It doesn’t rain much in Los Angeles, but it does rain: in an average year, enough rain falls throughout Los Angeles County to supply 650,000 families with enough water to live off if we captured it. For this reason, for more than twenty years TreePeople has been championing rainwater harvesting as a key part of our water supply. On June 28th, it became an even more economically and politically viable solution, as Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2403 into law.
AB 2403 clarifies parts of Proposition 218, which requires public agencies to put most fees and rate increases to a public vote. Proposition 218 drew a distinction between water supply – which isn’t subject to public vote – and stormwater management, which was deemed a waste and pollution issue. As our founder Andy Lipkis explains, AB 2403, which was written by Assemblymember Anthony Rendon, shepherded by local organization Heal the Bay, and supported by many other organizations including TreePeople, “amends the law to include stormwater and rainwater as a water supply issue rather than a water quality issue.”
Why is this such a big deal? Well, Andy explains that over the past several decades we at TreePeople have been working to “facilitate multiagency collaboration” in order to “make rainwater capture economically viable.” We have the water to make rainwater capture worthwhile – when LA got 4 inches of rain in February, we threw away 28 billion gallons of water because we didn’t have a way to capture it – but we’ve needed a mechanism to pay for building the projects to capture the water. AB 2403 helps set the stage for agencies to get sufficient funding for new infrastructure and programs. Previously, two-thirds of voters would have had to approve each fee. AB 2403 lowers this extremely high bar; now 50% of voters will have to protest a fee to keep agencies from implementing it.
Especially given the drought, water conservation efforts like those made possible by AB 2403 are increasingly crucial for the health of our urban ecosystem and the statewide environment. Historically, TreePeople hasn’t focused on policy; we’ve worked from the bottom up to help communities plant and care for trees and to promote urban forestry. As Andy says, bringing people and communities together is our strength – but we also need to ensure that the work we do on the ground isn’t being undone by policies that “profoundly undo the work of people” and make it difficult or even impossible to maintain and support our environment. For that reason, we integrate policy development into our work to ensure that the steps we need to take to make our city sustainable are beneficial for communities and economically viable. AB 2403 is one step among many – and we’re looking forward to working with organizations like Heal the Bay to make even more progress.
The image at the top of this post is a before-and-after shot of the Elmer Avenue Neighborhood Retrofit project, in which multiple organizations led by the Council for Watershed Health worked together to”reduce flooding, reduce water pollution, recharge our local groundwater supplies, increase green spaces, and enhance the community.” With the passage of AB 2403, we hope to see similar projects in the future.