ONE OF THE BEST WAYS to handle storm water is to collect it in porous swales — areas sunk lower than the surrounding landscape — and allow it to percolate back into the groundwater table. Not only does the soil act as a natural filtration system, but the storm water itself supports vegetation and green space. The $500 million O allocates — which roughly translates into $35 to $50 per $350,000 home — could fund the kind of modern water-reclamation and flood-control projects that make a city more livable, says Gold.
“What comes out of this should be an incentive for developers to build something better than one concrete box next to the other, lot line to lot line.” He cites Pan-Pacific Park in West Hollywood as an example of a storm-water-friendly landscape, with its sunken ball fields suitable for recreation 90 percent of the year that turn into storm-water swales in the rainy season. A project is already under way to capture and reclaim the rainwater that falls on a 4.4-square-mile segment of Sun Valley, a community built without storm drains where heavy flooding clogs intersections nearly every winter. Spearheaded by TreePeople with significant support from the county of Los Angeles, the Sun Valley Watershed Project has secured nearly half the $100 million required to complete it. Funds from O could provide the rest.
At a recent gathering in Marin County of the Bioneers, a conservation group, ecologist Brock Dolman, director of the Watershed Advocacy Training, Education and Research Institute at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, showed slides of other projects around the country designed to mitigate storm water pollution, including a beach park in Santa Barbara, Arroyo Burro, ringed with “bioswales,” where storm-water feeds native plants that in turn create bird habitat; and Village Homes in Davis, a planned community completed in 1981 with a natural drainage network of creek beds, swales and ponds that absorb rainwater. If such projects seem expensive up-front, Dolman argues that in the final analysis, multibenefit water systems save money in the long run. When a major flood hit Davis in the 1980s, Village Homes’ drainage system not only absorbed its own runoff but handled backed-up storm-drain systems from neighboring communities as well. “Spread it, slow it, sink it,” advised Dolman on storm-water management. It could be the motto of O’s proponents, who have planned a series of television commercials and billboards to educate the public about O in the two weeks before the election — which, serendipitously, also brought the first of the season’s hard rains and consequent runoff.
“Two-thirds is always a substantial measure on any issue,” says NRDC’s Beckman. “But Californians overwhelmingly support these kinds of things. When people hear about it, they support it. The task is getting it out there.”