Listening to America about the Great Outdoors, Part I

The feds were here this week to listen to us about America’s Great Outdoors, an initiative of President Obama’s to launch a national dialogue about conservation in American and learn about some of the smart, creative ways American’s are conserving outdoor spaces. The public listening session, originally to be a one day affair in Los Angeles, stretched to two and a half days with events at Compton Creek and Whittier Narrows on July 7, Los Angeles on July 8, and concluding in the Santa Monica Mountains on July 9.

I was honored to be a part of the planning team for the Los Angeles event on July 8, working with some of our great public servants in City of LA government, such as Paula Daniels (Board of Public Works Commissioner) and Romel Pascual (interim Deputy Mayor for the Environment). We developed our messages and strategized on how to deliver them, producing talking points and deploying teams to the breakout sessions. I’m not sure all of our work was needed – everyone was so on-point and articulate – but I appreciated the way we came together in such a short time to put on a good event. I have to say that Occidental College really shined with a thoroughly professional and yet down to earth presentation of the campus and the themes (disclaimer – my husband and I are both Oxy alumni). Oh, and the weather was great too!

This is the first of  several parts on my thoughts and impressions of the day and about America’s Great Outdoors.

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

Is Your Garden a Working Landscape?

Gardens on Elmer Avenue in Sun Valley hold rainwater and recharge the aquifer, replacing what they use…and they are pretty, too. I’ll be talking more about Elmer Avenue in the next few weeks, telling the story of the street from research and conception to implementation.

Bioswale in the Rain

Wildflowers After the Fire

The fire followers are glorious. What can I say except that? I’ve not seen Phacelia grandiflora since I pressed it in my college botany class. I was fortunate to be collecting the Spring after a Malibu fire, and here it is again, in the San Gabriel Mountains. Phacelia grandiflora and the other fire followers probably haven’t bloomed here for over 50 years as the last recorded fire was in 1959 in western Altadena.

Phacelia grandiflora with Phacelia minor

Phacelia minor or parryi with mustard.
Parasitic dodder, taking advantage of the wildflowers
Caterpillar phacelia alongside an erosion channel

Are You Ready for the New California Landscape?

The Watershed Council is holding its next Sustainable Landscape Seminar this month: Planning and Planting the New California Landscape.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
8:30am – 3:30pm
Metropolitan Water District
700 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles, CA 90012 (Map)

What is the New California Landscape? Come find out and enter into the conversation. Our seminar presenters are:
Bob Perry, Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona; Carolyn Schaffer, Resource Specialist for Metropolitan Water District; and Jeff Chamlee, Director of Production, Architerra Design Group. They will share their expertise on the challenges and opportunities of the new California Landscape Ordinance. You don’t want to miss this one day seminar to update your skills and knowledge.
• Learn what California’s Updated Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance means for California Landscapes.
• Understand how new landscape ordinance provisions can be used to influence and engage clients in the design process.
• Practice using guidelines, tables, calculations, and plant factors from Bob Perry’s new book Landscape Plants for California Gardens.
• Share your ideas and vision for the New California Landscape.
Landscape Plants for California Gardens will be available for purchase and Bob Perry will be signing his new book.
Who should attend: Landscape architects and designers, planners, care and maintenance professionals, and students.
Registration: $135 by May 19. $150 after May 19. Continental breakfast and lunch included.

Registration closes noon, Monday, May 24. Register Today!

Watching Streams Live

A friend who works at JPL clued me in to a website hosting live webcams the USGS has installed at real-time stream-gaging sites around the state, which is even cooler than the graphs I showed you in my post Is It Raining Now? The California Water Science Center currently hosts thirteen webcams around the state, including the Ventura River, Malibu Creek, and Arroyo Seco near Pasadena.

You can even control the webcams, selecting from pre-set views or creating your own, and other images are available, like this one showing flood stage flows in the Arroyo Seco.

The prettiest view has got to be San Pedro Creek near Goleta, which shows a lovely waterfall.

Let me know if you’ve found other webcams allowing us to monitor special places in the watershed.

Making Spaces for Nature and People

One of my staff sent me a link to this story on Treehugger about this innovative solution to the problem of not enough parks. In Istanbul, the Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanical Garden is a botanical garden inside the cloverleaf of a freeway exchange. This mostly privately funded 125-acre garden has over 1,800 plant species under cultivation, an herbarium with over 1,000 species, a children’s garden with programs for youth, and it features geophytes (plants that grow from bulbs), Quercus species (oaks), Turkish endemics, Turkish rare and threatened species, economic, medicinal and aromatic plants, and insectivorous plants.

Can we adapt this idea for greater Los Angeles? Sure there are lots of questions and issues to be explored – especially safe access for people, air quality inside the exchange, and potential impacts of plant roots and water infiltration – but even if we developed the spaces inside interchanges just for nature, we would all benefit from the air and sound filtering effects of all that vegetation.

A quick visit to the internet will show you how many of these spaces we have tucked into the Los Angeles transportation skeleton.  Already some are used for construction project staging, and some have developed purposes (self-storage facilities, CHP stations, etc), indicating that at least in some places the issue of people access has been considered and approved.  It seems that some which have pedestrian access (by design or accident) might be a great place to tuck away a pocket park.  And the ones that have no easy access might prove very useful for habitat restoration projects. Here’s one exchange in El Monte that I pass by frequently. What better could we do with this land?