On rainy days, water enters the storm drains of Santa Monica and runs out to the ocean, taking with it the debris that settles in the drains. Storm water runoff has been a critical issue in the attempt to improve the quality of water in Santa Monica Bay.
Now, the 100 block of Bicknell Avenue can boast of the first “green” water runoff demonstration project in the City. At a July 14 ceremony, a group of City workers, press representatives, and members of the public got to see how this system works.
Mayor Ken Genser greeted the audience, saying: “We hope that this street will serve as a model for all streets, not only in Santa Monica but all over southern California.” He acknowledged that funding for the project came from the bond issue Proposition 50 and was realized with the help of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Committee.
Neal Shapiro, Santa Monica’s Watershed Management Section supervisor, explained that both sides of Bicknell now feature parallel parking lanes paved with permeable concrete that soaks up water and carries it underground.
Catch basins in the curbs contain filters that catch debris before it runs out to the ocean. Water that runs underground will be stored in seven-foot infiltration basins, enabling water to percolate to the surrounding soil. Water also flows through the catch basins into bioswales, planted areas on the sidewalks that are slightly lower than sidewalk grade. Here, carefully selected plants promote water conservation due to their ability to use little water.
The tall palm trees that have stood on the block for about 80 years are still there, surrounded by the bioswales. As Treepeople’s Andy Lipkis pointed out, trees are natural watersheds, but are usually placed in areas where they cannot perform their natural function. The Bicknell palms will be able to thrive and help with the water storage, along with local plants such as deer grass, rushes, beach strawberries, and arbutus trees, all irrigated by the underground water and water from the catch basins.
Following the ritual cutting of a ribbon over the street, by Genser, City Council member Richard Bloom, Heal the Bay’s Mark Gold, and others, Shapiro ordered two City water trucks to start spraying “simulated rain” on Bicknell. Water flooded the street, soaked into the permeable concrete and ran into the bioswales. People noted that the water took longer to be absorbed on the south side of the street than on the northern side (Bicknell slopes slightly to the south). Some debris was visible in one of the catch basins-dead leaves and cigarette butts. Shapiro said that if debris clogs one of the basins, the water will flow to the next basin.
Dr. Shelley Luce, of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, describes the system as “bringing nature back to our city to do what nature does.” A larger version of the Green Street project is planned for Ocean Park Boulevard and similar projects are being built around the Southern California area.