A plan that could cost as much as $25 million for stormwater drainage improvements is winding its way through the city’s approval process.
According to Public Works Director Jim Gustafson, the Stormwater Master Plan essentially outlines the city’s maintenance and capital improvement needs over a 20-year period to address various drainage system problems and conform to federal regulatory requirements such as the Clean Water Act of 1972. An initial draft, which took approximately two years to complete, was presented last week during a Los Altos City Council session.
Gustafson said the plan is the first of its kind in Los Altos since the 1966 storm drainage study.
“The last time this was done, the regulatory requirements were very different,” said Gustafson, who anticipates final adoption of the plan in June. “For instance, the Clean Water Act had not yet been adopted by the federal government.”
He added that the updated inspection of the city’s stormwater drainage uncovered more than 30 trouble areas throughout Los Altos. The plan calls for the replacement of several dry wells – also known as French drains – with new inlets and piping that directs stormwater to nearby creeks. Dry wells, according to Gustafson, serve as grated pits that allow stormwater to seep into the ground. The city’s plan specifically outlines costs of more than $3 million to replace the dry wells.
“The problem with them is that over time, they get clogged with sediment and fine grit and they don’t function properly anymore,” he said. “They’re not a good long-term solution.”
Gustafson noted that of the nearly $25 million in potential capital projects listed over a 20-year time frame, approximately $6 million covers high-priority improvements along areas like Fremont Avenue, which needs more than 1,300 feet of stormwater piping and new inlets. By comparison, nearby cities like Palo Alto ($55 million) and Burlingame ($39 million) need far costlier capital upgrades, he added.
In addition to capital improvements, the plan includes ongoing maintenance and staffing requirements for the city’s system, which has 1,350 inlets that regularly need litter and vegetation removed during fall and winter.
Gustafson said the city has the equivalent of two halftime positions dedicated to stormwater maintenance. Typically, he added, a maintenance worker can clean approximately 25 inlets per day, which at times during rainy seasons requires diverting maintenance workers from other city departments to help with cleaning efforts.
“They don’t stay clean,” Gustafson said of the city’s inlets. “If you clean them one day, you’ll typically have to come back again a couple of weeks later. … We do have to throw a lot of other resources at it, and that detracts from being able to do some other things.”
Gustafson added that the city’s effort to finalize the master plan would include a robust look at funding future upgrades and maintenance for the system. The city does not have a dedicated funding source, he noted, which may require it to examine the possibility of assessing “some kind of parcel tax or (establishing) an assessment district” in the near future.
The city council is slated to study funding options for the stormwater system in approximately three months, according to Gustafson. He added that a California Environmental Quality Act Initial Study would be required before the final master plan is adopted.