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Designing with water in mind

"So Where's the Drought Rage?" (SF Chronicle headline, August 9, 2007) "Downpour, Flash Floods Precede State's Declaration of Drought Watch" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headline, August 7, 2007) "Potential Water Shortage in the Hetch Hetchy Service Area" (Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency press statement, May, 4, 2007) My copy of the "Customer Pipeline" arrived in my EBMUD bill this afternoon. I enjoy reading the newsletter. The well-written, brief notices and the graphic design compels me to read each issue. The headline for the first notice - "It's a Very Dry Year" - inspired this post. As part of its water quality toolkit, Pittsburgh's Nine Mile Run Watershed Association offers rain barrels to area residents. Nine Mile Run is a 6.5-acre watershed linking the municipalities of Pittsburgh, Swissvale, Edgewood, and Wilkinsburgh. According to the NMRWA website, there are several benefits of rain barrel use: stores stormwater (rain or snow) for use during dry times, directs water to the soil for infiltration, and lessens stormwater flow into sewers and the run itself.

The city once known as "The Smoky City" is now engaged in stream restoration and lot-level stormwater management! I assumed that the City of Berkeley would offer rain barrels. I searched the internet and the Ecology Center website - no results. However, the Ecology Center does list rain barrel vendors: Solar Living Center / Real Goods, Hopland, CA; American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association; Spectrum Organic Products, Inc., Petaluma, CA. I am surprised that rain catchment systems are not provided locally given our wet winters and dry summers as well as ongoing stream and bay restoration projects. Closer to Berkeley, San Francisco and Portland (Oregon) have designed streets with water in mind. In San Francisco, Plant*SF, a Park Partner of the San Francisco Parks Trust, implemented the Shotwell Street Greenway. Plant*SF uses the term "permeable landscaping" to describe the model used on Shotwell Street. Impervious material (paved sidewalk) is removed and replaced with permeable materials (rocks, decomposed granite, and tumbled terra-cotta) and vegetation (trees, perennial herbs, grasses, wildflowers, and succulents). The curb cuts on Shotwell have also been redesigned to capture and slow stormwater. Permeable landscaping projects have been installed at other locations in San Francisco.

San Francisco has "green sewers" (Shotwell Street Greenway is also known as a green sewer) while Portland has "green streets." The SW 12th Avenue Green Street Project and NE Siskiyou Green Street, both designed by landscape architect Kevin Robert Perry and both awarded by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), are street-level stormwater management systems. While the SW 12th Ave. project is located in the sidewalk, the NE Siskiyou project is installed in the street. Water flowing downhill on Siskiyou is captured in curb extensions where water can infiltrate the soil. The SW 12th Ave. design works in a similar  way (read details here (Siskiyou) and here).

left: SW 12th Avenue, no installation right: with installation


The ASLA awards jury noted that "the planting is the key...[in NE Siskiyou] all of the selected plant species are low-growing evergreen varieties with varying colors and textures which always provide year-round interest. The native grooved rush (Juncus patens) planted within the shallow areas of each stormwater curb extension is the workhorse for stormwater management. The upright growth structure of Juncus patens slows down water flow and captures pollutants while its deep penetrating roots work well for water absorption." Designing with water in mind requires an appropriate plant palette!