Solutions for Dirty Stormwater

In these dog days of summer, its nice to see a fresh new video from NRDC on “stormwater runoff 101.” Starting with the end in mind, NRDC shows how people can do simple things to keep rivers, beaches, and oceans clean. I also like the video because they feature Elmer Avenue as an example of doing things right.

Is Your Favorite LID Project on the Map?

Want to know more about where to find green infrastructure projects around the country? The National NEMO* program has an interactive website for you! The Low Impact Development (LID) Atlas was created by the Connecticut NEMO Program and the California Center for Water and Land Use “to highlight innovative LID practices around the country.”  It’s pretty neat to cruise around the country looking at various projects. Too bad there aren’t more listed – a map like this is only as good as its informants.

Unfortunately the site wasn’t set up as a wiki, so you have to be a member with a login to post your project. Right now Elmer Avenue isn’t up there – I’m trying to get it posted.

If you know of a project that should be on the map, you’ll have to contact your state NEMO rep (and hope that you have one).

*The acronym is meaningless today but used to stand for Non-point source Education for Municipal Officials.

Elmer Avenue: The Venice of Sun Valley

That’s what some people are calling the new green street retrofit – I guess because the swales look like little canals. Or maybe it’s because the street is just so pretty right now, after the plants have been in the ground for a couple of months. Emily Green, LA Times, calls it “The Dry Garden,” and Sunset Magazine’s Fresh Dirt blog says it is “a model, we hope, for the future.” I like the Mother Nature Network blog’s headline, “Elmer Ave. in Sun Valley, Calif., is ready for stormy weather.” You can read the most complete coverage on LA Creek Freak in the piece that has generated the most comments of any posting I’ve seen so far, “Elmer Avenue Green Street Project Explored.

In case you haven’t been able to get out to see the street yet, here are a few more photos from earlier this month.

The plants in the swales are growing and blooming so well; I’m looking forward to seeing how they weather the summer heat.

I can’t give the residents enough credit for having the vision and grace to allow their street to become this showcase for all of Los Angeles, for how we can turn our streets and yards into gardens that harvest the rain.

Turning Yards Into Rain Gardens

Iris

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