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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rainwater Harvesting Participant Shows Off Her Crafty Rain Barrel

The LA Stormwater Program was on hand for this year’s Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase on April 25th in celebration of Earth Day (and groovy gardens!). The event was organized by Mar Vista Green Committee to give area residents a glance at the creative and inexpensive ways to conserve outdoor water use.

One thing we know for sure is that this is a model community at the forefront of Los Angeles’ most progressive water conservation measures. Over 80 residents allowed the public to see firsthand a variety of sustainable, drought-resistant landscapes.

Mar Vista was one of the communities in our area that was selected to participate in the LA Rainwater Harvesting Program. Below is a video of one of its participants, Patricia Karasick, who is happy to show off her really cool rain barrel. It is our hope that Patricia’s creativity inspires others to not only go green, but to do so in a creative way!

Monday, April 19, 2010

April Showers Bring . . . A New Frame of Mind - A Message from the Stormwater Program Manager

How often have we heard the adage that April showers bring May flowers? This year in Los Angeles, April showers are bringing a new frame of mind as well. More and more Angelenos are viewing rainwater as a resource to be captured and used, instead of a liability to be diverted into our storm drain system. All across the southland, we are beginning to see residents recognize not only the importance of conserving water during this time of drought, but also take creative steps to harvest rainwater for their irrigation needs.

Earlier this year, the City of Los Angeles took its own important step in moving towards a time when rainwater is harvested on properties throughout the city. On January 15, the Board of Public Works voted unanimously in favor of a Low Impact Development (LID) Ordinance that would require all new development projects to put in place best management practices to capture and infiltrate or use the first ¾” of rainwater from all storm events. The next step for the proposed LID Ordinance is review by the Mayor’s Office, City Council Committees, and full City Council. In the interim, the Bureau of Sanitation is moving forward with plans to begin developing a Low Impact Development Handbook that will outline the ordinance's requirements and guide applicants through the approval process, and we want you on the team.

The LA Stormwater Program will be coordinating the efforts of public officials, stakeholders, private industry and the general citizenry in the development of these guidelines. We encourage you to attend the May 20 launch meeting. Learn more about how you can get involved in being part of putting together the LID Handbook by visiting our LA Team Effort Blog.

In this issue of LA Stormwater, we focus on this rainwater-as-a-resource paradigm shift that we are starting to experience in LA. We will provide an update on our popular Rainwater Harvesting Pilot Program that ended in March, and give information on the next steps for citywide implementation. With spring officially here, we will provide homeowners with information on how to create more pervious areas around their homes during home improvement project season. We will also hear from Sherri Akers, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council, who will give her unique view on this changing rainwater harvesting mindset. She provides details about the upcoming Mar Vista Green Gardens Showcase on Sunday, April 25 that features a walking tour of more than 75 California-native friendly gardens, many of which include rain barrels installed as part of our Rainwater Harvesting Pilot Program.

In this era of diminishing water supplies and increasingly tough drought conditions, I am encouraged by this new and changing forecast. I can see southern California moving towards a time when people are working together, each in their own individual way, to harvest LA’s rain.

Best Regards,

Shahram Kharaghani, Stormwater Program Manager

Click here to view all of the articles in Issue 10 of the LA Stormwater newsletter.

The Road Less Traveled: Pervious Pavement & Other Green Surfaces for Your Home

Impervious surfaces, or areas that do not allow water to absorb into the ground, blanket a large portion of urban Los Angeles. Most of us only have to look as far as our driveways to find a concrete, asphalt or brick surface that is impervious. While surfaces of this sort are useful in controlling flooding, they are detrimental to groundwater supplies and hazardous to the health of our water bodies. That's because when rain hits an impervious surface, it runs right off, flows into our streets and picks up most everything in its path like oil residue or trash before it flows into storm drains and straight to our creeks, rivers and ocean.

The answer to this problem is simple – change impervious areas to pervious surfaces that allow water to soak into the ground. Although we don't have much control over the types of materials used in the construction of roads, we do have control over our own driveway's surface. The options available to homeowners looking to create a more eco-friendly driveway are as diverse as the communities here in southern California. If you're looking for a home improvement project this spring, consider the road less traveled - installing a green driveway that will improve both your property and our planet.

