By STEVE SCAUZILLO (Photo by Leo Jarzomb)

The thousands of miles of concrete channels diverting street water from the San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers represent the last major water project in Los Angeles County, built almost 100 years ago.

On Thursday, Dave Sorem, owner and vice president of Mike Bubalo Construction Co., showed off the first of a second wave of street-water projects that elevate what is essentially water pollution into a drinkable water source.

One of the first in Los Angeles County, the Los Cerritos Channel Storm Water Capture Facility in Long Beach will take the “first flush” of rain water from the streets of Signal Hill and Long Beach and the runways and taxiways of Long Beach Airport and re-purpose it. The $9 million project located on the southern end of the airport will do exactly what many Southern Californians say when it rains: “Why don’t they capture that water instead of wasting it to the ocean?”

This half-completed project intercepts channelized storm water heading to Alamitos Bay by sending it to twin centrifuge-type machines called hydrodynamic separators that remove garbage, sediments and grime that gets taken to a landfill. The cleaner water is sent through a massive pipe into an underground cistern 660-feet long and 14 feet high, where the effluent can slowly percolate through porous gravel into the ground to be pumped out as potable, or drinking, water.

“It represents the start of the remaking of water infrastructure in California,” said Sam Unger, executive director of the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state agency requiring 87 cities in the county to clean their share of storm water.

The board gave the permit for this project to the cities of Signal Hill and Long Beach five years ago, he said. The cities received a grant from Caltrans to cover the cost, said Kelli Tunnicliff, Signal Hill public works director.

Money for such storm-water capture projects has been slow to leave Sacramento, said John Hakel, executive director of the Southern California Partnership for Jobs, a group that includes 2,700 contractors and 90,000 union workers. The pot of money comes from state agencies but also from the $7.54 billion Proposition 1, approved by voters three years ago. Of that windfall, only $113 million has been dispersed, Hakel said.

“These types of water capture projects are a priority,” said Hakel, after going on the tour led by Sorem along with officials from the cities and Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach.

Hakel is helpling cities and water districts build advanced water infrastructure that clean toxic storm runoff that picks up oil, bacteria and heavy metals from city streets and deposit it into the ocean. Once operational in February, the facility will help clean the ocean water at Mother’s Beach in Long Beach, Sorem said.

Advanced storm-water capture projects also provide a locally sourced water supply, weaning cities and water districts from dependence on more expensive imported water from Northern California and the Colorado River.

Hakel is meeting with the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District in Monrovia on Dec. 4. The wholesale water district, which serves about 1 million residents in the San Gabriel Valley, is working on plans to bring reclaimed water from the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts in North Whittier to the San Gabriel River spreading grounds. He said his members can share their expertise on these types of projects — different than the Los Cerritos project — as well as future storm-water capture projects.

Dirty storm water flowing from cities in central and northeastern L.A. County entering Long Beach and Seal Beach has been a sore spot for these and other beach cities.

Sorem is building Phase I, which can capture water at a rate of 166 cubic feet per second, tantamount to grabbing 166 basketballs going by every second. The first phase has a capacity of 14 acre-feet of storm water or about 14.5 million gallons. (One acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, or the amount used by two small Southern California families in a year).

The second and third phases — currently unfunded — would be built under adjacent airport land and a nearby parking lot.

Source: Pasadena Star NewsDaily News