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New Project Will Clean LAX Pollution Going Into Santa Monica Bay

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

May 12, 2015 -- Prompted in part by tighter state regulations at industrial sites including airports, Los Angeles official have moved ahead with a long-delayed project to clean up millions of gallons of polluted storm water runoff from LAX before it dumps into Santa Monica Bay.

A memorandum of understanding signed last week by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and officials from the LA Department of Sanitation and Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) officially funded the $40 million project, which had been mired in bureaucratic red tape.

For years, millions of gallons of storm water runoff containing jet fuel and other toxic substances from LAX have been sent untreated directly into Santa Monica Bay through an open ditch.

Once completed, the treatment project will capture the runoff and either send it to a new connection to the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant near the southwest corner of LAX, or pump it to an underground filtration system to recharge the groundwater basin, officials said.

An average of 100 million gallons of water a year could be captured and recharged into the groundwater basin through the project, officials said.

Because of the size and scope, the project, which will capture polluted storm runoff on 2,400 acres of land in and around LAX, is a significant environmental step forward for Santa Monica Bay, Heal the Bay officials said.

“We believe this will be a huge improvement for the water quality of Santa Monica Bay and especially at Dockweiler (State) Beach, which is one of our most popular tourist destinations,” said Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s vice president.

She also praised LA officials for finally resolving the matter.

“This is a great example of agencies coming together to support projects that benefit our watersheds holistically,” said Sikich. “We hope it will serve as a reminder for the need to find creative ways to fund projects and programs that benefit water quality, local water reliability, and our watersheds.”

Mark Gold, acting director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, who attended a news conference announcing the agreement, said the project will be “critical for reducing storm water pollution of Santa Monica Bay.”

Calling the project one of his priorities as mayor, Garcetti said it will resolve runoff pollution from LAX -- an environmental problem that urgently needed to be addressed after state officials adopted tighter regulations last year -- while also protecting Santa Monica Bay and helping his city cope with the state’s historic drought.

“We must re-imagine our relationship with water. We must be responsible with how we treat it, across its entire cycle,” said Garcetti. “We can no longer afford to let storm water run off as pollution into our ocean. We must clean it, we must capture it, and we must put it to good use.”

Most of the funding for the project -- $30 million -- is coming from Proposition O, which voters in Los Angeles overwhelming approved in 2004 to fund regional waterway and ocean cleanup projects.

According to the memorandum of understanding, the state Water Resources Control Board in April 2014 adopted “significantly more stringing and restrictive regulations” on storm water runoff from airports and other industrial facilities.

As a result, the new rules required LAWA to “address specific pollutants” from LAX “such as the fueling and maintenance of aircraft,” and to come up with a specific plan by July 1 of this year, according to the document.

LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey said the agreement provides LAWA with “a cost-effective approach to complying with all the requirements associated with the Clean Water Act, while benefiting LAX and our neighboring communities.”

“It’s a smart investment that will provide public health dividends in the future,” said Heal the Bay’s Sikich.

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