Nate Downey Harvest the Rain Book Tour

October 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

I confess that I haven’t read the Harvest the Rain book yet, but it looks great, so I wanted to let L.A. Creek Freaks know about an upcoming book tour – next week! From Tuesday October 25th 2011 through Saturday October 29th, Nate Harvey will be appearing in Southern California to promote Harvest the Rain: How to Enrich Your Life by Seeing Every Storm as a Resource. Rainwater harvesting is a topic we’ve covered at Creek Freak, and from Harvey’s website and video, the book looks very promising.

Book tour announcement details after the jump.  « Read the rest of this entry »

Slow the Flow Video

September 12, 2010 § 7 Comments

“None of it’s [river-friendly landscaping] going to happen just because the city council made a decision that you’re going to do this. It’s going to be really something that people are going to learn to accept because they see that it works.”
-Dave Tamayo, Sacramento County Stormwater Program in Slow the Flow

Slow the Flow: Make Your Landscape Act More Like a Sponge is a very informative well-produced 26-minute video about practices and projects that communities can do to steward our watersheds. Stop reading and hit play!

It’s all about the sort of green multi-benefit watershed landscape practices that L.A. Creek Freak loves to cover: low impact development, rain gardens, swales, native landscaping, permeable paving, cisterns, and more. The video showcases quite a few excellent projects that are easily applicable to Southern California homes, schools, parking lots, etc. The approaches highlighted are very low-tech, green, gravity-fed, habitat-enhancing… and wonderful. And, they give you good reasons to kick back and not rake the leaves or water the lawn.

Thanks to the folks at the State Water Resources Control Board who produced the video, which is available on DVD from their website« Read the rest of this entry »

Elmer Avenue Green Street Project Explored

July 8, 2010 § 18 Comments

AFTER: Elmer Avenue Green Street with bioswales, underground infiltration galleries, solar lighting and more - photo by LASGRWC

A few weeks ago, L.A. Creek Freak had the pleasure of attending the grand opening of the Elmer Avenue green street project in Sun Valley. My earlier post mainly described the opening festivities, with little project information. Today’s article fills in more of the details.  

BEFORE: Elmer Avenue with no sidewalks, no stormdrains, no street lighting - photo by LASGRWC

« Read the rest of this entry »

City’s Bid for L.I.D.

September 18, 2009 § 5 Comments

Andy Lipkis beginning the tour of LID features at TreePeople's headquarters.

Andy Lipkis beginning the tour of LID features at TreePeople's headquarters.

L.A. Creek Freak pedaled up the newly-repaired Coldwater Canyon Avenue to bring our readers the latest on the plan to bring LID to the city of Los Angeles. This blog entry tells about the city’s LID efforts, and in it, Creek Freak spends as much time on important digressions as I do on the specifics of LID!

LID stands for Low Impact Development. LID is basically an approach to solving multiple water issues by detaining and/or infiltrating rainwater. There’s a longer and slightly more technical explantion for LID at Wikipedia. LID is beneficial for increasing water quality, increasing water supply, and even preventing flooding and curbing global warming. It tends to include features like cisterns, rain barrels, bioswales, infiltration galleries, mulch, and the like. It’s stuff that our keen-eyed readers are already at least somewhat familiar with, though Creek Freak hasn’t called it LID that often.

(Digression #1 – Language: A couple of my minor semantic pet peeves here: I tend to slightly resent that the term LID has come to mean site sustainability only in regards to stormwater, when there are many other factors that might lessen a development’s negative environmental impact. These factors can range from transportation to energy to social space to building materials… even stream protection and minimizing water usage through greater efficiency or greywater. None of which is part of what is called LID – so what LID is covers a very important slice – but not the entirety of impacts. Also, “impact” can be positive or negative – so I what I really want is “high-impact” development that is highly restorative – like a shopping center that daylights and restores a creek in its midst! Nonetheless, what LID actually is is definitely a really good wonderful creeky-freaky thing. Let’s do LID and do all these other important environmental endeavors!)

On Tuesday morning, TreePeople, Green L.A. Coalition, and the Urban Land Institute hosted a discussion on LID. Presenters included TreePeople’s Andy Lipkis, green developer Greg Reitz of REthink Development, and Los Angeles City Public Works Commissioner Paula Daniels. The meeting was hosted at TreePeople’s very cool muy-sustainable Center for Community Forestry, a proud example of LID in practice. Lipkis reviewed what LID is, and why it’s important. Reitz showed examples of what it can look like for multi-family developments.

