L.A. County’s Measure W: An Investment in Our Water Systems, Our Health & Our Children

Photo courtesy of OurWaterLA

Last month, the nation’s largest county secured nearly 70% voter support for Measure W, which promises to transform Los Angeles into a greener, healthier, and more prosperous region. The parcel tax is expected to yield $300 million annually for distributed and neighborhood scale, nature-based solutions to capture, infiltrate, treat, and use stormwater and dry-weather runoff. Measure W is considered the largest water infrastructure tax of its kind ever adopted in U.S. elections. 

LDF partner OurWaterLA, a diverse coalition of community leaders and organizations united to create a strong water future for Los Angeles, helped educate voters about the water challenges the region faces and the benefits Measure W promises. Groups held numerous workshops discussing: drought as the new normal; the growing number of extreme heat days;  the billions of gallons of precious rainwater lost to the ocean every year; as well as, the problem of water and wastewater pipelines bursting at the seams.

Los Angeles is one of the few regions in the state that continues to be afflicted by the state’s historic drought prompting hydrologists to refer to the region as experiencing a forever drought. Our imported water supplies are strained by competing interests and climate change. Our groundwater supplies are contaminated by a century of industrial discharges. In response, Measure W would capture and filter enough rain and runoff to meet nearly a third of the county’s demand for onsite reuse.

The region is also experiencing the largest heat island effect in the state.  This effect amplifies the sun’s heat when it is absorbed into the hardscape of the built environment. The Center for Disease Control has found that extreme heat causes more deaths than all other weather-related causes combined. During California’s 2006 heat wave, there were 16,166 excess emergency department visits and 1,182 excess hospitalizations across the state, with increases in visits for kidney-related diseases, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In the decade following this heat wave, LA County Health Department found a steady increase of heat-related emergency room visits. Measure W would invest in green streets, parks, fields and tree canopies that could help reduce heat-related illness and deaths by more than 25%.

Combined, drought and extreme heat decrease soil moisture and increase plant mortality, transforming our semi-arid region into a desert. In the past few years, urban Southern California has lost an estimated 27 million trees. Measure W would leverage investments across regional departments like parks and transportation to offset the drying effect with green landscapes. Like W, these departments are benefitting from tax-payer bonds that can support pocket parks in neighborhoods, bioswales along roads, and a replenished tree canopy. 

Further contributing to our regional water loss, the large majority of water and wastewater pipelines lose 25% or more of their contents to leaks. Measure W can help us replace our aging pipelines with a combination of green and grey infrastructure. Studies show that the capital cost of green infrastructure projects come in at 15-80% of its gray counterpart depending on the practice.[v] Moreover, by planning ahead we can save ourselves three times the costs of repairs necessary to fix emergency ruptures.

In addition to saving on costs, Angelenos get a return on our investment by supporting Measure W. When studying water efficiency and reuse projects across the county, economists found that per million dollars spent, 13-16 full-time jobs were created. They also found that each million dollars invested stimulated $1.99 million in regional economic activity.

Critics said the measure did not specify which projects will be constructed nor when the measure will end. It’s true. Instead, OurWaterLA designed nine Watershed Area Steering Committees with a balanced number of seats dedicated to local government, business, and residential representatives appointed to prioritize and spend revenues on any number of qualifying projects. To their second point, like climate change, Measure W did not account for an end from the impacts of extreme weather. Rather the measure requires continuous investments in our water systems, because funding water projects is an investment in our health, our communities, and our children.

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