Note: The description of green surfaces below is only a listing of choices available to homeowners. LA Stormwater has not used or tested any of the products. We are providing this listing only as a compilation of our research and not as an explicit endorsement of these products. If you have experience using the products listed below, please let us know your thoughts and comments.

Pervious Concrete = ‘Green’ Concrete

Pervious concrete is one of the most effective means of converting your driveway into a surface that absorbs water but still allows your driveway to look, well, like a concrete driveway. There are many types of porous concrete that are perfect for the job. It all depends on the style you want. Any style, even bricks, can be created with pervious concrete in a way that helps reduce runoff from your driveway. On the surface, porous pavement may not look any different, but close inspection will reveal small holes or slits that help the water to absorb into the ground. You can get your feet wet by checking out this permeable concrete video demo. For information about pervious pavement in general, here's a little fresh dirt from a homeowner who regrets not using ‘green’ concrete.

A Country Lane in the CityThe easiest and perhaps most common method of creating a green driveway is to create two parallel narrow strips (made of bricks or concrete, for example) for tires and plant native grasses or other plants in between. Think modern country lane in the city! Depending on what you want, your budget and your willingness to do a little work, you can either hire a professional or do it yourself.

If it Ain’t Broke …

Perhaps a porous concrete surface or a modern-styled country road isn't in your plans. Permeable pavers with native grasses planted in between are another great option. Pavers vary in design as well as cost and many have lifetime warranties. For a cost comparison on permeable pavers, check out this great page. Don't want grass on your driveway? Not a problem. Gravel, wood chips or other materials placed in between the concrete squares will also allow water to infiltrate. You must have seen examples around town of eco-friendly driveways or parking lots with pavers and permeable material in between. Pavers actually date all the way back to Roman times, so really this isn't a new concept. Like the old adage says, "If it ain't broke..."

Amass the Grass!

Replacing your driveway has never been so green. Literally. Driveable grasses may be another option you can consider - guaranteed no mud and no watering. Pre-fabricated panels, manufactured in a variety of materials from plastic to concrete, are laid on your driveway. Once the interlocking pieces are in place, native grasses are sown in between. To read about a Do-It-Yourselfer couple in Canada who created a green driveway over a three-day weekend, visit frankejames.com.

Options Galore

There are even more ideas for innovative and inexpensive types of permeable surfaces out there for you. Saying goodbye to puddles (and storm water pollution) never looked so fashionable, and you’ll impress your neighbors with your forward-thinking approach to home improvement. Take a peek at Landscape Online's permeable surfaces page to broaden your horizons. You can also review the Chicago Green Alley Handbook for a helpful overview on the different options for making your home more water sustainable (pg 24-34). For a detailed, technical look at porous pavement, check out LA County's LID Manual (pg 53-57). Also check out the City's Green Streets Manual, which is full of useful information about permeable pavement (pg 8-12).

Still thirsty for more? HowStuffWorks offers an explanation of green pavement.

If you care about protecting our water quality and are looking to do some home retrofits in the near future, installing permeable surfaces around your home may be something to place on your springtime agenda. As with any home improvement project, it’s always a good idea to check with the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety first before moving forward with a major improvement project. We encourage you to call (866) 452-2489 or visit www.ladbs.org for more information.

We're curious to hear what type of experience you've had with any of these materials. Please reply to this post with your comments.

Click here to view all of the articles in Issue 10 of the LA Stormwater newsletter.

*Country Lane photo courtesy of TheChicEgologist.com.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rainwater Harvesting Program Plans to Flow Citywide

Good news! The LA Stormwater Program has successfully completed the City’s first Rainwater Harvesting Pilot Program at the end of March! The even better news? As a result of the pilot, 600 Los Angeleno homeowners and eight commercial building owners received and installed free rain barrels and planter boxes to collect rainwater and reduce urban runoff that leads to the ocean (see pics here). Just imagine that collective effort of captured rainwater strategically re-used for on-site irrigation. Consider that each 55-gallon rain barrel captures an average of 1,000 gallons of water per year from a residential property. For every barrel, that’s equal to one month’s worth of showers for one person!

The pilot program was initiated by the Bureau of Sanitation to help its efforts in keeping Los Angeles rivers and oceans healthy and safe, while also conserving potable water. A grant from the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2000 funded the pilot program that targeted the neighborhoods of Jefferson, Sawtelle and Mar Vista in the Ballona Creek Watershed. Area stakeholders embraced the program by submitting more than 3,000 applications despite the limited number of slots. An active momentum needed to generate interest in harvesting rainwater throughout the entire City remains in full force!