Commissioner Daniels went into greatest detail about the current efforts to get LID adopted into law as a requirement for development, similar to what has already been done in Ventura County and in Los Angeles County’s unincorporated areas. The idea for the city of L.A. is to expand what is known as the SUSMP – the Standard Urban Stormwater Mitigation Plan – pronounced “Sue-Sump.” SUSMP is one step that developers already have to do when they build in L.A. Depending on the size of the development, SUSMP requires various practices and features to prevent strormwater pollution, both during construction activities and once the development is complete. This results in those sandbags that we see around construction sites… and quite a few other things that are less apparent.

(Digression #2 – A Vague Critical History of L.A.’s SUSMP: I am not an expert on how SUSMP works in L.A., but it’s my impression, historically, that it has been… shall we say… wimpy. It was sort of the least we could do, without the regional water board getting angry at us. It didn’t apply unless the development was huge, and even so, it mostly pertained to best practices during construction, without much in the way of long-term watershed management. It seems like L.A.’s SUSMP was revised and got a little better around a half-dozen years ago… but it still seems like it isn’t resulting in very much in the way of environmentally effective rainwater features. If you’re interested in reading even more about SUSMP, here’s the city’s SUSMP page, and the county’s 150-page 2002 SUSMP manual.)

Under the proposed new LID rules, SUSMP will take a big step forward. There’s apparently a draft ordinance circulating. It is described as applying to all new development and significant redevelopment. It will require sites to capture and re-use and/or infiltrate all the runoff that would be generated by the 85th percentile storm, hence only in very large storms would runoff leave the site.

The new ordinance is supposed to go before the city’s Board of Public Works for approval soon, then in October to the L.A. City Council’s committee on Energy and Environment, and hopefully will be approved by the full council before the end of the year. 

L.A. City's 2009 LID Report

L.A. City's 2009 LID Report

(Digression #3 – Transparency: This is a really good proposal that really good people – true Creek Freak friends and allies – intend to have approved by the end of the year, but L.A. Creek Freak searched and searched couldn’t find more than a whiff of the planned ordinance online. On the city’s websites, LID appears in a couple places. There’s a LID city council motion 09-1554 that was introduced in June 2009, but hasn’t had any activity or supporting documents to date. There’s a LID page with LID links and even a good reports on what LID is – the informative 2009 Green Infrastructure for Los Angeles: Addressing Urban Runoff and Water Supply Through Low Impact DevelopmentBut there’s nothing I could find about the ordinance itself. I’d suggest that it would be a really good transparent-government-2.0-kinda-thing to get the draft ordinance up on-line somewhere… preferably somewhere the public can post comments… perhaps it could at least be posted at the city’s stormwater blog L.A. Team Effort? It’s the 21st century and there’s this great tool called the internet where the cost to post and notify is so negligible and the ability to build trust can be invaluable. Not revealing the draft ordinance can result in suspicion and skepticism. Publishing it can help facilitate a public dialog, build awareness, build support.)

After the meeting wound down, Andy Lipkis lead a tour of the rainwater features at the center site, including their huge cistern and their educational watershed garden. All very inspiring! I am looking forward to the new LID ordinance bringing more inspiring new rainwater projects into the mainstream of Los Angeles development.

Images of Proposal for Studio City Golf and Tennis Site

August 15, 2009 § 1 Comment

Studio City River Park Proposal

Studio City River Park Proposal

In October 2009, L.A. Creek Freak reported details about a proposed new Los Angeles River Park at the current site of Studio City Golf and Tennis; for text explaining this proposal, see that earlier post. At the time, the visuals weren’t available for the press. I later received them from Esther Feldman, the president of Community Conservancy International. I forgot to run them at the time…

Recently I attended a meeting hosted by California Senators Judy Chiu and Fran Pavely to present and discuss river and waterway projects in the San Fernando Valley, and I saw another presentation on what’s now called the Studio City “Los Angeles River Natural Park” proposal. Below are the images. The group, which emerged from the Studio City Residents Association, promoting this project now has its own website: Save L.A. River Open Space. The site includes these images in a downloadable color Vision and Design report (pdf.)  If you’re interested in getting involved in this project email “saveopenspace [at] SLAROS.org”

Overall Concept Design

Overall Concept Design

 The overall design features multi-use green space on the site, and trail connections along the river.

Habitat and Open Space Elements

Habitat and Open Space Elements

 Habitat elements include preserving existing trees, and adding a new creekbed bioswale that drains to the river.

Sub-Watershed Drainage Area

Sub-Watershed Drainage Area

 The park would treat stormwater from the surrounding neighborhood.

Water Quality Improvement Elements

Water Quality Improvement Elements

 Water quality features would include the main large creekbed bioswale (receiving rainwater from street run-off), cisterns, and infiltration areas. 

