By Juliana Gonzalez
What do bottle waters, shoreline trails and toilets have in common?
We could think about water in terms of ways humans or other species interact with it. Water touches all aspects of our lives, and humans have tamed water for multiple uses. We think about Integrated Water Management as a way of thinking about all possible water connections people living in cities have with this vital resource, and as a way to integrate those water connections in a manner that saves and optimizes its conservation and benefits in an equitable way.
We have water that we drink, which we normally pipe from far away in the Sierras so that we can have access to the cleanest possible sources of freshwater (drinking water). We have rain water that drains and sheds in our communities and neighborhoods and needs to be managed or diverted to recharge aquifers, cisterns, reservoirs, and feed creeks, but most often is just rushed to the Bay through storm water systems and pipes to keep streets from flooding (stormwater). We have water for flushing our toilets that is carried to wastewater treatment plants (wastewater) and after it is cleaned it can be reclaimed for irrigation, cooling and other uses (reclaimed water). We have sea water, and we know that the way it interacts with the shoreline may be changing rapidly due to sea level rise (sea water). And lastly, we have water to sustain wildlife and recreation in our urban waterways, green spaces, waterways and shorelines (fresh water and watersheds). The management of all these types of water is called Integrated Water Management.
As we think about ways of solving the challenges and inequities people find with all these types of water uses, we find the answer to what bottled water, hiking trails and toilets have in common, and the answer is water and people’s priorities as we all need water to live.
Over the past five years, The Watershed Project (TWP) has been working identifying Climate Resiliency and Integrated Water Management opportunities in North Richmond. Through a participatory needs assessment and prioritization process TWP and the community have identified 5 community projects in North Richmond that are a priority for its residents and address needs in different aspects of the Integrated Water Management Plan for the region.
These 5 projects have been not only identified and assessed as viable by all stakeholders, but over the course of the last 3 years have been advanced from visioning the idea to identifying the project partners and starting the design process, using participatory and community design processes. The Watershed Project, has not only been an active participant in the stakeholder planning process, but also it has taken the role of being the community liaison for all initiatives and processes related to the five priority projects.
The North Richmond Water Needs Assessment was part of the Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) Disadvantaged Community and Tribal Involvement Program (DACTIP), which designated Proposition 1 funding for water-related improvements in low-income communities. The Watershed Project was tasked with facilitating a community-based planning process to identify water-related needs, develop specific projects to address those needs, and work toward implementing those improvements in North Richmond.
In Phase I, back in 2019, we identified water-related areas of need and community spending priorities for water-related improvements. In Phase II, we identified specific projects that might address the community’s concerns and asked community members to prioritize and provide feedback on these projects. We are now in Phase III, where The Watershed Project, along with our partners, is moving each priority project forward from visioning to planning and design, as well as seeking funding for implementation.
Here are the projects we are working on:
- North Richmond Pump Station Upgrade
- Tap Water Testing, Education & Outreach
- Flood Risk Reduction in the Rheem Creek Watershed (Rollingwood)
- Wildcat Creek Trail Improvements
- North Richmond Horizontal Living Levee at West County Wastewater District
As of the summer of 2022, for each of the projects listed above, The Watershed Project and other stakeholders are in the process of working with policy and decision makers, landscape architects and engineers, and community members to design and bring these projects closer to implementation.
Most recently, we were part of the team that welcomed the EPA representatives from Washington DC, as part of the celebration of the 50 years of the Clean Water Act. The EPA representatives chose North Richmond to highlight the incredible process the community and stakeholders have held to ensure the Bay and the community are protected from the increased risk of flooding from sea level rise and the need for an integrated approach to water management and clean water. They also highlighted the innovative efforts the West County Wastewater facility will undertake by leading the effort of the construction of a multibenefit living levee in front of their facilities, that will be connected to a 5 mile long effort to protect the entire North Richmond Shoreline.
The Watershed Project staff was happy to share with the EPA representatives and other policy makers our role as community liaison for the Living Levee Project and our commitment to participatory design and planning processes for the development of the entire North Richmond Shoreline Vision and Planning and other projects identified as part of our North Richmond Water Needs Assessment and Action Plan, which is a community based approach to advocating for climate resilience and integrated water management.
The Watershed Project looks to the future with confidence that if these projects are implemented, the community of North Richmond will be able to enjoy a better quality of life and will feel more empowered and connected to the water resources it needs to thrive.
We have made such great progress working collaboratively with the community, read more about our 5 projects.