Landscapes at work in Downey

July 20, 2010 § 5 Comments

I went on a parking lot tour today.  Gerry Greene, Water Resources Control Specialist for the city, had offered a tour to me and some folks from the Watershed Council. Having heard about Downey’s progress in the stormwater front from Shelley Luce of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, I was interested in seeing parking lots working to retain and infiltrate stormflows.

Over 2 1/2 hours, we went to small retail developments, shopping centers, gas stations,  a dentist’s office, fast food chains, a golf course, a school, building materials and industrial facilities – and each one of these places had a system in place to capture and treat runoff from a (mostly) 3/4″ storm – the infamous “first flush” storm that carries the largest amount of bacteria and other yuck that deteriorates water quality downstream. Gerry says Downey has implemented over 1000 of these projects through a simple process that gets kick-started when a property owner goes to the Planning Department for a remodel. Following through on SUSMP, these property owners are then guided through the steps to incorporate runoff design into their remodel plans, based on the square footage of the area they intend to expand. SUSMP (Standard Urban Stormwater Mitigation Plan) is a requirement everywhere, if you travel to new developments in other parts of the state – Sacramento and San Diego comes to mind – you’ll see onsite detention basins for multi-family developments, shopping areas etc. I’ve even seen a little swale out at a Barstow gas station. For some reason (perhaps it only recently was applied to redevelopment projects?) we’ve not seen this kind of widespread action locally – making any single project exceptional, and projects in the public right-of-way like the recent Elmer Green Street and the earlier Oros Street projects are the result of several years of multi-agency coordination and community outreach. So in this context, Downey’s work is downright refreshingly surprising – and efficacious. The plantings in the swales themselves don’t stray far from traditional landscape architecture palettes that you find around town(not that some of us wouldn’t love to see it all in natives), which means the average shopper won’t notice the system during the dry season. On the other hand, these designs demonstrate that stormwater management can easily be integrated into the various land uses that are part of our sprawly auto-oriented culture.

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For those with a dog in the stormwater quality fight, it may be a surprise that Downey has made so much progress on implementation of these projects. Over in Agencyland, they may be best known as part of a Gateway Cities group that challenges many TMDL regulations. And Gerry shared his perspective on one aspect of this: the Rio Hondo watershed urban area is 120 square miles of the Los Angeles/Rio Hondo watershed (19.3%), yet is allocated only 0.1% of the bacterial discharges in the bacterial TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load). He believes the allowances for bacteria are in part weighted by the presence of water – and the Rio Hondo through their community is pretty dry.

The surprises didn’t stop there: Gerry also revealed that Downey gets all its water from local sources – occasionally supplementing with imported water. The Coca-Cola plant in Downey is the city’s largest user.  Next time you reach for that sugary badness, give a nod to Downey and all its infiltration projects.

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