Governor Signs Legislation to Improve Stormwater Capture

Posted on 06 Oct 2017 for representative Robert Hertzberg

SB 231 makes it easier for local agencies to finance projects that collect free rainwater and recycle it for use, instead of letting it go to waste SACRAMENTO – Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, announced today that Gov. Jerry Brown has signed his legislation to help cities capture and manage stormwater. SB 231 is part of Hertzberg’s strategy to modernize California’s water resources as they are strained by climate change, continuing cycles of drought and a steadily growing population. As California suffered through a punishing five-year drought, public awareness has grown about the importance of capturing and reusing rainwater. “We can’t keep sticking a straw in the north, a straw in the Colorado River, and hoping that the Sierra snowpack will keep reservoirs full throughout the year,” Hertzberg said. “We need local agencies to develop local supplies. California communities need clarity on how to collect free rainwater and put it to good use, rather than letting it go to waste.” Hertzberg’s legislation provides that legal clarity under an interpretation of Proposition 218 while maintaining the proposition’s transparency, accountability and requirements for public input. The voter-approved initiative from 1996 spells out which government fees and taxes require voter approval. However, Prop. 218 also specifically exempts certain essential services, such as water, trash and sewer, from the vote requirement. Even for those exempt essential services, though, property owners have the authority to block a fee increase if a majority of them protest the move. SB 231 states that sewer water includes stormwater, which was long considered to be the case in California law. In 2002, a single court decision cast doubt on that interpretation. This created a chilling effect, with cities refusing to fund stormwater projects, which risks both property and wastes a valuable resource. With the clarity restored by SB 231, local governments can finance and build projects to capture and manage rainwater for local reliability and flood safety. California experienced heavy rainfall last winter. Unfortunately, most of the water flowed right into the ocean. Only about 15 percent of the stormwater flowing into the Los Angeles River watershed is captured and used for water supply while the rest – billions of gallons each year – is lost. In addition, rainfall produced flooding and extensive damage in many parts of the state with little or no infrastructure in place to capture or redirect the water. One prime example is the city of San Jose, which incurred $73 million of flood damage in February. One reason local agencies don’t have more infrastructure in place to control flooding and collect free rainwater is because of legal confusion over the definition of stormwater, Hertzberg explained in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Daily News in April. The uncertainty, and potential for legal challenges, has had a chilling effect, and as a result, few communities pursued stormwater facilities. Perhaps even more worrisome is the effect climate change is expected to have on California’s water supplies. According to the New York Times, the quadrennial National Climate Assessment, which is being finalized this year, says climate change will probably further reduce California’s snowpack and produce chronic, long-lasting droughts in the state by the end of the century. Snowpack accounts for about one-third of the state’s water supply. The report also says that climate change is producing more extreme precipitation, increasing the risk of flooding. The bill is sponsored by the Water Foundation. "With the governor’s signature, California’s cities and counties are on their way toward a safer, more resilient future. We are grateful to Governor Brown, Senator Hertzberg, and members of the Legislature for their support of SB 231, which enables local infrastructure investment that captures stormwater,” said Wade Crowfoot, CEO of the Water Foundation. “These investments will protect homes from local flooding, reduce water pollution in our streams and beaches, and increase local groundwater supplies. It is a common sense step that will create jobs and spur local investment in these important improvements." The legislation is also supported by more than 100 organizations and local governments, including the Bay Area Council, California Building Industry Association, California State Association of Counties, Environmental Defense Fund, Heal the Bay, League of California Cities, League of Women Voters of California, Los Angeles County, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Save the Bay, Service Employees International Union California, Sierra Club California and State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. “This is a watershed moment for resource management in California,” said Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council. “For too long, California pumped polluted stormwater into our rivers and beaches, wasting an obvious source of freshwater for our drought-prone state. With SB 231, cities will finally be empowered to capture and clean stormwater to strengthen local water supplies and improve natural ecosystems. We’d like to thank Senator Hertzberg, the Water Foundation, and Governor Brown for bringing us one step closer to building a climate resilient California.” The legislation takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018. Hertzberg said he plans to work with cities, counties, local governments and water agencies to get the word out about the change in law and what it means for water planning and stormwater management. Hertzberg will host a webinar at 10 a.m. on Oct. 17 with Michael G. Colantuono, Esq., Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, PC and Sean Bothwell, Policy Director, California Coastkeeper Alliance, to answer technical questions. More information about the webinar, and how to participate, will be posted on Hertzberg’s website in coming days. ###