Turning Yards Into Rain Gardens


Is California still in a drought? The state thinks so. Or maybe we should stop talking about a “drought,” which implies a short term situation beyond our control, and start talking about a water crisis. In May the state upped its delivery of water through the massive state water project to 45 percent of requests. They started the year promising 5% of requests. So this is a good thing, right? Since when is 45% a good thing? The “normal” delivery (over the past 10 years) has been 68% of requests.

Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said “While the increase in deliveries is good news, we will continue to have a water supply crisis until we improve our conveyance system, increase storage and resolve the complex environmental problems of the Delta.”

Solutions? We need to use water, of course, but we are also victims of engineering. The system is designed to direct good rain into storm drains and send it to the ocean, bypassing the soil and groundwater basins. This way we lose enough water every year to supply over a million people. In the words of Dorothy Green, we need to unpave LA!

By turning yards into rain gardens and streets into water recharge facilities, we can ensure we have enough clean water for the future.

We took a small step in that direction with the completion of Elmer Avenue this May. Elmer recharges 16 acre feet a year, which is enough water to replace that used by residents of the street plus a few more households. Plus with their new drought tolerant and native landscaping and education about water conservation, we expect the residents will be using even less water into the future.

We have more pictures on our website.

Elmer Avenue bioswale working to capture and infiltrate rain

3 thoughts on “Turning Yards Into Rain Gardens

  1. Congrats on Elmer Street! So exciting to think of how much water will be allowed to recharge the aquifer.

    Re: water crisis vs. drought, how about just calling it the new normal? Wildlife has taken the hit far longer than we have due to our over “management” of the water, now we have to adjust and adapt as well – and as your project demonstrates, using less water – and restoring the natural process of percolation – can be lovely!


  2. I personally agree with the “new normal” language, but is that enough to change personal behavior? In Australia it was as simple as educating and asking people to use less water, reportedly. Are Californian’s more skeptical, cynical, contrarian, stubborn than Australians? If you mean “new normal” for policies and practices with regards to our public works and water agencies, I agree. We need standard practices to change.


  3. It’s not even just the new normal – it’s the old normal too, as far as climate goes, just with more people using water for more silly things.

    Australia knows it is largely arid or semi-arid. From what I see in peoples’ yards, Los Angeles thinks it is a rain forest.


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