A recent story in the Los Angeles Times reported that most of the water from recent rains has been flushed out to the ocean in the city’s storm sewers.
“When you look at the Los Angeles River being between 50% and 70% full during a storm, you realize that more water is running down the river into the ocean than what Los Angeles would use in close to a year,” said Mark Gold, associate vice chancellor for environment and sustainability at UCLA. “What a waste of water supply.”
But that’s changing, thanks to an ordinance passed in 2012 that requires the first three quarters of an inch of rainfall to be collected on site for reuse or to percolate into the ground — in essence “un-paving” Los Angeles and capturing more run-off, Gold told the Times.
Windsor Square resident Steve Matloff is doing his part to capture the water that falls on his family home and channel it back into the ground. Matloff created a rain garden in his front yard as part of this sustainable landscape plan to compliment his LEED Platinum certified renovation of the home where he grew up. A system of pipes collects all the water that falls on the roof and sends it to the rain garden area in the front yard. From there, it slowly percolates into the ground below. If there’s a lot of rain and it overflows, the overflow is directed out to the storm sewers.
The size of the rain garden is determined by the City’s Low Impact Development Ordinance which also prescribes where it may be located on the site with certain setbacks, etc. Like many homeowners, Matloff chose to put his garden in the front yard in case he or a future owner ever wants to install a pool in the backyard and because he hopes the garden will demonstrate to his neighbors how they can also recapture water. The plants in the garden were selected to tolerate occasional flooding. Matloff says he is continually amazed at how the garden changes with each rain.
“I have taken a million pictures, even though I know exactly what is going to happen, each time it fascinates me,” he told us when we stopped by after the rain on Saturday, Below are some photos he shared with us showing the garden full of water Saturday morning and nearly dry by the early evening.
Margaret Lee told the Buzz that when she was developing plans for her renovation of an old 1920s home in Fremont Place, the new rules required her to install rain barrels or a rain garden. Lee said she chose the garden over the barrels because she would have been required to have over 30 barrels and didn’t have the space to dedicate storing water. Instead, she dug a basin in her front yard. The water that is collected from the roof is directed into the basin where it eventually percolates into the ground. Any extra overflow goes into the storm sewer. Lee’s garden doesn’t flood, the water is collected in the basin then it slowly seeps into the ground.
Lee also added a laundry-to-landscape irrigation system that channels the gray water from her laundry into the certain plants in the garden. Lee has to be careful not to use harsh detergents because the water is not filtered, but it’s been relatively easy and she feels good about sending extra water to a thirsty old Magnolia tree that’s been on the property for years. The laundry-to-landscape system wasn’t too expensive, said Lee, and it comes with a switch if she needs to use stronger detergent for a load of really dirty clothes generated by her three children.
If you don’t have funds to capture the rain coming off the roof, you can install a simple rain garden like the new garden at Fire Station 29 on Wilshire Blvd., installed in honor of its centennial anniversary, which uses arroyos to catch the water. The site was graded and trenches were dug to create swales that were lined with rocks like a dry river bed to catch the water so it would not run off the site. The trenches don’t need to be very deep, just 6-12 inches and they can hold quite a bit of water.
“A rain chain that drains into a gravel pit can be an attractive and easy alternative,” said Roberts. Install the chain under your down spout and rain can be directed to a gravel pit or a pot filled with gravel so there’s no standing water. The pit or pot has an open bottom or large weep hole so the water can seep into the ground. Tree People has a handy one-page flyer on how to install a rain chain.