Howard Fine’s article on the state’s proposed rainwater runoff rules makes the point that business will be hit hard by any increase in fees, especially in a down economy. But it does not have to be that way.

The law requires all of us to take responsibility for protecting our rivers, streams, beaches and ocean. Storm water fees are a critical part of that protection as they fund larger infrastructure projects that individuals and businesses cannot accomplish on their own.

And we have seen the return on our investment. It was not too long ago that pollution from storm drains and rivers made our local beaches places to avoid. It was an embarrassment to a region that derives so much of its economic power from its location by the water. Now our beaches are back, largely due to enforcement of the rules and laws that exist for their protection.

But today we still have work to do. Despite our past efforts, we are not where we need to be to comply with federal laws on the quality of our water. Decades of paving over L.A. neighborhoods has increased storm water runoff that carries harmful pollutants through the historic Los Angeles River to the coast. In both dry and wet weather, our runoff goes to the river, sometimes treated and sometimes not.

But in difficult times, we must find creative solutions, not give up the fight.

By investing in the natural capacity of rivers like our own L.A. River to filter harmful pollutants, we can shift the focus from individual businesses to the waterway itself, and in turn revitalize the river as an engine for economic and environmental development. Why burden small businesses with costly infrastructure when we have a large river infrastructure already in place?

Funding large transformative projects will provide a visible return to our investment in cleaning our storm water instead of a faceless fee that so many businesses feel. This has worked before in pilot projects around Los Angeles and in full-scale projects in other cities.

Green streets

Imagine a system of green streets capturing and cleaning water before sending it back to the river. Returning the L.A. River to a more natural state will help us clean our storm water, protect our water supply, provide needed open space for recreation, and create the environment for future economic development and job creation along revitalized river corridors.

We can see the seeds of this already as a program to tour the L.A. River by kayak kicked off last month and sold out all its summer sessions on the first day. And already along the river, there is biking, horse riding, bird watching and fishing happening daily. (See TheLARiver.com for more.)

The battle is not zero-sum between business and the environment. By thinking strategically, we can help our environment and also drive greater investment. We did it before by cleaning up our beaches and we can do the same by using our L.A. River to help us meet our environmental responsibility.

Harry B. Chandler is co-chairman of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corp., which was established by the Los Angeles City Council and the Mayor’s Office as a non-profit separate from the city.

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