Press Release

Senate Passes Legislation to Boost Stormwater Capture, Improve California’s Water Supplies

SB 231 makes it easier for local agencies to finance projects capturing stormwater to reuse it, instead of letting the water run off and go to waste

April 27, 2017

SACRAMENTO – The Senate today passed legislation by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, clarifying the definition of stormwater so that projects designed to capture and clean stormwater can be more easily financed and built by local agencies.

SB 231 is part of Hertzberg’s strategy to better manage water supplies as California’s water continues to be strained by climate change, continuing cycles of drought and a steadily growing population. In recent years, as California suffered through a punishing five-year drought, awareness has grown about the importance of recycling and reusing water and the damage done by polluted water runoff. 

The bill cleared the Senate on a 23-10 vote and goes next to the Assembly for consideration.

“This is a matter of common sense. This legislation clarifies that local agencies should have the same authority to capture and treat all dirty water, no matter what its source,” Hertzberg said. “California needs to use more sustainable practices and manage its water more wisely, and that’s what this bill helps local agencies do.”

SB 231 provides legal clarity on the interpretation of Proposition 218 while maintaining the proposition’s transparency and accountability guidelines. Voters approved the proposition in 1996.   

The legislation adds a missing definition of “sewer service” to state law to include stormwater, which was long considered to be part of that definition until a court decision cast doubt on that interpretation 15 years ago. The measure allows local governments to finance and build projects that capture and clean stormwater just as easily as they can finance and build needed sewer facilities.

Although the state experienced heavy rainfall over the winter, much of the water flowed 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 is dumped into the ocean, a loss of billions of gallons of water each year.

Furthermore, rainfall produced flooding in many parts of the state with no infrastructure in place to capture or redirect the water.

One reason local agencies don’t have more infrastructure in place to control flooding and capture stormwater is because of legal confusion over the definition of stormwater, Hertzberg explained in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Daily News on Sunday.

The bill is sponsored by the Water Foundation.

“For too long, we have treated the rain that falls on our cities as a problem that fouls our streams and beaches with pollution and threatens our homes with flooding,” said Wade Crowfoot, CEO of the Water Foundation. “We must shift our thinking and treat this stormwater as a valuable asset.  By upgrading local infrastructure to capture, treat and reuse this valuable water source, local governments will reduce pollution and flood vulnerability and increase recharge of local groundwater supplies. We thank Senator Hertzberg for his leadership on this issue.”  

The legislation is also supported by the California Building Industry Association, California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance, California State Association of Counties, Sierra Club California, Save the Bay, State Building and Construction Trades Council of California and more than dozen cities and counties.

In addition, Hertzberg is the author of a constitutional amendment that would improve water management by allowing agencies to adjust their water rates to encourage conservation and provide discounts to people struggling to pay their water bills.

SCA 4 ensures local governments can discount rates for low-income Californians and charge higher rates to the biggest users of water to discourage excessive consumption. Such pricing is already commonplace for other utilities, such as electricity. 

Although access to safe, clean, drinkable water is considered a basic human necessity, millions of Californians today either cannot afford safe drinking water or do not have access to it. The cost of water is on the rise, and that is hurting disadvantaged communities across the state.

Up to 3 million Californians struggle to pay their water bills, and local agencies in disadvantaged communities have few ways of assisting them. Under current law, water agencies may only charge users exactly the cost of providing the water they use, no more and no less.

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Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, represents nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents of Senate District 18, which includes part of Burbank and the following communities in Los Angeles: Arleta, Granada Hills, Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, part of Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, part of Sun Valley, Sylmar, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Van Nuys, the City of San Fernando and Universal City. See a district map at http://sd18.senate.ca.gov/district.  After serving in the Assembly from 1996-2002, including two years as Speaker, Hertzberg invested in solar, wind and electric-car projects; and worked for structural changes in government through the Think Long Committee of California. Learn more at www.senate.ca.gov/hertzberg.

MEDIA CONTACT: Andrew LaMar
Communications Director
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 651-4018

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