Recreational Elements
Recreational Elements

The existing (golf and tennis) uses would be preserved, though with smaller footprints.

Public Access via foot, bike, bus, and car
Public Access via foot, bike, bus, and car

Access to the site would be mainly via bike and walk paths along the river.

For higher resolution images and additional details, click here or on an image to download the report.

Live from Santa Cruz

March 6, 2009 § 1 Comment

Hello Creekfreaks.  Today I’m live-blogging from the Salmonid Restoration Federation conference in Santa Cruz, CA.  As sobering as it is to reckon with the plummeting salmon populations statewide, it is hard not to be inspired by the sight of natural streams.  Two days in so far, and we’ve had field tours and workshops on dams & dam removal issues, fish barrier removals and fish passage devices, and daylighting of culverted streams.

Daylighting is the removal of a length of pipe (culvert) that was originally installed to replace a live stream.  Culverting destroys aquatic and riparian life, and was employed extensively in the LA basin.  Daylighting opportunities exist at a number of public park sites in LA, such as at Lafayette Park, Lincoln Park, the Chester Washington Golf Course, Sycamore Grove Park, Ladera County Park, and Edward Vincent (Centinela) Park.  I am all too familiar with agency reasons for not daylighting.  Hearing that a public agency chose to greenlight a daylighting, however, was a pleasant surprise.  And to daylight at a town center, right by the public library and ballfields was downright cool. 

Of course it’s not that simple.  The town of Portola Valley had a competition to build this town center.  All but one master plan concept proposed the daylighted stream.  Ironically, the city chose the one without the daylighting.  Public pressure ensued and the town council voted to allow the stream daylighting to be included in the plan.  It was not unanimous, however, and so the community was forced to create a nonprofit organization and fundraise separately to pursue the project.  The entire length of creek that had been buried was not daylighted – about 350′ remains below ground, hopefully to be daylighted in the future.  

 

Of course I left my camera at home! So sketches from the conference will have to suffice!  Here, the daylighted reach of Sausal Creek.

Of course I left my camera at home! So sketches from the conference will have to suffice! Here, the daylighted reach of Sausal Creek.

The daylighted reach has gentle slopes to the creek, can handle flood flows, and has an open planting plan of wetland/meadow plants mixed with tree clumps that maintains sightlines down to the creek.  The upper banks are vegetated with native grasslands/meadow plants that transition to a lawn for community gatherings and performances.  And, it’s an ephemeral stream.  Like a lot of ours.  The community felt it was important to restore even this least appreciated of stream types.  Another super-cool feature is the planned retrofit of the stormdrain pipe (they didn’t remove it, but rather graded the new stream away from it) for use as an underground cistern.  I hope to see the day that our public areas of Los Angeles look like the south coast equivalent of this. 

 

Check out Friends of Sausal Creek’s project description.

A New Vision for Studio City Golf and Tennis

October 15, 2008 § 5 Comments

Creek freak headed for Studio City last night to witness the unveiling of a new vision plan for the Studio City Golf and Tennis site.  For those of you unfamilar with the site, it’s a 22-acre parcel on the north bank of the Los Angeles River.  The site is bounded by Whitsett Avenue, Valley Spring Lane, and Bellaire Avenue.

The back story: For more than fifty years, the site has been the home of Weddington Golf & Tennis – a popular private recreational facility.  With property values soaring in recent years, the site’s owners are seeking to develop housing at the site.  The latest proposal (gory details available here) calls for 200 senior condominiums in six four-story buildings with 635 parking spaces.  Neighbors have been nearly unanimous in their vocal opposition to housing development at the site, for many reasons, including increased traffic and loss of access to the planned Los Angeles River greenway.

Last night, there were about a hundred people gathered at the Studio City Residents Association (SCRA) meeting at the Beverly Garland Hotel.  The meeting was opened by board president Alan Dymond who framed the night’s presentations by emphasizing the regional connections for the site to cleanse stormwater pollution, and to connect to a future revitalized Los Angeles River.  He stated that the river “won’t be like San Antonio” but “will be a lot better than it looks right now.”  He emphasized that the Golf & Tennis volunteer committee of the SCRA is shifting beyond local parochial issues to elevate the struggle to regional significance.  To demonstrate this, the committee has changed their name from “Save Studio City Golf & Tennis” to “Save Los Angeles River Open Space in Studio City.”  The site is regionally significant in that it really is the only river-adjacent large undeveloped parcel in the East Valley.  There’s no other promising river park site between the Sepulveda Basin and Weddington Park (about five miles.)