With all the positive feedback we received and the smashing success of the pilot, the City, in collaboration with conservation groups including the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, TreePeople, G3, Surfrider and Heal the Bay, as well as engineering experts Malcom Pirnie, is currently evaluating five key models for full scale citywide implementation. Funding options and program duration are also being explored together. The hope is to select the most effective, but not cost-prohibitive, program that every Angeleno can participate in.

Of the five key citywide implementation avenues under consideration (see here or on the LA Rainwater Harvesting website), the City’s recommended model entails providing rain barrel rebates rather than discounts to city residents who purchase their own rain barrel. To help those who are new to rainwater harvesting, there will be optional hands-on workshops aimed to provide Do-It-Yourself education and best management practices for rain barrel installation.

The goals of the citywide program will focus on providing a service and rebate for residents while also promoting both reuse and infiltration methods as equally beneficial components of rainwater harvesting. The program seeks to make a rain barrel or a downspout disconnnect as the homeowner's “first-step” on the road to water conservation and minimizing urban runoff.

Marilee Kuhlmann of G3 says, “Rain barrels are strong visual acknowledgements of the power of harvesting rainwater in the LA area. The more people know, the more they can do. I truly believe that 55-gallons are only the beginning!”

We couldn’t agree more with Marilee. Thank you and congratulations to all the pilot participants who now proudly harvest rainwater. LA Stormwater is glad to have you on our team! To all the others enthusiastically awaiting a citywide roll-out, hang tight as we work hard for ways to get everybody on board! Meanwhile, stay in touch by becoming a fan at LA Stormwater’s Facebook Fan Page for the latest program updates. What do you think about the plans for citywide roll-out? Please post your thoughts and opinions below.

Click here to view all of the articles in Issue 10 of the LA Stormwater newsletter.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Be a Part of Putting Together the City's LID Handbook!

The City of LA’s Low Impact Development (LID) ordinance is moving forward and the Bureau of Sanitation wants to make sure its landmark LID guidelines will best serve our community. In a unique and transparent effort, the LA Stormwater Program will be coordinating the efforts of public officials, stakeholders, private industry and the general citizenry in the development of a LID Handbook.

And we want you on the team.

This Handbook will be a crucial tool in effectively implementing LID once the ordinance has made its way through the adoption process. The City will have only 90 days after the ordinance’s passage to develop and adopt a LID Handbook, so over the course of the next six months, with your help, we are going to get a head start.

Beginning with a May 20th launch meeting, the City of Los Angeles will coordinate the volunteer efforts of LA residents, stakeholders and non-profits in the formulation of a LID Handbook. While the Handbook itself will be technically oriented, we have a few different roles so that you can get involved in this critical process regardless of your level of LID expertise:

Community Voices: If you are generally concerned and interested in water quality and would like to remain informed about LID related updates, including the development of the handbook, then this is the role for you. Community Voices are civic minded citizens who may not have enough time or technical expertise to be a part of the actual writing of the LID Handbook but would like to be kept in the loop. To become a Community Voice, all you have to do is sign up for our eNewsletter. If you are already signed up, make sure that the “Low Impact Development (LID) Updates” box is checked in your preferences.

Consulting Advisors: Like our Community Voices, Consulting Advisors are civic minded residents and stakeholders who may not have the expertise to be a part of the technical committee, but still want to remain actively involved. Consulting Advisors should expect to spend a bit more time on the LID Handbook project than Community Voices, generally contributing one hour of their time per month through the attendance of approximately 3-4 meetings over the life-cycle of the Handbook writing process. Advisors will also take an active role in some of the big picture issues of the LID Handbook while leaving the more nitty-gritty of the writing to the Technical Partners group. If you’re interested in becoming a Consulting Advisor, please follow this link.

Technical Partners: If you have experience in LID, water quality or Best Management Practices (BMP) development then we hope you’ll join us on this committee. Builders, non-profits, landscape architects and engineers are some of the folks who would feel right at home here. Technical Partners can expect to spend three hours per month in regular meetings and will be directly involved in the details of the LID Handbook. If you are interested in becoming a Technical Partner, please follow this link.

