Turning the Tide on Stormwater: A Multi-Benefit Approach to Addressing Urban Watershed Health Issues
The Sun Valley Watershed Multi-Benefit Project is a first-of-its-kind venture geared at managing stormwater for the Sun Valley Watershed in Los Angeles, California to provide flood risk management, water conservation, improved watershed health, increased open space, recreational opportunities, and increased wildlife habitat. The watershed was historically plagued with chronic flooding, poor water quality, dense urbanization, and lack of open space and recreation. The stormwater was viewed as a nuisance and danger to the public and property rather than as a potential resource. Not only was it creating a danger but it was also creating a traffic nightmare in the area. The original plan to solve the flooding issue was to build a traditional storm drain which would remove the flood-risk and rush the water out of harm’s way of the community and straight to the Los Angeles River.
Fortunately, the tide started turning and the community started viewing this stormwater as a precious resource rather than a nuisance. Taking this and other factors in to consideration, we shifted gears to devise a solution that captures, cleanses, and stores every drop of water within the watershed while seeking opportunities to create open space and habitat opportunities by rethinking single-purpose properties and industries which could be transformed to multi-beneficial sites. We also recognized that the San Fernando ground water basin can serve as a natural storage basin for all of this stormwater and that we just needed to provide an avenue for the water to get there. In addition, we wanted this to be a stakeholder driven process which would allow for stakeholder input. In 1998 the Los Angeles County Flood Control District assembled a stakeholder group consisting of government agencies, local businesses, environmental groups, and residents to help develop the Sun Valley Watershed Management Plan. The management plan ultimately identified fifteen pilot projects and programs that would collectively achieve the goals identified in the watershed plan.
The Los Angeles County Flood Control District, along with project partners, constructed two projects identified in the plan; the Tuxford Green Project and Sun Valley Park Storm Drain and Infiltration Basins. In addition, the City, Council for Watershed Health, and TreePeople focused in on some of the programmatic concepts recommended in the plan and developed the Elmer Avenue Retrofit project along with recommended private property participation through retrofits.
One of the key components of the management plan, is the Rory M. Shaw Wetlands Park Project. The property, formerly known as the Strathern Pit, was acquired by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District with the intent to convert a 46-acre landfill into a wetlands park that will provide urban stormwater capture, water quality enhancements, natural habitat for plants and small animals, open space and recreational opportunities for the residents of Sun Valley.
The Sun Valley Watershed Multi-Benefit Project represents a blue ribbon project that has successfully integrated a balanced approach in design in an economically, environmentally and socially-responsible way. The Sun Valley Watershed Multi-Benefit Project received the EnvisionTM Platinum Award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure in 2014.