KPCC Video Showcases Creek Freak

November 16, 2010 § 2 Comments

KPCC everyday hero video focus on river, greywater, rainwater gardens, and eco-village. Click to watch video at KPCC Pacific Swell website.

LACF mentioned earlier that Southern California Public Radio KPCC, on its Pacific Swell website, acknowledged L.A. Creek Freak’s Joe Linton as an everyday hero. They also did a video portrait of me, featuring the L.A. River, my home laundry greywater system, rainwater harvesting terraces in my (neglected) garden, and Los Angeles Eco-Village where I live. Click to watch the latest creek freak video!


FilterForGood Challenge

April 15, 2009 § 6 Comments

Brita's environmental site:

Brita's environmental site:

Tag! I’m it! Siel, of the fun and informative Green LA Girl blog, challenged me to blog about five things I am doing this Earth Month (apparently Earth Day wasn’t enough) for the good of the earth, and to pass the challenge along to five other bloggers. Yup, it is definitely a viral marketing tie-in for the Brita corporation, who do seem to be concerned about the environment, health, and clean water – and against bottled water (yay! bottled water is pretty nasty for the environment.)   And, if you suspect an interested motive, you’re correct: if I do all this, I may win cool water filter products from Brita.

Here are five things I am doing for good this Earth Month:

1. Gardening-For-GoodSiel pledged to get her garden going, so I’ll start there, too… er… I mean, in my garden though, not hers!  Spring is the best time in the garden. This month I will plant more of my summer veggies – corn, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers… mmmm.  I will work with my neighbors to finish creating our new multi-functional raised bed / seating bench in front of Los Angeles Eco-Village – similar to this one.

2. For-the-Good-of-Hazard-Park – On and off now for a while, I’ve been working on some illustrations for a campaign planning to restore a creekbed and wetlands at Hazard Park. The park is located in Boyle Heights, near County USC Medical Center. This month I will finish my illustrations and will post here at Creek Freak to get the word out on this excellent campaign. Keep your RSS tuned here. I’ll probably post the illustrations at my art blog, too.

3. Parking-For-Good – It’s probably more aptly Not-Parking-For-Good or Less-Parking-For-Good (or maybe Finishing-the-In-Lieu-Parking-Report-For-Good – ok, enough!)  This month I promise to complete my work coordinating the writing and disseminating of a white paper by Dr. Richard W. Willson. The topic (a bit wonky, but actually really good for the environment) is how the city of Los Angeles might implement an “in-lieu fee” to reduce excess parking at new developments in transit-rich areas. Instead of building excessive unneeded parking, new development could pay a portion of the money they would have spent to build infrastructure for bicycing, walking, transit, and/or shared off-street parking. The report was commissioned by the Green LA Transportation Working Group. I’ll be posting that final report on our blog soooon! This month!

4. Reading-For-Good – I am going to read the newly released book This Could Be the Start of Something Big. It’s co-written by my friend and stalwart environmental justice activist Martha Matsuoka. It’s about how regional equity movements are improving our cities.  What, you might ask, is “regional equity”??  Well… it’s a grassroots movement that builds on past work for civil rights and brings it into the way we grow and shape our cities and regions.  There are, of course, entire blogs on it.  Here’s another brief explanation of regional equity, from an article on-line:

Proponents of regional equity blame widespread spacial inequality on a combination of public policy and market forces, and they call on policy makers, elected officials, and community activists to take a regional approach to economic growth so that all residents will benefit.

5. Bicycling-For-Good – I’m going to keep bicycling all over. I am looking forward to a Los Angeles that doesn’t have any cars. I’ve been thinking that I should write a blog entry making those connections between bicycling and environmental/watershed health. Look for that soon, too, here at your friendly neighborhood creak freek.

Here are five bloggers whom I’m passing the challenge along to – they’re all friends and they all have excellent and informative blogs that you should all read immediately!  (Note to my fellow bloggers – no pressure – I will continue to read and adore you, even if you don’t accept my challenge to advertise Brita!)

Andrea at (among others) the L.A. Eco-Village Garden Blog
Erik at Home Grown Evolution
Federico and Yuki at (among others) the Los Angeles Eco-Village Blog
Ilsa at Rambling L.A.
Liz and Shay at C.I.C.L.E.

The good news is that I expect that all of us blogistas so routinely track and savor inbound links, that I probably don’t even need to notify any of them (other than by publishing this blog with their links), though I will.  They’ll probably have discovered that I’ve tagged them before you’ve read this far!

