The North Richmond Water Needs Assessment is 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, 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. Going forward, we will work with the stakeholders and partners involved with each of these projects to ensure the improvements of greatest priority to the community are moving toward implementation.
Phase I: Needs Assessment
In spring 2019, The Watershed Project interviewed community members and held workshops to learn what types of water-related improvements were most needed in North Richmond. Here is what we heard from the community:
- Some streets flood when it rains, and community members would like to see improvements to reduce the flooding.
- Community members feel there are not enough safe, accessible outdoor places for recreation in North Richmond and would like to see more parks, green space, and amenities such as lighting and drinking fountains on existing trails.
- North Richmond’s drinking water, which comes from the Sierra Nevada mountains, is some of the best in the country. Despite this, most residents don’t trust the safety of their tap water, and some have experienced problems with it. Community members would like to be able to find out for certain whether the water in their home is safe to drink, and that old pipes in buildings are not causing any problems with the water quality.
- Community members would like to see more water conservation measures and use of recycled water (treated wastewater which can be used for irrigation or construction).
- Climate change (global warming) is causing polar ice caps to melt, sending more water into the ocean and causing sea levels to rise. This means areas closer to the shoreline (such as Parchester Village and North Richmond) will be more likely to flood during large storms. The landfill and wastewater treatment plant are also at risk of flooding, which could cause severe pollution problems. Community members hope to see protections from sea level rise along the shoreline.
Phase II: Project Development
In spring 2020, we put together a list of 15 possible projects based on these community needs. Click here to see a map and description of all the projects. More information about each project is below. We surveyed community members to ask for their feedback on these projects, and to prioritize which ones were most important and most urgently in need of funding. Community members rated all 15 projects as being at least someone needed, but these 7 projects emerged as top priorities:
Tier 1 (highest priorities)
- North Richmond Pump Station Upgrade
- Tap Water Testing, Education & Outreach
- Flood Risk Reduction in the Rheem Creek Watershed (Rollingwood)
- Wildcat Creek Trail Improvements
- K-12 Environmental Education with Field Trips
- Green Benefit District
- Green Street Corridor
North Richmond Pump Station Upgrade
North Richmond is located in a floodplain of two creeks - Wildcat Creek and San Pablo Creek. This means that, historically, North Richmond would flood during the rainy season. Creek levees (barriers that keep water inside the creeks) and a pump station were constructed to help protect the community from flooding. The North Richmond Pump Station was constructed in 1974 and is now nearing the end of its expected life cycle. Without the pump station, homes may flood and homeowners in flood zones would need to pay for flood insurance, which is costly. Additionally, the pump station could be affected by rising sea levels, affecting its ability to operate correctly and causing flooding in much of the community. The first goal of this project is simply to upgrade the pump station, to allow it to continue operating correctly--this work has already begun. A second goal would be to protect the pump station from climate change impacts, which would ensure that even in the future when sea levels rise, the pump station could continue to protect the community from flooding when it rains.
Tap Water Testing, Education and Outreach
North Richmond’s drinking water, sourced from the Mokelumne River watershed in the Sierra Nevada mountains and provided by East Bay Municipal Utility District, is very high quality. Despite this, most residents mistrust the safety of their tap water, and some have experienced problems with it including discolored water, bad taste, particles or residue, and drying of hair or skin when washing with it. It’s currently not clear whether the mistrust in tap water is a result of perception (for example, residents hearing that their tap water is not safe or moving from places where it’s unsafe to drink the tap water) or the result of aging infrastructure onsite (at the home or building), impacting the quality of the water by the time it comes out of the tap. A tap water testing program would provide a way for residents to obtain concrete information regarding the quality of the water coming from their tap--for example, knowing whether it’s safe to drink and whether any concerns could be addressed by using a filter or letting the water run before using it. In the event that there is a water quality concern caused by onsite plumbing, this project would also investigate the possibility of providing a way of addressing that issue, by providing filters, a rebate for plumbing replacement, etc.
Flood Risk Reduction in the Rheem Creek Watershed (Rollingwood)
For over 20 years, this community has suffered from flooding related to creek overflows. The Rollingwood reach of Rheem Creek has long been neglected and is choked with invasive vegetation, leading to sediment build up, obstructed channels, and worsening flood conditions. Climate change is expected to increase flood frequency and unpredictability. The City of Richmond, American Rivers, The Watershed Project, Restoration Design Group, the Coastal Conservancy and Contra Costa College have partnered on a multi- phased project to restore ecological function to the Rheem Creek watershed while reducing the risk of flooding to nearby residents. The project aims to implement nature-based solutions placed throughout the watershed, benefiting people, wildlife, and the economy by restoring and enhancing riparian habitat, providing open space and educational opportunities, and improving the watershed’s ecological function, all of which will build climate change resilience. Phase I of this project consists of community engagement and agency coordination, site-specific restoration planning, and advancing restoration efforts throughout the watershed. By working together, residents, public agencies and environmental groups can improve the health of Rheem Creek while alleviating long-standing flooding issues.
