Not a drop of rain fell on the streets of San Francisco in January, making it the driest January since the Gold Rush. This came after a very wet December when the gutters overflowed and the streams and drains ran full of storm water down to the Bay. As we look back we can only think of what a missed opportunity this was. During our January Symposium we learned that slowing the rain when it comes, spreading it throughout the ground and letting it sink into the soil is the new paradigm for helping restore some of the ecological functions of our urban ecosystem and a way to adapt to a changing climate. Many cities are capturing storm water for reuse and purple pipes bringing reclaimed water must become more available if we are to adapt to our new climate. Others are taking steps to treat their storm water using soils as a filter.
Cities are designed to shed water as fast as possible to facilitate transportation and to avoid local flooding, but the hard cement and sidewalks are impermeable to water – preventing this valuable resource from getting into the soil. In order to harvest some of the water or to slow it and clean it before it enters the Bay we need to uncover the soil beneath Main Street.
At The Watershed Project, we know that removing cement to allow storm water to be filtered can be done at many different scales. We know that there is a role for home owners and community groups to implement small-scale rain gardens or swales along their sidewalks and back yards that can facilitate the “slow it, spread it, sink it” mantra of our good friend, Brock Dolman.
In San Francisco, the City has taken the lead to simplify the permitting process to allow citizens to redesign the sidewalks in front of their houses to remove some of the cement to plant small gardens. This effort was pioneered by Jane Martin from Plant SF and she has seen her work replicated by hundreds of citizens. The Watershed Project has been leading the way to install small rain gardens and bioswales in parks and bicycle pedestrian corridors in Richmond. This small storm management feature can have a great impact reducing local ponding at the end of an intersection or keeping the water from flooding the street, while also providing a point for water to slowly percolate into the soil. The Watershed Project has been implementing low impact design projects with the help of our Green Corps crew, who have become experts in hydrologic ingenuity and community outreach.
Other projects, such as the San Pablo Avenue spine rain gardens also presented at our Symposium, are a great investment for local cities to make our streets greener and our water cleaner. These projects may take more time and planning to implement but are the way to get our cities smarter in a changing climate or as Brock Dolman says, as a way to “achieve Eco-Emulation in Urban Ego-Systems.”
Interested in a making your own neighborhood more watershed-friendly? Contact Juliana Gonzalez or visit our website for more inspiration and ideas or hire the Green Corp team to help you implement your project.