Santa Monica, California

Santa Monica: Water Quality as an Integral Component of a Sustainable City Initiative

Santa Monica, with a population of more than 87,000 (estimated as of 2003), has a history of responsible environmental management, and the City continues to focus its efforts to improve water quality and protect natural resources.


In 2001, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted Waste Discharge Requirements for Municipal Storm Water and Urban Runoff Discharges within the County of Los Angeles and the Cities incorporated therein. Santa Monica is one of the cities governed by this permit. In 2002, a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) was established for bacteria at Santa Monica Bay beaches during dry and wet weather. These regulations, coupled with the significance of the Bay to the City's economy and community, keep water quality at the forefront of City policy.

Santa Monica has long held a commitment to sustainability. In 1994, the Sustainable City Plan was crafted to address the strain that population growth and high levels of consumption place on natural resources. Updated in 2004, the Plan outlines a program to minimize these negative impacts while accommodating the needs of the City's residents and businesses in the present and the future.

The Sustainable City Plan is founded on nine Guiding Principles:

  1. The concept of sustainability guides City policy
  2. Protection, preservation, and restoration of the natural environment are high priorities for the City
  3. Environmental quality, economic health and social equity are mutually dependent
  4. All decisions have implications to the long-term sustainability of Santa Monica
  5. Community awareness, responsibility, participation and education are key elements of a sustainable community
  6. Santa Monica recognizes its connection with the regional, national, and global community
  7. Issues most important to the community will be addressed first, and the most cost-effective programs and policies will be selected
  8. The City is committed to procurement decisions that minimize negative environmental and social impacts
  9. Cross-sector partnerships are necessary to achieve sustainable goals

On-Site BMP Examples

Santa Monica promotes the implementation of on-site Best Management Practices (BMPs) that feature landscape treatment. Some of these installations include the following:


Santa Monica Airport Park — The Santa Monica Airport Park is being developed in the non-aviation areas of the Municipal Airport. The Park features a recreational pathway that extends to the limits of the property, providing walking, jogging, and cycling opportunities in a well-landscaped setting. Airport Park will also include five new sports fields; multi-use paved areas for court games, skating events, and parking; a 1.5-acre off-leash dog park; indoor recreational and community spaces; and play areas for children. Stormwater runoff from the park and some surrounding non-park land will be treated on-site by infiltration into underlying soils.

Clover Park — Stormwater best management practices were installed in Clover Park to capture the first 3/4-inch of runoff from the park's parking lot and office areas. A large, subterranean infiltration pit at the western side of the park receives the park's runoff. A catch basin insert provides pretreatment of runoff from the parking lot.

Virginia Park — Virginia Park was expanded by 2.9 acres to create new facilities to better serve the surrounding community. Stormwater runoff from the park will be treated on-site through infiltration into underlying soils. The parking lot is built with a variety of permeable surfaces and infiltration zones to enhance stormwater infiltration and reduce runoff.

Green Streets

Santa Monica is implementing a green streets program, similar to those in Portland and Seattle, by retrofitting existing streets to include porous pavement or bioinfiltration areas.

Bicknell Avenue — The project reduces the existing pavement width from 56 feet to 40 feet, with an 8-foot parking lane of pervious pavers on each side of the street. The existing curb and gutter will be replaced with porous concrete. The design allows for the creation of two 12-foot wide biofilter swales with mulch and plantings along either side of the street.

Hollister Avenue Phase I - Main Street to Neilson Way — This section of street is bordered on one-side by commercial buildings and a parking lot and on the other by a small community garden. The 5-feet of pavement closest to the curb will be replaced with pervious pavers and the curb and gutter will be replaced with porous concrete.

Hollister Avenue Phase II - Neilson to Ocean Avenue — High density, multi-family housing and a narrow public right-of-way characterize this block. The street is narrow with a 5-foot sidewalk and a 3.5-foot parkway. This project will demonstrate maximizing the beneficial uses of existing parkway space by replacing 5-feet of pavement on both sides of the street with pervious pavers and constructing porous curbs and gutters. A water storage and treatment trench will be constructed in the existing parkway and will include additional landscaping.

