By Anne Bremer
The Watershed Project is part of a regional effort to coordinate and improve drinking water, stormwater, wastewater, and the health of waterways, particularly in communities that are most vulnerable to climate change impacts. As a long-time community partner in North Richmond, The Watershed Project worked to identify which types of water-related improvements are of greatest priority to the North Richmond community. Our assessment evaluated four areas of need: 1) sea level rise and stormwater, 2) habitat protection and access to recreation, 3) water supply, and 4) wastewater and recycled water.
We recruited 54 North Richmond residents to participate in the survey, and gained input from an additional ~200 residents at the North Richmond Earth Day Celebration. The 54 residents were interviewed individually about their level of concern about each of the four areas and their personal experiences with water in North Richmond. Then, they participated in an educational workshop to learn about North Richmond’s existing water-related infrastructure, anticipated future challenges, and potential solutions. Afterward, participants filled out a survey that allowed us to see whether their concern with each of the four areas had changed, whether they’d learned new information during the workshop, and what types of water-related improvements they’d like to see in North Richmond.
In the initial interview, stormwater flooding was a topic that resonated with residents, since 73% have personally experienced flooding when it rains. They described being impacted by difficulty walking or driving from place to place, and by damage to infrastructure, such as flooding of homes or potholes in streets. They were also concerned about the amount of trash or other pollutants in floodwaters. Only 15% described their concern about sea level rise, indicating that it may not be a topic that is familiar to many residents.
Just over half (55%) of residents use the Wildcat Creek path or North Richmond shoreline for recreation. The vast majority use these spaces for walking, but some also mentioned biking, taking their kids or pets out, or using these spaces for social events. 42% of residents said they were concerned about safety on the Wildcat Creek path—their biggest concerns were flooding and trash/pollution/cleanliness, followed by crime/drugs/needles, homeless encampments, insufficient lighting, and overgrown vegetation.
Most residents (70%) drink tap water, although a significant number (38%) mentioned buying bottled water as well. However, nearly half of residents didn’t trust their tap water, even if they drink it, since they are not sure where it comes from and how to tell whether it’s actually safe. About 48% of residents have experienced problems with their tap water, including discolored water, bad taste, particles or residue, and drying of hair or skin when washing with it.
After the educational workshop, most residents (32%) said the most surprising thing they learned was that North Richmond’s tap water is safe to drink. Access to clean, safe drinking water seems to be a high priority for residents, and they left the workshop feeling less concerned about their source water but more concerned about potential contamination in pipes. They were excited about the possibility of testing their tap water, to know whether there is an issue with their internal plumbing. When asked about the types of water-related improvements they would like to see in North Richmond, 34% of residents said they want to see clean drinking water in North Richmond, and 16% specifically mentioned pipe inspections or upgrades.
After the workshop, levels of concern rose about each of the four areas of need, but the biggest difference was in the wastewater and recycled water area. Residents were not as concerned about the sewer system in their initial interview, but their concern rose after learning that the wastewater treatment plant is highly vulnerable to sea level rise.
Here are the top types of water-related improvements residents want to see in their community:
- Clean drinking water improvements (34%), pipe upgrades
- Urban greening, green infrastructure, or parks (23%)
- Solutions to sea level rise and flooding
- Improved sewer system
- More water conservation measures
- Using some of the recycled wastewater for irrigation in the community
During the workshops, residents were excited to see that there is interest in investing in water-related improvements in North Richmond, and many said it was hopeful and refreshing to see such positive energy from residents and community partners during the workshops.
We are currently working with organizations in other Bay Area communities that have conducted similar needs assessments to identify common areas of need (drinking water testing and awareness seems to be one) and develop solutions to address those needs. Over the next several months, we will identify potential projects in North Richmond, work with the community to develop a set of priorities for water-related improvements, and apply for Prop 1 funding to implement the projects.