The rules are simple – and to comply with the contest, I’m obligated to post them here. If you’re tagged (or even if you’re just reading this) and you’re up to the challenge, post five things you plan to do for the environment this Earth Month on your blog. At the end of your list, tag five of your favorite blogs, and include a link back to this post using the hyperlinked text “FilterForGood Blog Meme Contest.

Watering Trees from my Washing Machine

March 13, 2009 § 7 Comments

That's my washwater, flowing out onto a mulch bed!

That's my washwater, flowing out onto a mulch bed!

A few weeks ago, the Greywater Guerillas visited the Los Angeles Eco-Village. They delivered a public talk, and held a workshop where we installed two basic greywater systems. Both systems pipe washing machine output water to water trees and plants.

What is greywater? It’s basically any waste water that we generate from our sinks, bathtubs or washing machines. (Blackwater is from the toilet – and that’s another story.) For most Angelenos, right now, all this water gets combined into our sewer which takes it to big energy-intensive “water reclamation” (aka: sewage treatment) “plants” (factories.) A few of these are along our local rivers: the Tillman Plant in the Sepulveda Basin, and the LA-Glendale Plant. The local plants discharge tertiary treated wastewater (nearly as clean as drinking water) into our rivers, creeks, and the Pacific Ocean. For the L.A. River it’s generally not such a bad thing – adding unpolluted water helps keep the river’s wetlands wetter. It makes up for missing natural flows that we’ve dammed and otherwise blocked.

Mostly we import this clean/fresh water from other regions at great costs (fiscal, environmental, energy), then we use it once and send it down the drain. One way to conserve water is to re-use greywater on-site. There are many ways to go with greywater… from simple to very complicated. For this blog entry, I’m going to tell one story: how my new system works. If you’re looking to do your own system, you might want to check out resources on the Greywater Guerillas website, or read Create an Oasis with Greywater: Chosing, Building, and Using Greywater Systems by Art Ludwig.

Joe's Washing Machine

Joe's Washing Machine

Here’s my washing machine today, sitting in the back room of my second story apartment at eco-village. It’s a front-loader, which is generally a bit more water and energy efficient than a top-loader. You can see the greywater piping at the top behind the machine – the end of the machine’s black flexible-pipe outlet has been hooked to a T-valve (see close-up and explanation below.)

Note also the piece of paper taped to the front. I had guests in town staying at my place last week, so I put up a small sign that reads: “GRAY WATER / Washwater drains to garden / No conventional soaps or toxins.” When you do a greywater system you can’t use regular detergent (not even your basic eco-detergent) because they can accumulate salts or other toxins in your soil. There are a few different biocompatible detergents available at local health food stores. I use Oasis laundry detergent which is specially formulated for greywaters systems.

One problem I’ve had is that the down-pipe (the connection to the sewer) doesn’t really work in my apartment. If we hook the washer up to the sewer, then it leaks into the apartment below me. What I did in the past to get around this was to set up a very rudimentary system – which is an example of how NOT to do greywater (and is not pictured here.) I set up the washer to drain into a 50-gallon plastic tub. From the tub, I used a hose with a quick-connect to siphon drain the water into the garden. The system basically worked, but has many drawbacks and hassles. Most notably that the water in the tub gets rather nasty and smelly after a while (needs to be washed out periodically, probably every month if you don’t want it to smell at all.) I lived with it for nearly 10 years. It was a bit more convenient and much more eco than toting my laundry to a laundromat, but right now, I am very happy to have a reliable eco-friendly system that I don’t have to actively siphon the last load’s water before starting the next load. I do suggest that “tankless” systems are the way to go… and never set up anything where you let greywater stand for any length of time.

Close-up of the 3-way Diverter Valve above the washer

Close-up of the 3-way Diverter Valve above the washer

Back to the new system. Here’s a close-up of the “T” that is right above the washing machine. The valve is called a 3-way diverter valve. Normally there would be one more pipe extending horizontally to the right in this image – which would allow me to send water to sewer when I wanted to (by just turning the red handle.) As I mentioned, the sewer connection leaks, so for now, we didn’t connect to it. We included the valve though, in case we ever repair the down-pipe. I used a black plastic-tie to wire the red handle into the only proper direction – sending the water that’s coming up the black pipe leftward into the white pipe. The water then leaves the building.

Greywater Pipe from the Second Floor to the Ground

Greywater Pipe from the Second Floor to the Ground

Outside, here’s what the pipe looks like. The washing machine is behind the window at the top left.

