Bridging Divides and Integrating Watershed Management into San Francisco – 10 Years Later

Date / Time:
Tuesday, Sep 26 4:20pm to 4:50pm
Convention Center 202
Track / Session:
Municipal Programs Track / Implementing Green Infrastructure

The catch phrases below sum up the lessons learned from over ten years of building an innovative and integrated watershed program in San Francisco. Each phrase is subsequently delved into further to distill those lessons into tangible recommendations to pass on to others on a similar mission. Some key questions we hope to answer: How do we go beyond mediocre projects? How do we use our profession to enhance the urban fabric of our communities, while still cost-effectively achieving our core functions?
• Go big, go parcel
• Understand your streets, then change them
• Embrace your role in resiliency
• Diversify your portfolio for stormwater management
• Change is hard
• Training, training everywhere
• How scary is maintenance, really?
• Harness the power of development

Go big, go parcel – The key to developing capital GI projects that have the best bang for the buck is to target and leverage relationships with the major land owners in the municipality. Working on parcel, particularly in urban environments, can be significantly cheaper than working in the streetscape. SF project examples will be shared.

Understand your streets, then change them – Integrating GI into the streetscape fabric is best done with incremental changes. Let yourself be a learner when it comes to thoroughly understanding the existing streetscape delivery and maintenance processes. Items that needed to be developed to facilitate GI implementation in the streets include: GI standard details, utility protection standards, training of street agency designers, and maintenance and asset ownership agreements.

Embrace your role in resiliency – Climate change is on everyone’s mind, especially if you are a municipality impacted by sea level rise. Work with the Water Agency to discuss GI’s role in water supply diversification through groundwater recharge and stormwater reuse. Use GI to create multipurpose, multifunctional open space that acts as flood control for larger storms.

Diversify your portfolio for stormwater management – Capital projects can be a slow arduous process, you need multiple ways to cost-effectively implement stormwater improvements. San Francisco is using small-scale residential grants and large-scale capital backed grants to more quickly and efficiently hit stormwater management goals. San Francisco is also implementing a stormwater charge to make large impervious area sites pay for their contributions to the system.

Change is hard – GI implementation involves working across disciplines and across agencies on visible improvement projects. The delivery of these projects is inherently different than traditional below ground infrastructure and takes time to develop the implementation process that works for the location. SF's pilot project approach and outreach program will be shared.

Training, training everywhere – Be prepared to train; develop training modules for designers, contractors, and field maintenance crew. Build public outreach and education into your program’s activities, into project planning, and into project designs. SF’s programs and metrics of success will be shared.

How scary is maintenance, really? – Having to maintain new vegetated assets can scare Agency leads. To alleviate fears: develop a roles/responsibilities plan for built GI, know the labor hours and annual costs, have lifecycle costs at the ready, and be prepared to respond each time the question is inevitably asked. SF’s maintenance materials developed over the past decade will be shared.

Harness the power of development – When rolling out new regulations, be able to point applicants to the needed technical support tools (stormwater sizers, design criteria, application submittal requirements). Recognize which sites will have more constraints and have alternative forms of compliance in place. SF's program materials and alternative compliance will be shared.

Primary Speaker:
Scott Durbin, Lotus Water
Supporting Speaker 1:
Sarah Minick, The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission 
Primary Speaker Biography: 

Scott has been at the forefront of water sensitive urban design in the Bay Area and founded Sustainable Watershed Designs in 2007 to follow his passion of integrated water resources design and planning. While also growing the company, which is now doing business as Lotus Water, Scott continued his role as lead stormwater engineer, establishing himself as a trusted go-to technical and policy resource for multiple public clients in California and is frequently asked to advise on the technical merit of infrastructure design. For more than a decade, Scott has worked closely with the City of San Francisco to implement innovative green infrastructure designs and stormwater management policies aimed at making the forward-thinking city one of the country’s leaders in water sustainability.

Supporting Speakers Biographies: 

Sarah Minick manages the Urban Watershed Management Program at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Through planning, policy development, regulation, and capital work, her team works toward green infrastructure that enhances the function of San Francisco's sewer system, manages stormwater as a water resource, restores ecological function to the city’s urban watersheds, and brings beauty and habitat value to the public realm. Sarah led the development and implementation of San Francisco’s Stormwater Management Ordinance, Urban Watershed Stewardship Grant Program, and Rainwater Harvesting Program, and is the client representative for the SFPUC’s green infrastructure capital projects. Sarah holds a bachelor of science from Stanford University and two masters degrees from UC Berkeley in City and Regional Planning and Environmental Planning.