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There's A New L.A. County Tax On Stormwater. Here's How To Lower What You're Paying

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Dan McLathan places sandbags outside his house in the La Canada Flintridge area on Dec. 7, 2009. (Mark RalstonR/AFP/Getty Images)
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Yes, Angelenos, your county government has finally found a way to tax the very rain that falls on the roof of your home. And your driveway, and your patio, and any other surface that water cannot soak into.

You can hold the outrage, because you are very likely among the two-thirds of L.A. County voters who approved Measure W - aka the Clean Safe Water Program - in 2018. Today, the County Board of Supervisors gave their approval to let the new parcel tax go into effect.

That means that your next L.A. County property tax bill will have a new line, labeled SCW, for Safe Clean Water. It's a 2.5-cent tax on every square foot of impermeable surface of your property. It's intended to raise nearly $300 million a year for projects to capture and clean storm runoff.

WHY ANOTHER TAX? AND WHO PAYS IT?

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From the beginning, flood-prone Los Angeles County has designed its water projects to move rainfall out to the ocean as quickly as possible. But in the past few decades, the Los Angeles County Flood Control District has done more to catch rainwater and allow it to soak into the ground.

Holding onto as much rainwater as possible means more of it can flow onto spreading grounds and percolate down to the water table during wet seasons, to be pumped out for use during dry times. That can cut the expense of importing water from outside the region and make L.A. more self-sufficient.

Also, letting less water flow off our individual parcels means less water flows in the street, washing pollutants into storm channels and the ocean. Less runoff means a cleaner ocean.

But the county Flood Control District didn't have separate funding to do a more extensive network of big and small storm runoff capture and cleaning projects. So, it drafted the Safe Clean Water tax, got the Board of Supervisors to place it (designated as Measure W) on the ballot, and L.A. County voters gave it a big thumbs up.

Starting in October, the new charge will appear on tax bills for properties within the Flood Control District, which includes all of the L.A. Basin watershed. It excludes parcels in the northernmost part of the county, like in Palmdale and Lancaster, where rainfall does not flow to the ocean.

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WHAT'S IT GOING TO COST ME?

The tax is 2.5 cents per square foot of impermeable surface on your property. So, your roof, patio and driveway will all be included in the total.

Even the typical L.A. swimming pool gets taxed, which is surprising, because unless you can do a heck of a big cannonball dive, rainwater falling on a swimming pool would not flow off your property. But the theory is that the water in a swimming pool, if drained, has no beneficial re-use - you can't drink it or use it to water your plants. It just goes down the storm drain or sewer.

The Safe Clean Water parcel tax is expected to add about $80 to the average single-family home property tax bill. But there are a couple of ways to lower or even eliminate the tax.

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The engineered Dominguez Gap Wetlands in Long Beach filters stormwater and runoff from the Los Angeles River, then the water is siphoned under the river to a spreading ground to the west. It's an example of the sort of project that can be built with Measure W tax money. (Sharon McNary/LAist)
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HOW CAN I LOWER MY TAX?

You can lower your tax by reducing the square footage of your property that sheds water.

For example, if you tear out your concrete driveway and replace it with something porous, like gravel or paving blocks that water can pass through, that square footage would no longer be subject to the tax.

Adding one of those rock-lined swales to your front and back yards to capture and concentrate any rain that falls on it is another way to reduce your tax, said Matt Frary, who is lead staffer for the Safe Clean Water Program.

Your roof is another place to lower the bill. Of course, you want your roof to be impermeable, but adding gutters and rain barrels to catch and recycle the water is another way to keep it on your property.

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Let's say you already have some of these features on your property but the county failed to take them into consideration when calculating your bill. You can submit a correction to the county's record online. Go to the "resources" section of www.safecleanwaterla.org for more information on how to appeal your tax and get it lowered.

If you're successful, the county will issue a credit against your tax bill next year.

CAN I ELIMINATE MY MEASURE W TAX?

Low-income seniors who qualify for a number of other programs can also get this tax waived. Government offices don't pay property taxes, nor do some nonprofit organizations, so they are exempt. Look for details here.