The pipe comes horizontally out through the wall, then makes a turn downward. There’s a little one-way air-vent device extending upward at that T (it’s white with a black top.) I have to confess that I don’t entirely understand what kind of vent it is, nor how and why it works, but it’s supposed to prevent an inadvertent siphoning that could suck water from the delivery pipe back into the washer.

There’s another T below that (it’s right below the wiring and above the door – with a red handle.) This valve is for a potential future container wetland that I fantasize about doing in this area someday.

The pipe continues between the back doors of my unit and my downstairs neighbor’s.

At that point we needed to get across a very tiny courtyard space. We sawed through the concrete to get below grade (so the pipe wouldn’t be trip hazard.) We ran the pipe across underground, then came back to the surface. This does create a small sump spot where some water collects and sits. The Greywater Guerillas suggest that this won’t be a problem because it’s a very small volume of water that won’t sit for too long before the next load of laundry completely flushes it. It might get somewhat gunky if I go on vacation and don’t do laundry for a few weeks.

Our excellent handyman, Dale Kreutzer mortared in over the pipe, adding a strip of tiles for decoration. I like that the tiles serve to draw attention to how the system works. One of my many missions in life is to reveal water processes that we generally tend to hide.

Greywater Pipe along base of wall

Greywater Pipe along base of wall

As the pipe resurfaces it makes a turn to run along the base of the wall of the building. (I’ve stepped across the small courtyard and am taking this photo from my back door – the tile over the underground pipe is visible in the bottom right corner of the picture.)

The pipe transitions from the rigid (and somewhat environmentally nasty) white pipe to the more flexible (and less environmentally nasty) back tubing. The real names for the materials are in the book and website referenced above.

Greywater Pipe continues around base of wall

Greywater Pipe continues around base of wall

The tube follows the base of the building, turning right at the opening of the courtard, continuing along the back of the building.

In the upper left corner of this photo, there’s another T-stub for a future project. We’re beginning to take up some of the concrete in this area, which was formerly dedicated to parking, but will soon be a garden.

The pipe then goes through a gate and below a sidewalk (not pictured, but imagine another tile strip, though we haven’t gotten to it, yet) to emerge into a garden space. The area watered is along a fence. We dug a very small trench there, filled that trench with mulch. We planted blackberries along it (they’ll grow up the fence.) There’s a also a pair of feijoa trees (sometimes called pineapple guava) there. The trees are actually pretty drought resistant and do fine with the rainwater available here, but they will be happier and will yield more with added water at their roots.

Greywater "Emitters" running along mulched trench

Greywater "Emitters" running along mulched trench

The “emitters” are small T-joints which you can see in this image (or in the close-up photo at the top of the blog entry.) There’s a fence to the left (where the blackberries are beginning to grow) and a path to the right. The mulch trench runs along the left half of the photo – between the fence and the mostly-exposed black pipe.

It’s most clear from the photo at the top of the entry, but the greywater is indeed discharged into the air, then immediately soaks into the mulch bed, so there’s no standing water. If the end of the pipe is underground, then you can have problems with roots growing into it. There are fancier ways to discharge below ground – again see the book and website listed above.

You don’t want to use greywater on things like potatoes (where you eat the roots) or lettuce (where you eat the leaves that grow very close to the soil surface.) It’s best for perennials like trees or vines or even tomatoes. There’s a small health risk which can result from eating something that’s been contaminated by directly exposure to greywater. If you set things up right and keep them maintained in working order the risks are negligible.

The system has been up and running for about a month now and is working great!

(In the spirit of those 3-way diverter valves, this entry has been triple-cross-posted at the L.A. Eco-Village Blog, the LAEV Garden Blog and L.A. Creek Freak. Apologies to folks like my mom, who I am sure reads all three.)

Water Harvesting in My Front Yard

November 14, 2008 § 2 Comments

Las Trincheras - Passive Rainwater Harvesting Terraces at Los Angeles Eco-Village

Las Trincheras - Passive Rainwater Harvesting Terraces at Los Angeles Eco-Village

Like a proud parent, I want to show off pictures of “Las Trincheras” – the stepped terraces that harvest rainwater in my front yard. These are inspired by Brad Lancaster, the water harvestologist from Tucson Arizona, whose books include excellent instructions for creating simple gravity-fed earthworks that detain and infiltrate rainwater.

I live at Los Angeles Eco-Village – an intentional community located in Koreatown in Los Angeles. The first terraces were begun as part of a hands-on urban permaculture course I taught here in the summer of 2008.

