(photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — Southern Californians may be notoriously pathetic when it comes to dealing with a little wet weather, but a small (and growing) number of them are raising the bar by doing their part to keep rainwater from flowing into the Santa Monica Bay with their own rain-storage devices.

In Santa Monica, City Hall’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment for several years has offered rebates to residents who purchase rain barrels and cisterns as part of a program aimed at diverting runoff back to gardens and lawns.

Since 2009, the rebates have been funded with money from Measure V, the Clean Beaches and Ocean Parcel Tax that voters approved in 2006.

While it’s gaining momentum, still only a tiny minority of Santa Monicans have taken advantage of the program.

Last year, City Hall received 26 applications and issued rebates for 60 barrels and 15 cisterns (most homeowners decide to install multiple rain catchers once they make the commitment). Of the initial $60,000 in Measure V money allocated for rebates (which can range from $100 for small barrel purchases up to $500 for 500-gallon cisterns), just $9,500 has been spent, according to Kim O’Cain, a water resources specialist who oversees the program.

“I would love to see more activity,” she said, adding that “it usually happens around this time because it starts to rain and people start to say, ‘Oh yeah, maybe I should get one of those.’”

As it flows down streets and gutters, rainwater picks up bacteria, trash and other debris, contributing to poor water quality in the Santa Monica Bay. While preventing runoff from reaching the beach is the main goal of the rebate program, it also has water conservation benefits.

Kathleen West-Capron, an early adopter who has three barrels of varying sizes at her home in Sunset Park, said the barrels capture enough water to irrigate her family’s vegetable garden nearly year-round.

She bought her first barrel a year ago at City Hall’s annual Santa Monica Festival and then picked up two more at locally-based Bourget Bros.

Equipped with solar panels and a solar-powered water heater, you could say the West-Capron residence is on the green side.

But she said getting a barrel installed doesn’t have to be a major expense or commitment. City Hall’s rebates covered more than half her total.

“It’s a small difference, but if every house did it you would see a difference in water consumption,” she said.


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