South LA to get 'green street' after $4 million water settlement

File: Trash in the crook of a boom at the mouth of the L.A. River.
File: Trash in the crook of a boom at the mouth of the L.A. River.
Molly Peterson/KPCC

Money from a $4 million settlement with Los Angeles County will go to fixing up a major South L.A. street.

Environmental advocates have reached a deal with the county and the Los Angeles Flood Control District after years in court over high levels of pollution in stormwater found in the L.A. and San Gabriel rivers. 

Steve Fleischli, water program director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told KPCC the county violated the Clean Water Act, which prohibits any discharges that diminish water quality.

Fleischli said there were many documented violations of pollutions, including cyanide, copper and fecal coliforms in the rivers. In some cases, testing results showed the coliform level was 22,000 times the legal limit. 

In return for dropping the suit, the county will spend roughly $3 million turning 103rd Street in Watts into a "green street" — adding cisterns and rain gardens to the major thoroughfare. The remainder of the settlement will fund stormwater capture, clearing and reuse projects for private residences in unincorporated Los Angeles County.

Stormwater runoff is the No. 1 cause of water quality problems in Southern California, Fleischli said.

“We’ve known about that problem for decades, and unfortunately the county and others have not been doing enough to address that problem," he said.

By deploying more "green" infrastructure like rain gardens and grassy swells — things that allow water to naturally filtrate — he said the water quality problem can be addressed. It's something the Watts community has been working on for some time but didn't previously have the funding.

Fleischli said more still needs to be done, but a "green street" is a good start. He said they picked 103rd Street for a very specific — and historical — reason.

"In 1965, there was the Watts uprising — after that 103rd street became known as Charcoal Alley because that's where a lot of the area burned. And now we have a chance to make it into a green street," Fleischli said.