Stopping water run-off discussed at annual conference


Last week’s Water Runoff Conference 2008 at Pepperdine University began with a concise overview of water in Southern California given by Dorothy Green, author and founder of Heal the Bay, who signed copies of her book, “Managing Water.” The conference wound up with a look at how to interconnect all the diverse agencies and cities into a natural urban system with a lecture given by Andy Lipkis, the founder of TreePeople, and finished with actor/activist Ed Begley Jr. asking each person in the audience to make a commitment to eliminate water runoff. Begley underlined the core message about water in Southern California-every drop counts.

The conference focused on eliminating water run-off for four reasons: pollution, native species, pending drought and energy.

Pollution: Water run-off contributes to pollution by carrying nutrients, trash and metals into the watershed, degrading water quality.

Native species: All that polluted water becomes water run-off and thus, from the a biological perspective, “excess water,” which has the potential to destroy the local ecosystems. The hydrological cycle is based upon a Mediterranean climate, and too much water in the natural environment reduces local plant and animal populations.

Pending drought: Scientists are predicting that with the onset of global warming, there will be a drop in the snow pack in the Sierras that could be as high as 70 percent. Locally, all the potable water is imported from Northern California. So a potential 70 percent drop in supply means we need to make sure we actually use all the water we bring down into Southern California.

Energy: In the northern portions of Los Angeles County all the drinking water is imported from Northern California. Pumping this water 400-plus miles takes up approximately 30 percent of the electricity statewide and 20 percent of the gas, also statewide.

There are other things that can be done to solve the problem of water run-off. A plumber can help improve sprinkler systems-stopping overspraying and leakage. Change sprinkler controls to reflect real needs, rather than letting water run down the street. The Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains recommends watering lawns for five minutes at 20-minute intervals so local soils have time to absorb the water.

Other issues discussed at the conference included inspiring green landscapes and green buildings and roofs, and cisterns for those who want to keep water on site for gardening or fighting fires. Also discussed was a review of ordinances to reduce or eliminate urban run-off from adjacent communities and the state as a whole, a look at groundwater in our own area, a look at common-sense best management practices that comes down to inexpensive redos that can be done in a day or two at home, and a look at how local agencies are reducing water use by educating communities in how to eliminate water runoff. Speakers came from as far away as New Mexico, Texas, New York City and as close as Santa Monica, Calabasas, Los Angeles and within Malibu’s backyard. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky tied the conference together with his emphasis on how the county is aiming to reduce urban runoff while Malibu Mayor Jeff Jennings gave a review of all the water quality-related projects that Malibu has created in the last year alone in an effort to eliminate urban run-off.

The RCDSMM is creating a CD that includes the PowerPoints from each of the speakers as well as a DVD that will include chapters on each item, so viewers can review the relevant sections. Any of the speakers can be contacted individually, as well. For the CD or the DVD, send an e-mail to

Melina Watts is the Malibu Creek Watershed coordinator at the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains.