L.A. Green Street Turns Polluted Urban Runoff Into Clean Water
Sun Valley's Elmer Avenue improves Los Angeles water supply and water quality
A neighborhood in the Northeast San Fernando Valley became a model of sustainability for Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council. With a long-term goal of providing enough clean water for future generations, a coalition of nonprofit organizations and government agencies has transformed a residential street with frequent flooding problems into a street that cleans up water pollution--enhancing the community and protecting nature in the process.
Initiated and managed by the Los Angeles & San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, the Elmer Avenue Neighborhood Retrofit is the culmination of 10 years of collaborative research through the Water Augmentation Study, which reveals the potential for capturing urban runoff before it pollutes rivers and the ocean. Elmer Avenue demonstrates the opportunity to recharge Southern California's underground aquifers with storm water for later use as drinking water. Pollutants are removed through vegetation and soil as this water percolates underground.
"One of the best parts of my job is to bring home funding for projects like this," said Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who helped secure federal funding for the project. "Southern California is leading the way to make every home, community and region environmentally sustainable."
Design of Elmer Avenue began in 2005 with a series of community meetings for the residents. The Watershed Council asked neighbors what they would like their street to look like. The involvement of residents continued through the design phase and now they actively maintain the improvements. "We are grateful for this project; it not only came out beautiful but when it rains our streets don't flood anymore," said Alicia Gonzales, a 20-plus year resident of Elmer Avenue.
"This project is a prime example of how we can help our communities 'go green' even in this struggling economy," said Councilman Tony Cardenas. "Thanks to many government agencies, nonprofits and organizations joining forces, an overburdened neighborhood finally received the respect and attention it deserves."
The street functions by directing water from 40 acres of residential land upstream to the aquifer through both active and passive methods. In doing so, Elmer Avenue not only provides 16 acre-ft of groundwater recharge annually (about the same amount of water used annually by 91 people) but also reduces polluted water flowing into the Los Angeles River.
"By turning our yards into rain gardens and our streets into water recharge facilities, we can ensure clean water for the future,” said Nancy Steele, executive director of the Watershed Council. “In contrast to a typical urban street, Elmer Avenue now reduces flooding and water pollution, improves water quality, replenishes groundwater supplies and increases native habitat."
The project demonstrates multiple low-impact development strategies on both public and private lands and maximizes permeable surfaces. Additional benefits include conserving water through use of drought-tolerant landscaping, beautifying and cooling the street with trees and native vegetation, increasing wildlife habitat, and creating a more walkable and safe street with sidewalks and solar street lights.
The city of Los Angeles constructed the public right of way as well as new infrastructure. The Watershed Council hired a contractor to work on the private properties, transforming nearly half of the individual front yards with swales, permeable pavers and native plants.