As rain continues to hound Santa Monica for a second consecutive week, gallons of pollution-laden storm water runoff that once would have flown into the Santa Monica Bay are being diverted and captured for reuse by the City’s increasingly robust water infrastructure system.

Coming just several months after the opening of a state of the art Sustainable Water Infrastructure Project (SWIP), Water Resources Manager Sunny Wang said that storms like this highlight the ways in which the City’s investment in such projects pays off.

“The investment that we’ve made is great,” he said. “We’re ahead of a lot of other utilities to be able to capture the stormwater and utilize it, so it’s not only improving the water quality in Santa Monica Bay, we’re also increasing mobile supplies to be able to preserve that precious resource that was previously just sent to the Santa Monica Bay.”

While SWIP is still undergoing regulatory processes and is not yet fully operational, Wang said when it comes online it will significantly increase the City’s capacity to capture and reuse water in conjunction with existing projects including the Clean Beaches Project tank next to the pier.

“Together with the beach tank and the SWIP project harvesting tank, we estimate on average we’ll divert over 40 million gallons of storm water away from the Santa Monica Bay each year,” he said. “So that’s the amount of pollution that we’ll reduce that has flown into the bay and treat that and re-use that locally.”

The water collected in the beach tank and soon SWIP during storms and from dry-weather runoff, is sent to the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility where it is treated to be used for purposes including irrigation and plumbing.

For the month of December, Wang estimates that the pier beach tank has captured and diverted over a million gallons of stormwater. Data from the past week and this most recent series of storms is not yet available.

Even with the intervention of systems like SWIP, experts still warn of unsafe water quality conditions in the Santa Monica Bay following rain.

“Rain and storm water runoff play an important role in the water quality in the Santa Monica Bay,” Heal the Bay Associate Data Specialist Alison Xunyi Wu said. “During a rain event, rain water picks up bacterial contaminants on land, such as animal feces among other contaminants, that flush into the ocean via storm drains and rivers. This usually leads to a significant elevation of bacteria and other harmful germ levels in ocean waters during and after rainstorms.”

She added that due to the relative infrequency of rain in California, pollutants have more time to build up during dry periods resulting in higher concentrations of bacteria in runoff when storms such as this one do occur and reminded people to stay out of the water for at least 72 hours after rainfall.

Annelisa Moe, a water quality scientist with Heal the Bay acknowledged that many people in the drought-stricken California region see the recent rain as cause for celebration, but said more needs to be done to prevent pollutants from entering the ocean via storm drains and ensure that municipalities can capture, treat and reuse stormwater.

“While the storms of this past month have been duly celebrated at the end of a particularly dry year, it does also mean an inundation of pollution that threatens water quality and ecosystem health, as well as the loss of a potential local water resource,” she said.

With the rain expected to continue into the coming week, Wang encourages residents to take steps such as making sure their sprinklers are turned off and being cautious when driving, especially in flood-prone areas. Prior to the storm, he said they took steps to mitigate potential effects of heavy rainfall.

“What we do is all of our crews go out and clear all the debris that may be blocking the way into storm drains, so make sure all the major debris are cleared and out of the way to minimize flooding events, so we do that before the storm comes.”

He said the City has crews on standby in case of flooding as well as staff working to clear debris on roads.

Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...