Wildcat Creek Trail Improvements
Design and construct park amenities along the Wildcat Creek Trail to make it more inviting. Community-led visioning efforts facilitated by Urban Tilth indicate that community members are most concerned with improvements in safety, recreation, and education. Specific recommendations included lighting, emergency phone, trash receptacles, benches, drinking fountains, and informational and educational signage. There also was interest in the feasibility of connecting the Creek Trail to the Bay Trail and the City of San Pablo Davis Park further upstream. One way of connecting the Creek Trail to the Bay Trail is by constructing an overpass over the Richmond Parkway, since the existing underpass is frequently flooded and not usable. Most people want to use the trail for walking and exercise, but also biking, being in nature (habitat for wildlife) and family time (spaces for children to play/exercise). People also expressed interest in a dog park, picnic/grill areas, and an outdoor fitness area. Overwhelmingly, the community’s biggest concern about the creek is trash (illegal dumping by people who are from outside North Richmond), followed by insufficient lighting.
K-12 Environmental Education with Field Trips
We offer watershed education programs for all ages, which focus on connecting local communities to watersheds, nature and stewardship opportunities. Our programs are aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards and take into account current best practices in science and environmental education. We are committed to providing quality STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experiences for all students. Our elementary school programs focus on introducing students to watersheds and providing opportunities for them to explore nature in their neighborhood. We believe that spending time outside in local parks is key to establishing a lifelong connection to nature. Our elementary school programs include themes around watersheds, marine debris, and nature exploration. Our middle school and high school programs focus on introducing older students to watersheds through data collection, service learning, design challenge and discussion. Through actual hands-on engagement in local parks and on-going projects, we believe that middle and high school students can be inspired to become leaders in watershed stewardship. All programs include free field trips to local creek and shoreline parks, to give students the opportunity to learn, play and explore outside in nature.
North Richmond Green Benefit District
When organizations receive grants to plant trees or gardens in the community, there is often not enough funding to maintain the trees and gardens over time. A Green Benefit District would create a pool of funds to use to care for these trees or gardens over time, with the goal of hiring community members to care for community green spaces. There are several possible ways that such a district could be created and funded. The district would be created with the priority of avoiding any additional funding burden (taxes, assessments, etc.) on North Richmond residents.
North Richmond Green Street Corridor
The North Richmond Greet Street Corridor would consist of two street segments: Parr Boulevard Green Street (from Fred Jackson Way to the Bay Trail trailhead at the West County Transfer Station), and Market Avenue Green Street (connecting Fred Jackson Way to Rumrill Road, another soon-to-be-constructed Green Street in the City of San Pablo). Fred Jackson Way itself will become a Green Street in the near future under existing grant funding, and would connect the new Parr and Market Green Streets. “Green Street” improvements include bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and improvements at intersections to make the street safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. They would also include street trees to provide shade and improve air quality, plants that provide habitat for birds and butterflies, and directional and interpretive signage. These improvements help to bring nature into the city and make urban spaces more walkable.
Wildcat Creek Improvements (Fish Ladder and Sediment Basin)
The Wildcat Creek fish ladder, which passes under the railroad tracks near Verde Elementary, is intended to provide a way for rainbow trout to migrate along the creek, but is frequently plugged with sediment and trash. Sediment is dirt carried by the creek from the hills down to the bay, and Wildcat Creek naturally carries a lot of sediment. This project has two goals: to retrofit the fish ladder, and to reduce flooding near Rumrill Boulevard. Retrofitting the fish ladder would involve upgrading it to make it easier for fish to pass through, and designing it so that it’s less likely to clog due to heavy sediment load and trash. Reducing flooding would happen by making the creek channel deeper, expanding areas designed to gather sediment, and improving the channel to make it a more natural stream with rocks and plants.
Goodrick Avenue Bay Trail Connector
This project includes designing and constructing bicycle and pedestrian improvements along Goodrick Avenue, connecting the existing path that parallels the Richmond Parkway to the Bay Trail that begins at Dotson Family Marsh, next to the Richmond Rod and Gun Club. This would allow community members to more safely walk or bike to Point Pinole Regional Shoreline. This project is partially funded by an Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) grant of Bay Trail Planning funds.
Interpretive Center at West County Wastewater District
An environmental education center at the wastewater treatment plant would be a destination that people could walk or bike to using the Bay Trail or Wildcat Creek Trail. The project would add improvements such as drinking water fountains, lighting, and educational signage to existing public spaces and find ways to link the center to local trails. The interpretive center would provide educational and recreational programs, exhibits about the North Richmond shoreline, and amenities such as concessions, and a garden. It would also be available for community use.
Horizontal Levee at West County Wastewater District
If the wastewater treatment plant is flooded by rising sea levels, wastewater could back up drains into toilets, sinks and showers. A horizontal levee is a constructed marsh habitat that would act like a giant sponge, protecting the wastewater treatment plant from flooding, and providing habitat for wildlife and a beautiful shoreline trail for residents to enjoy.