SCRA and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) hired Community Conservancy International (CCI) to oversee the creation of an alternative plan for the site.  CCI oversaw a 6-month process that included engaging BlueGreen and other consultants to work with the community to generate a vision for the future of the site.

The plan looks great!  I will post images of it here when they’re made available after presentation to the SMMC board next week.  The four goals of the vision plan are: 1) Improve water quality and water conservation, 2) Create a regional public access and staging area for the future Los Angeles River greenway, 3) Restore native habitat, and 4) Integrate historic recreational uses (that would be golf and tennis.)

The proposal calls for a regional park that cleanses stormwater that would flow onto the site from about 100 acres worth of adjacent residential neighborhoods.  Runoff would be directed into creekbed bioswales, which will slow down the flows, and naturally cleanse the water.  This green multi-benefit appoach also recharges underground aquifers to increase water supply, lessens flooding, and provides habitat and green space for humans to walk, bike and picnic.  The design preserves some existing mature tree canopy, mostly along Valley Spring Lane, while adding native California vegetation.  The 9-hole golf course would be removed, but the driving range, putting area, clubhouse and 16 tennis courts would remain (and could serve as a revenue source for ongoing park expenses.)  These recreational amenities would become multiple purpose features – the driving range would serve as a overflow area for larger storm events, the tennis courts would have cisterns and infiltration units below ground.  Mercifully, no additional parking is proposed.

The crowd was generally supportive of the vision presented.  Some concerns about security were expressed, and many expressed skepticism about negoitating with the current owner, who hasn’t been particularly responsive to community concerns.  The team wouldn’t put a dollar value estimate on the site… the land itself was astronomical (at least prior to the recent market downturn) and with 22 acres of park, creek freak guesses that it won’t be less than $25 million.  The volunteer committee handed out envelopes and requested donations to pay for additional studies to refine the broad plan.  CCI’s Esther Feldman stressed that this is a tremendous opportunity and that “the way to get public funds is to offer public benefits.”  With a vision of creative stormwater cleansing and greenway connections, it looks like Studio City is on the right track, but it’s going to take plenty of hard work, creative design, and savvy negotiations to bring this vision to fruition. 

To get involved in this project, email the SCRA at “scraboard {at} studiocityresidents.org” Updated 8/10/2009 – new contact email: saveopenspace [at] SLAROS.org

Brad Lancaster Water Harvesting Talk

September 17, 2008 § 7 Comments

Water harvesting guru Brad Lancaster delivered a smart, silly and inspiring presentation in Santa Monica last Monday.  Creek Freak braved the Wilshire Rapid bus to bring you, our dear readers, this exclusive review.

blurry cell phone picture of Brad Lancaster pouring water

blurry cell phone picture of Brad Lancaster pouring water on model house

He opened his talk with a clever and telling demonstration.  Lancaster used a watering can to pour water on a small model house and yard made of impermeable metal.  Water predictably drained off the roof and yard.  He added two thimble-sized plastic cups (visible as two white spots in the above photo) representing cisterns to catch roof water.  Some excess runoff diminished.  He added kitchen sponges (visible as a light green line in the above photo) to represent the rainwater storage in earthworks.  Using a clear measuring cup, he demonstrated that capturing water in the sponges, that is in earthworks in the ground, has ten times greater capacity than even the cisterns.  This is a truth we learn from nature.  Healthy river systems have approximately 15 times the amount of water underground as they do on the surface.

Lancaster then reviewed the degradation of his hometown Tucson’s degradation of the Santa Cruz River watershed, his 8 principles of rainwater harvesting, graywater basics, and then a phenomenal photo tour of rainwater harvesting features from streets to homes to orchards to kinetic sculptures.  Especially dramatic is the changes to his own street, where Lancaster was able to make small curb cuts to water native mesquite trees in the public right-of-way.  The before and after images go from moonscape to eden.  Wow!  I’ll try to get my hands on them and post here.  Let’s do this in Los Angeles!  Tomorrow!

Lancaster advocates the simple-elegant passive in-tune-with-nature water harvesting techniques that resonate most strongly with me.  No pumps.  No tanks, no filters (on graywater.)  Keep things visible, clear, legible.  Reveal stormwater.  Slow it. Spread it. Soak it.

While Lancaster’s books are excellent and I highly recommend them, it’s even more fun to see him in person as you catch his enthusiasm.  I had a great time seeing him (though some of his puns are bit silly including “a bun dance” for “abundance”), now I’m excited to go forth and harvest more of the rain!  Fall is the most rewarding time for these projects; it’s the time to plant perennials and natives and you get to see the rain fall filling your work.  Start small, but get started soon!

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