As a whole, this is a terrific and rare opportunity to get involved in the real work of the civic environmental community. Not only will you be getting the chance to witness the evolution of a major municipal work, you will be helping to ensure the safety of future generations by participating on the ground level of systemic change.

So whether you are ready to join the team or have a few questions which you would like to ask us in person, please plan on attending the LID Handbook launch meeting on May 20th from 1 – 3pm at the LA River Center (570 West Avenue 26). If you have questions now, please feel free to email us at LAstormwater@lacity.org. This is about writing a low impact development handbook that will help build the Los Angeles we all want to live in – make sure you’re a part of it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Save Water by Going Native!

Water is a precious resource, especially in Southern California where the annual average of rainfall is much lower than in other parts of the country. At times this can mean water shortages and drastic cut backs as our population is large and our potential to use water is great due to our dry climate.

There are certainly many ways to conserve water usage, but one that is not often talked about is the use of native plants. Not only are plants that are native to our region beautiful, perhaps more importantly they are adaptable and accustomed to our dry climate.

Images of green lawns are typically what come to mind when we think about perfect residential landscapes. However, most of the green grasses that we use for our lawns are not native to Los Angeles, nor are they green. In fact, many of them use a lot of water.

That’s why native plants may be a great option if you are seeking to reduce your water usage, which in turn will help reduce runoff from your lawns. The less water you use in your yard, the less likely it is to run off into our storm drain system. Native plants, unlike regular lawns, use far less water, and are typically able to survive droughts and promote an aesthetic that is beautiful yet sustainable.

One other cool thing about native plants is that there are many types to choose from. Most also live a long time, so your initial investment will surely pay off. In fact, the Theodore Payne Foundation, which promotes the use of native plants throughout Southern California, organizes tours that may help entice you to go native! They hold several inspiring tours in different spots around Los Angeles where you can learn more about the wonders of native plants.

For a listing of the 7th Annual Native Garden Tours that will be held this Saturday and Sunday, please visit: http://www.theodorepayne.org/Tour/.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Events- Earth Day Celebrations, Garden Tours and More!

April 22 marks the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, so there is no better time than now to volunteer for the environment (and your community)! For more info on the following events, including time and location, please visit the embedded links or check out our calendar.

>Join us on Saturday, April 3rd for two great events. First, we'll be kicking off a native garden workday and beach clean up in San Pedro. Then it is off to Silver Lake in the afternoon where we'll attack the plastic bag problem with Heal the Bay. Be there or be square, your choice.

>If weekends aren't good for you, check out a Watershed Workshop on Tuesday, April 6th in Pasadena, where you will be able to learn and talk watershed issues in the afternoon. Then it is off to Beverly Hills on Thursday, April 8th for a fun park clean-up, sponsored by TreePeople.

>Since Earth Day falls this month, the weekends in April are packed full of volunteering opportunities. On April 10th there is a Mountain Restoration project in Topanga and then on Sunday the 11th we will be out in Malibu for a restoration project, both with TreePeople. And if native gardening and plants are your thing, check out the Theodore Payne Foundation's awesome self-guided garden tours on the 10th and 11th.

>On Saturday the 17th, come on out to Calabasas in the morning for a restoration project. The afternoon on this day also has a great event in Santa Monica in celebration of Earth Day with Heal the Bay, so come on by!

>Sunday of that same weekend is also busy. April 18th has a grand total of four events that you can participate in. TreePeople will be at it again in Malibu and Calabasas. The group will also be holding a native plants event in Beverly Hills and Heal the Bay will be in Santa Monica for a fun Earth Day celebration.

>Surfrider swims into action on April 24th with a clean-up outing in Baldwin Hills. The group won't be talking about how to catch waves, they'll be teaching you about the groovy vibes of native plants instead. TreePeople will be in Coldwater Canyon as well all day, planting some tree vegetation.

>If you are busy on Saturday the 24th, Sunday the 25th might be a better option. There is a green gardening tour in Mar Vista on the calendar that has close to 80 gardens participating with sights such as native gardens, rainwater harvesting, vegetable gardens, onsite landscape designers and more!

>Lastly, on Thursday, April 29th, TreePeople will be hosting a park work day in Beverly Hills, the last of the month. Bring your sunscreen and work boots!