“It’s a very good cost-saving measure, it’s good environmental practice and we look forward to continuing these partnerships and to many more projects like we see today,” he added.

According to city and county officials, more than one billion gallons of water are lost during a half-inch rainstorm in Los Angeles County. The Penmar Park rainwater catchment system will collect approximately three million gallons of rainwater that will be re-used to irrigate the park and golf course.

Heal the Bay President Mark Gold praised the collaboration between county and city officials, which he feels have taken the lead on water conservation far more than their political counterparts.

“This is a testament to their leadership on local water supply, but we’re not getting the leadership that we need from Sacramento and Washington, D.C. on water,” Gold asserted. “What we’re doing here today in Venice can serve as an example for the whole state of California in how we start treating rainwater as a resource rather than just as a flood control problem and a pollution problem.

“This is a major first step forward on water quality, on local water supply, on public health and reducing flood control.”

Nearby Mar Vista, which lies a few blocks east of Penmar Park, has become one of the city’s leaders in sustainability and has many residents who have installed rain barrels on their roofs, which capture storm water runoff that is used to irrigate their lawns. Several have been featured in the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase, an annual display of residences that employ a variety of water conservation and sustainability features.

“It is staggering when we think about how our society interrupted the natural cycle of water,” said Sherri Akers, the co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Green Committee and an architect of the garden showcase.

“We have exploded the planet’s population while covering most of the surface of our communities with concrete or asphalt, so instead of our water going through a natural process of recycling and reuse we are dumping it into the oceans through the storm drains.

“Rainwater harvesting systems like this are a great step, but only a first step,” Akers added.

On Sept. 28, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a low impact development ordinance, which calls for development and redevelopment projects to mitigate runoff in a manner that captures rainwater at its source, while utilizing natural resources including rain barrels, permeable pavement, rainwater storage tanks, infiltration swales or curb bumpouts to contain water.

Gold said the ordinance will give clear guidelines to homeowners building new homes and developers who want to incorporate reused water in their plans.

“This will provide the clarity and certainty for everyone who is building projects that includes a rainwater harvesting component, which is so sorely needed and critical,” he said.

Gold said the Penmar project could be the beginning of larger developments on the water conservation front for the region, but also acknowledged the efforts of homeowners in Mar Vista and elsewhere to utilize storm water runoff to conserve water.

“It’s a very exciting time for the Los Angeles region,” he said. “This movement of no longer treating rainwater as a flood control problem and looking at it as a resource to harvest is something that we’re seeing more and more and we’re seeing it predominately in the local communities with rain barrels and rain gardens,” he said. “It’s really exciting to see the creative ways that people are installing them.

“But what this is all about is with these guidelines we will be able to move past having a rain barrel in your backyard,” Gold continued. “It’s about having larger regional projects with rainwater harvesting.”

Akers touched on what Gold mentioned about the need for homeowners to continue to include reusable water as well as inducements for them to install rain barrels or other conservation features.

“We need a program that incentivizes property owners to add water capture to existing developments. Why not a rebate as we have with solar when owners take steps to achieve water capture?” she suggested. “That would not only be a step to solve our water problem but would also create jobs.”

Gold said with the new ordinance in place there will be more possibilities to improve usage of rainwater runoff in commercial developments in the city and county, which will reduce the amount of water that Los Angeles imports from other regions.

Akers said she has invited Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Garden program to be a guest at a garden on each map on the 2012 Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase to provide outreach and education on rainwater harvesting.

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