On-Site Stormwater Management Systems

The City encourages residents and businesses to implement on-site stormwater management systems through its Urban Runoff Management Program. The Program provides homeowners and businesses with a variety of technical resources and publications on how to comply with its Urban Runoff Management Ordinance on individual parcels to help reduce stormwater pollutant discharges to the public storm drain system, reduce urban runoff volumes, help reduce peak flood flows, and increase groundwater recharge. The types of facilities promoted through this program include the use of cisterns and rain barrels; disconnecting downspouts; and installing rain gardens.

Public Outreach and Education

Santa Monica also promotes a comprehensive public education program to increase residents' and developers' awareness of tools, technology, and requirements for addressing water quality. Elements of the outreach and education system include the following:

"Working for a Cleaner Bay" Brochure — This brochure provides design regulations, construction practices, and good housekeeping requirements for new and redevelopment building projects and existing properties to reduce urban runoff water pollution.

Example of Best Management Practices (BMPs) — The City provides a list of examples of BMPs that can be used for minimizing the introduction of pollutants of concern. These pollutants may result in significant impacts if allowed to enter the stormwater conveyance system.

Cooperative Education for At-Risk Youth — The City contracted with Chrysalis and Los Angeles Conservation Corps, a non-profit group that helps at-risk youth, to employ up to four young people to receive on-the-job training and in-class education (toward a high school diploma or college degree). They worked with City stormwater staff cleaning catch basins and Continuous Deflective Separation (CDS) units.

Stormwater Environmental Educational Partnership (SWEEP) — This educational pilot program is funded by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project and is implemented by the City in partnership with Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica based environmental advocacy group. The program increases public awareness of urban runoff pollution by training local junior high and high school students to make presentations to business and community groups and distribute public education door hangers throughout the community.


Urban Runoff Videos — In 1990 and 1991, the City produced two educational videos about urban runoff that aired on the Santa Monica cable television station and were distributed throughout the country.

Catch Basin Stenciling Program — Santa Monica began the first catch basin stenciling program in the region in 1989. This program involved painting a stencil adjacent to catch basins indicating that the catch basin drains directly to the Bay. Where feasible, all of the catch basins maintained by the City have been stenciled. Because the painted stencils tend to fade over time, the City has also used two permanent marking systems: ceramic tiles and thermoplastic stencils.

Stormwater Ordinances and Regulations

Ordinances and regulations are a significant component of Santa Monica's stormwater management system.

Urban Runoff Pollution Control Ordinance

The purpose of the Urban Runoff Ordinance is to permanently modify the structural causes of urban runoff pollution. The goal of this ordinance is to reduce runoff volume and contamination from existing residential and nonresidential properties and from future developments. The primary mechanisms for accomplishing these reductions in runoff and contamination are:

  • Ensure that project sites maximize on-site percolation of runoff, and
  • Ensure that rain water is directed or contained so as not to become polluted by passage through contaminating material.

Industrial Pretreatment Program

The industrial pretreatment program is designed to ensure that the Publicly Owned Treatment Works are only used for treating and conveying domestic wastewater and stormwater by imposing regulations on all other types of waste discharged to the system.

Water Conservation Ordinance #1580

The City implemented the Water Conservation Ordinance to minimize the needless waste of water. Activities affected include: watering of landscaping, sidewalk washing, vehicle washing, and serving water in restaurants, among others.

Water-Conserving Landscape Regulations

Regulations are now in place, which require water-conserving landscaping These include limits on turf area, recommended low-volume irrigation systems, and a prohibition on ponds, fountains, and other freshwater bodies that promote evaporation.

Funding Mechanisms

Stormwater Enterprise Fund

The City's storm drainage system has been designated a City enterprise and utility for the purpose of providing for and managing aspects such as funding, permitting, maintaining, planning, designing, reconstructing, constructing, environmentally restoring, regulating, water quality testing, and inspecting of storm drainage and the storm drainage system.

Landscape Water Efficiency Competitive Grant Program

Established in 2004, this program provides partial funding for new or remodeled innovative garden designs that demonstrate sustainable practices These must include one or more of the following:

  • California native plants
  • Water-efficient irrigation systems
  • Stormwater catchment systems
  • Graywater systems
  • Other innovative water saving features

Water efficient landscapes reduce runoff and pollutants. Grantees may receive up to half the cost of a proposed project (up to $20,000). A maximum of $80,000 total will be awarded on a bi-annual basis as long as funds are available. Funds may be used for plant material, irrigation systems, water-saving features and design-construction costs. These funds will not cover maintenance of the landscape.

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