Stormwater Capture in Action

by Hannah Sands

In my previous post, I explained that stormwater runoff is the number one source of ocean pollution. This time, I will introduce how stormwater capture projects can not only address this major pollution issue, but also bolster LA’s local water supply.

It is important to understand that the extensive amount of impermeable surfaces that cover LA, such as concrete and asphalt, exacerbate stormwater runoff. Impermeable surfaces force rain water to flow into storm drains, whereas permeable surfaces can allow water to percolate downward into the soil. Permeable surfaces include natural groundcover like soil, grasses, planting beds or mulched beds, as well as permeable pavement that is designed intentionally to allow for water capture and infiltration.

Increasing permeable surfaces throughout LA as part of stormwater capture systems will help increase our local water supply and improve water quality in our communities.

Stormwater capture projects can be completely engineered, such as wastewater treatment plants or dams, or they can incorporate nature-based elements such as green streets or parks. Nature-based projects can offer multiple benefits in addition to stormwater capture, such as recreational opportunities, green space, wildlife habitat, local job creation, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality, and more.  So what do multi-benefit nature-based stormwater capture projects look like in your neighborhood? Here are some examples spread throughout LA County.


Echo Park Lake

Echo Park Lake; courtesy of OurWaterLA

Most Angelenos are familiar with Echo Park Lake due to its size and central location. However, many do not know that the lake is actually a detention basin for stormwater. In 2006, the State of California identified the lake as an impaired water body. With funding from Proposition O, the City of Los Angeles began a rehabilitation project to clean and beautify the lake, as well as provide recreational benefits and wildlife habitat. The project involved: dredging the lake bottom to remove trash and sediment, installing a capture device underground to mitigate the flow of pollutants, and draining and relining the lake to minimize seepage.

The City also incorporated nature-based components including a wetlands feature and aquatic plants which improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat, and revitalize recreation of the lake for the community. The walking paths are made of permeable surfaces, which increase groundwater recharge and reduce flood risk. This project is a great example of how parks and stormwater projects can work in tandem to create more recreational, open spaces that residents can take advantage of on a daily basis. If you find yourself in Echo Park, be sure to check out the lake and see a stormwater capture project first hand!


Watts Green Streets

Visualization of a green street in Watts; courtesy of Watts Re:Imagined

How can we transform streets that allow for stormwater runoff into stormwater capture opportunities? The Watts Green Streets program does just that. A series of street improvements that improve public rights-of-way in Watts, the program involves tree planting, solar-powered trash cans, improved cross-walks, medians with drought-tolerant landscaping, and stormwater best management plans. Implementing permeable surfaces for parking and increasing trash receptacles are good stormwater management practices, as they reduce litter pollution, runoff, and urban flooding.

In addition to capturing stormwater, green streets offer transit benefits for the community by incorporating pedestrians, bikers, and Metro riders into street design. The project is estimated to add 285 new trees, which will more than double urban tree cover in the area and improve quality of life. Plus, the project directly supports economic revitalization, housing, and job creation as it links resources such as public parks, the post office, and transit stations. Watts Green Streets demonstrates how stormwater capture projects can tackle a multitude of issues at once. It’s clear that this project will not only improve water quality and supply, but also increase the area’s walkability and community health, showing us the full potential of LA’s streets!

As reported in the LA Times, this project is funded in part by a settlement LA Waterkeeper and NRDC reached with Los Angeles County over Clean Water Act violations.


Panorama City Residential Retrofits

Water LA Retrofitting Workshop; courtesy of The River Project

The Panorama City Residential Retrofits are an effort by Water LA to incorporate water and fiscal savings into Angelenos’ homes. Throughout the drought, many people became interested in water conservation, but implementing projects is not always accessible or available without proper help or information. This program serves to address that information gap. To date, Water LA has helped Angelenos complete over 130 projects in conserving, capturing, and reusing water at their homes.

One family implemented a rain tank, added gutters, infiltration trenches, an edible garden, native planting, and a greywater system into their house. With these efforts, they were able to save up to 132,400 gallons of water and more than $800 on their water bill every year! Another family runs a landscaping business in Los Angeles, and has been interested in drought-tolerant landscaping and native plants. In their own home they created an edible garden, began to reuse their greywater, and installed a parkway retrofit with a curb cut to capture rainwater. Since implementing this, Santos- the business owner- has learned how to build parkway basins and care for native plants, while his son began working with Water LA to implement these strategies throughout the neighborhood. Residential retrofits can clearly increase environmental literacy, connect residents with the water they use, and create green jobs in a workforce with large growth potential. These projects have exponentially increased the quality of life for community members, who say there are now butterflies and other wildlife present.


The Horace Mann Elementary School Greening Project

Asphalt at Horace Mann Elementary; courtesy of Northeast Trees

This project is led by North East Trees, a community-based organization focused on increasing nature in their neighborhoods. Through this greening project, North East Trees is working to transform the campus landscape by removing 10,000 square feet of asphalt on the playground, which will reduce the heat island effect on the school. From my experience, the most enjoyable part of being in elementary school was recess, which wouldn’t be so much fun in sweltering heat on the playground.  In place of the asphalt will be large shade trees, a vegetable garden and native plants, as well as a reading garden and outdoor classroom. Increasing green space on the school campus is certainly a good stormwater management practice, as it will increase groundwater recharge and protect against flooding.

If you think of a school covered in asphalt as a microcosm of LA County, you can imagine how black asphalt covering the majority of the LA region makes an already extremely hot area even hotter. On a hot summer day, downtown is significantly hotter than neighborhoods with green, open space. LA Unified School District is one of the largest landowners in the County, and implementing stormwater projects in schools can curb the urban heat island effect while teaching younger generations about water conservation and resiliency.

Check out this map to find a stormwater project in your neighborhood!

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