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Home > Natural Resources > Water Strategies to Preserve Natural Resource Supplies and Quality

Our grandparents' design legacy

Urban runoff can be screened and filtered to protect surface and water table resources. West LA is doing it...

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Inherited Design and Development Problems

We often hear that we need to fix our environmental problems so that we don't bequeath them to our children and grandchildren. But that's only the future half of the story. We have also inherited our grandparents' and parents' development and design problems...

Now we know more about the interwoven relationship between our behaviors and the global climate system and we can do a better job. We can retrofit our communities.

Population Density

When you only have 10 people per square mile, you don't think about accumulating trash or runoff water. But as populations explode and the majority of people are now urbanites -- urban populations are more likely to be 3,000 people per square mile. The design decisions made over the decades come with us and problems are escalating. That's where we are today. Our legacy systems now need remediation to protect our own health and prepare for our children's future.

Urban Runoff Solutions

Santa Monica is facing the runoff problem that comes with decades of residential and urban design by seriously retrofitting the outdoor landscape using semi-permeable materials, cisterns and swales, etc. California cities such as Santa Monica, as well as Seattle and Portland, Ore., are focusing on stopping runoff at its sources: the rooftops, roads, sidewalks and parking lots that shed water.

A newly built Spanish-style house on 7th Street in Santa Monica demonstrated these new priorities with a giant pit in the frontyard. It looked like a small swimming pool filled with rocks. Rain gutters and thick plastic pipes will direct rainwater into the pit so it can percolate into the ground.

Cisterns are a common, simple way to keep more water in the yard and less spilling into the street.

For more than a decade, the city has required new construction or substantial home remodels to maximize permeable areas or set up other ways to keep water from running loose.

It's an attempt to reverse 125 years of engineering and landscaping design. Now, parking lots and driveways are being built from pavers or porous concrete that allow water to pass into the soil. They are lined with planters, built below grade to collect runoff, with trees and shrubs that soak up rainwater.

So far, about 1,200 parcels, about 5% of the city's total, have been reconfigured so that during 0.75 of an inch of rain, 6.1 million gallons of rainwater feeds topsoil or recharges groundwater instead of being whisked to the ocean with the other 110 million gallons.

Opportunity for Green Solutions to Urban Runoff

But even in Santa Monica, 95% of the city has yet to be updated. (That sounds like opportunity!)

"We're making progress," Perkins said. "Over the next 50 to 60 years, we could be close to retrofitting 90% of the city. We have to look at the cumulative benefits over time."

SOURCE: "Slowing a tide of pollutants" by Kenneth R. Weiss, Los Angeles Times, December 25, 2006

The City of Los Angeles and the City of Santa Monica took another important step toward cleaning up Westside urban runoff - a jointly funded project with the State of California, the California Coastal Conservancy, Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, and the City of Santa Monica with assistance from the County of Los Angeles Public Works. The facility utilizes three separate processes to treat and improve the quality of runoff: screening, sedimentation, and direct filtration.

The Westside Urban Runoff Treatment Facility (PDF) has been designed to treat urban runoff to the maximum extent possible from eastern parts of Santa Monica and parts of west Los Angeles. Other goals of the project include reducing urban runoff pollution, improving and preserving water quality entering Ballona Creek and the Santa Monica Bay, and protecting beneficial uses of our coastal waters.

Westside Water Quality Improvement Project

The Westside Water Quality Improvement Project is a large state-of-the-art treatment system for dry weather and stormwater runoff. The system is capable of treating dry weather runoff up to 3 cubic feet per second (cfs) and stormwater runoff up to 33 cfs in a 24-hour period. The runoff comes from approximately 220 acres within Santa Monica’s Centinela Sub-Watershed area and 2,280 acres from parts of west Los Angeles.

For more information about Santa Monica's runoff remediation programs, visit their Santa Monica Environmetnal Programs links.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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