“Water, water everywhere, nay a drop to drink.” That famous quote from The Ancient Mariner was never more appropriate than in California. We border the planet’s largest ocean. We have massive underground aquifers. We have built one of the world’s most extensive systems of reservoirs, canals and pipelines to move water to our urban areas. But, five years of drought have stretched those resources to the limit.

More than a decade ago, the Federal and State government adopted a regulatory scheme to begin the process of removing pollutants such as trash, bacteria, pesticides, copper, lead and zinc from our storm water running into the ocean. The initial cost to achieve that goal was pegged at $20 billion in Los Angeles County alone!

As cities and counties began to plan and design projects to manage polluted storm water, they also began to contemplate how to use that clean water for things like irrigation, flushing toilets and recharging our depleted underground aquifers, rather than sending it to the ocean. The idea of putting this storm water to productive use has been widely accepted, particularly in arid Southern California. Even in a drought, we get enough local rain to provide water to millions of households if we can figure out how to trap it. One idea is to run some of it through our sewer system where it can be treated and reused.

Unfortunately there is no money to pay for these projects.

Local governments have been reluctant to impose new fees because the state law is unclear and confusing on the definition of stormwater. For example, if the speed limit in your neighborhood is 35 mph. If someone were to challenge a 45 mph ticket in court and the judge were to agree that the appropriate speed limit is 45 not 35, no one would drive 45 until the speed limit signs were changed. They would save themselves the time and trouble of going to court. The same applies to the fees for storm water capture and treatment. Until the state changes its definition of water and sewer to include stormwater, the cloud of litigation still exists.

State Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) has introduced SB 1298 to clarify the definition of sewer to include stormwater. This clarification is a necessary and needed step to get these important water supply projects under way.

Contrary to critics, SB 1298 does not modify Proposition 218. It does not change the requirements for voter approval for new taxes and fees. Nor does it change the transparency or notification requirements of Proposition 218.

All SB 1298 does is make state law consistent.

SB 1298 will change the speed limit sign so that our efforts to make our water supply system more reliable and drought resilient can begin immediately. These storm water projects are urgently needed to clean our oceans and beaches and to enhance our water supply.

It’s a common sense idea that makes sense. The California Legislature should approve SB 1298.