Sloped Grassy Area prior to Building Terraces

Sloped Grassy Area prior to Building Las Trincheras

Here’s a photo of what the area looked like in early June 2008. The sloped grassy surface ushered water off onto the sidewalk, and into the street. From there the water heads through a storm drain and into Ballona Creek and the Santa Monica Bay. We decided that we’d rather slow down these raindrops, and invite them to soak into the ground, where they can help sustain plants and trees. On a small scale, This prevents flooding and pollution and augments local groundwater supplies. Indirectly, to the extent that it can offset use of imported water that is pumped here at great cost, it also saves energy which helps curb global warming, resource wars, and more.

The first step was to weed the site as thoroughly as possible. This takes a lot of time, but if you don’t do it you’ll get a lot of hard-to-pull weeds growing up throughout your terraces.

Also prior to the worshop I obtained a stash of broken concrete, which we call “urbanite.” I had been gathering this from various construction projects I would bike past in my neighborhood, but, for this larger project, I did recruit a truck to get larger quantities. Most crews will have to pay to dispose this stuff, so they’ll give it to you for free, if you’ll take it off their hands. If they don’t want to give it to you, try coming by their site at a little after 5pm and you should be able to harvest it. I’ve found that the most useful pieces are those at least larger than a brick.

In addition to the urbanite, we arranged for a truckload of chipped tree-trimmings to use as mulch. This is another resource that’s generally available for free, as tree-trimmers will pay to dispose of it. They’ll ususally drop it off, but our contacts will only drop off full truck loads. We have them dump it in the street, then we haul it off and use it for mulching paths, courtyards, etc.

Las Trincheras at the End of the Water Harvesting Workshop

Las Trincheras at the End of the Water Harvesting Workshop (with lots of mulch piled on)

This photo shows the extent of the project completed at the ten-person workshop – it takes a while to weed and to set each level, so after a 1-day workshop (about half of which was actual building work), all we’d finished was one low terrace – as well as the stairs on the right. Thanks to my friend/neighbor and co-workshop leader Federico who took charge of constructing the stairs. You might notice that the stairs drain slightly to the left, into the beds and away from the cob lizard bench.

As Lancaster’s book tells, one important component for successful rainwater harvesting is to keep these retaining walls level – the terrace follows the contour of the landscape. Level terraces spread water out laterally along the contour, instead of allowing it to run off downhill. Use a level (tool) to make sure – a nice 6′ foot level is best, but you can make do with smaller. The sidewalk at the bottom of the photo (actually permeable pavement from a city of Los Angeles pedestrianization project) is sloped to the left. The top of the terrace wall is level. The wall serves multiple purposes (permaculture principles call this “stacking functions”) – it serves as a retaining wall for the garden bed and is also just the right height for sitting on, so it also serves as a bench. I am happy to say that it sees plenty of use, especially during class breaks at the adult school at the end of the block.

Las Trincheras this week

Las Trincheras this week

Here’s another picture of the trincheras today.

One mistake that I made in building them was to add too much mulch to to the soil. It’s definitely very good to mulch on top of the soil – especially after young plants have become established. Mulch itself is a water harvesting feature – it acts like a kind of one-way valve for water. The water soaks into the soil through the mulch, but the mulch shades the soil which blocks the sun from drying it out. It’s difficult to get seeds to start in mulched areas (which is another good thing about mulch – it prevents weeds from getting started.) I wanted to get more organic matter into the soil, so we added compost – which is a great amendment, but we also added mulch into the soil. Don’t try this at home. As chunks of wood break down in the soil, the process fixes some nutrients. This makes some of the soil nutrients less available to plants. When I planted corn and beans, immediately after building the terraces, the plants turned a relatively pale yellowish green and their growth was stunted. I gave them compost tea and they yielded some, but, still, overall, they didn’t do as well as I expected. Over time, the wood does break down and releases the nutrients back into the soil. While doing all this, the bed actually grows quite a bit of mushrooms… perhaps I should have taken advantage of this and planted good edible fungi?

Just lately we’ve had some of our first significant rains, and the greens, chard, strawberries, onions, mizuna, arrugula, and artichokes I’ve planted there seem to be fairly well. The morning after recent rains, the terraces were very much saturated with rainwater they’d absorbed.

The New Trincheras made of Cinder Blocks

The Other Newer Trincheras made of Cinder Blocks

I also created this second group of terraces a couple weeks ago. I didn’t have enough broken concrete, so I used some cinder blocks that were lying around unused. I filled the blocks with soil and planted in them. I am hoping that the plants grow out nicely and soften the somewhat linear gray lines of the blocks.

If creek freak readers are interested in reading about my scintilating gardening proclivities (as well as musings of other eco-village gardeners,) you may want to check out the Los Angeles Eco-Village Garden Blog, where I’ve cross posted this.