The horizontal levee could serve as flood protection for the critical infrastructure (wastewater treatment plant, Republic Service’s solid waste transfer station and sanitary landfill, and Chevron Refinery) and transportation systems (Richmond Parkway, railroad) existing along the shoreline, as well as for the adjacent residential communities. In the past, North Richmond and Parchester Village have endured chronic flooding with limited services due to a limited tax base. While flood control projects on lower Wildcat and San Pablo Creeks in the late 1980s relieved the flooding, predicted sea level rise combined with
storm events could cause a return of chronic flooding in these communities. A horizontal levee would include oyster reefs, eel grass beds, and marsh habitat which would help calm wave action against the shoreline and reduce the risk of flooding. The project would also include designing a bicycle and pedestrian trail, linked to the Bay Trail, for local users and visitors to the area.
Water Conservation Programs
Several community members expressed that water, as a precious resource, should be used wisely and expressed interest in water conservation programs to help the community save water and money. East Bay Municipal Utility District offers several water conservation programs:
- Free Home Survey Kit: Available free to all residents, the Home Survey Kit contains illustrated step-by-step instructions to read a water meter, test the flow rate of water fixtures, and perform a toilet leak dye test.
- Free water conservation devices: Free low flow showerheads, kitchen and bathroom faucet aerators, and hose nozzles are available on a one-time basis. We ask residents to complete a Home Survey Kit first to determine need.
- Lawn Conversion Rebates: EBMUD offers a rebate of $.75 per square foot of lawn converted to a low-water use garden. Rebates are for up to $2000.
- On-Bill Financing: Available for multi-family properties, On-Bill Financing allows property owners to finance upgrades such as high-efficiency toilets on their EBMUD water bill. This program has been successful with community housing organizations such as BRIDGE Housing.
- WaterSmart Garden Grants: EBMUD awards grants for publically accessible demonstration gardens that educate the public about saving water in the urban landscape.
However, these programs are currently underutilized since people don’t know they exist. A water conservation outreach program would provide residents with information about the benefits of these programs, identify which program(s) a resident is eligible for, and help connect them with the resources they need to follow through with achieving their water conservation goals. Additionally East Bay Municipal Utility District has a recycled water department that provides treated wastewater to Chevron to cool their boilers, and to commercial customers for irrigation or construction uses. This program could investigate the possibility of providing recycled water to community members for outdoor irrigation as well.
Citizen Science Creek Monitoring
Citizen scientists collect critical water quality data and monitor the health of our local creeks and watersheds. The data they collect informs future restoration projects and environmental policy to build healthy watersheds. The Watershed Project trains and leads teams of interested volunteers in conducting monitoring projects in urban creeks across Contra Costa County. The Watershed Project spearheads the Contra Costa Watershed Forum’s Creek Monitoring Subcommittee, leading a collaboration between community groups and agencies to establish a standardized water quality monitoring system that will be used throughout Contra Costa County. This project builds on The Watershed Project’s active riparian restoration projects in Contra Costa County, and our goal is to engage community members and train them to become citizen scientists.
Community Water Resource Guide
When speaking with community members about water in North Richmond, we noticed many residents had questions about their water, and there was some confusion about the similarities and differences between the water in nearby creeks and other bodies of water, rainwater, the water that comes out of the tap in homes, and the water that is flushed down toilets and drains. A community resource guide would contain information about what happens to water in North Richmond when it rains, where North Richmond’s drinking water comes from and where it goes after it’s used in homes, answers to frequently asked questions about water in North Richmond, and which agencies residents can contact for information if they need assistance or are experiencing any issues. The guide would be available in English and Spanish.
Rheem Creek Realignment Through Dotson Family Marsh
As Rheem Creek flows through the undeveloped baylands west of Giant Highway, it runs in a trapezoidal earthen channel with levees alongside both banks. Here the creek has been straightened and narrowed and most of the creek bed is lined with riprap along its bank. This separates the creek from its adjacent floodplain and salt marsh habitat. Flooding serves an important role ecologically for the species that live alongside the channel. Without regular inundation, floodplain species are deprived of the nutrients, moisture, and disturbance regimes that they require. Flood protection activities on Rheem Creek have transformed the channel from a dynamic living system to a static, confined, ecologically impoverished water conveyance structure.
Relocating or modifying lower Rheem Creek would allow the creek to overflow into the heart of the newly restored Breuner Marsh, allowing the creek’s fresh water to mix with tidal waters to restore estuary habitat. This would improve the quality and quantity of salt-marsh habitat and restore wetland habitat in the densely populated San Francisco Bay Area, which has lost 95% of such habitat, providing habitat for vulnerable and endangered species. Allowing the creek to function naturally, with sediments spilling into the salt marsh, would also help to build up the marsh and protect it from rising sea levels. Water quality would also be improved by allowing water to be slowed and filtered through the marsh before flowing into the bay.