Riding After Rains

November 4, 2008 § 1 Comment

The Mighty Los Angeles

The Mighty Los Angeles

Los Angeles finally got a good big rain last night. It’s maybe the fourth or fifth rain of the season, but it seems to have been the first good prolonged downpour. This morning, I got up and was glad to see how happy my garden looked after the rain. Inspired by Brad Lancaster, I’ve been reworking the way water moves through the garden. I’ve built stepped contour terraces that harvest rainwater. I just finished two terraces this past weekend. The artichoke, mizuna, parsley and yarrow that I just planted are doing well. I will blog about rainwater harvesting in my garden soon. I keep wanting the plants to fill out a little more, so I can dazzle you all with great looking photos.

I waited in line and I voted.

The Los Angeles River in the Area near Griffith Park

The Los Angeles River in the Area near Griffith Park

Then I bicycled off to meet a film crew from KABC who requested an interview with me. They’re doing a piece on the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition‘s annual River Ride. I rode over to the river. It’s a great day to be out on a bike – after rains in Los Angeles. The air is clear and tastes good. The clouds splay dramatically against the San Gabriel Mountains. At Fletcher Drive, I entered the bike path heading upstream . The rain-swollen waters were a few feet higher than usual. The river looked a little blown-out. Just after rains, the water is a little less clear, is moving a little faster, and is carrying more floating trash.

(A brief public service announcement warning: when it’s raining, the river can be very dangerous, even deadly. The once-natural river was straightened, making it steeper and more deadly. Natural rivers have central areas where the current is strongest and peripheral areas where waters move more slowly. The Los Angeles River moves with very even flow at very high speeds. The flow carries lots of debris, which can be sharp and abrasive. Though the river can be dramatic, I recommend not going there when it’s raining. The concrete can be slippery. The water can rise very quickly. Falling in can kill you.)

After the higher waters, the first thing that caught my eye was a turkey vulture, flying low in the area just upstream of the Fletcher Drive Bridge. I was thinking that it might be searching out dead drowned animals (perhaps rodents) that may have washed up in the vegetation on the sandbar islands there. A little farther on, just past the I saw a dozen or so pigeons that seemed to heckling a raptor that was about their size. I am pretty sure it was a kestrel. Riding further, now around the Sunnynook Footbridge, a friend of mine, Chris Grybauskas, rode up to me. We chatted as we biked. I’m sure Chris took it easy on me, but I did pick up my pace a little to keep up with him. As we crossed the Alex Baum Bridge at Los Feliz, I spotted an osprey circling. I felt lucky to have encountered all these uncommon predators in such a short stretch of river (and I don’t mean to imply that Chris is a uncommon predator!)

Chris and I parted ways (amicably) below the 134 Freeway. I continued a little further, scouting the river for good photogenic spots located suitably near good holes in fences near parking spots for TV vans. From the end of the bike path at Riverside/Victory, I crossed the river and checked out the beginning of the Glendale Narrows along Bette Davis Picnic Area. More than two dozen egrets and a couple of herons were standing around at the lowest dry point of the sloped concrete walls.

I popped back to the Autry Museum where I met up with the 3-person KABC camera crew. We went to the bikeway entrance by the 134 Freeway where there are good views of the downtown skyline, but unfortunately it was too back-lit for their tastes. They shot a bit of “B-roll” and we headed a quarter mile upstream to a soft bottom stretch by the dog park at Ferraro Fields. We entered the river bikeway through a convenient hole in the fence. They shot an interview in which I was probably much too wordy on most subjects. The interviewer seemed genuinely interested in the river, and in the alternative transportation possibilities provided by bike path. He was disappointed that there are only about 30 miles of bikeway completed on the about-50-mile river and that the bikeways don’t all connect yet. The sound man spotted fish swimming upstream. More than a dozen, probably carp, splashed their tails as they pushed over a small raised ridge in mid-channel. The cameraman shot black-necked stilts and egrets.

Line of Polystyrene and Debris Showing Recent High-Water Mark

Line of Polystyrene and Debris Showing Recent High-Water Mark

I bicycled back downstream, deciding to ride down closer to the river – below the levee-top bike path. The waters were already receding, nearly at their usual level. The high-water mark was visible from a small line of debris, mostly the polystyrene flotsam that’s washed into urban waterways, heaviest during that first big storm. I was thinking that as bad as it looked in Los Feliz, it’s probably much worse below Willow Street in Long Beach.

As I pedaled home, I thought about the possibilities for local and national renewal that they day had brought.

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