Flash Flood Demo Turns Rain into a Resource

A new facility on the Open Charter Elementary School campus is turning once wasted rain into a resource, and creating a model for managing urban watersheds across the city and the nation.

Today, the Open Charter School community, along with project sponsors TreePeople, L.A. Unified School District, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, the County Regional Park and Open Space District and the Los Angeles City Bureau of Sanitation's Watershed Protection Division, will celebrate the completion of a five-year project that has greened this school's campus.

To demonstrate the system's effectiveness, TreePeople and local officials will create and then capture a flash flood of 4,000 gal of water.

A water tanker and fire hoses will generate a massive downpour which will sweep across a portion of the Open Charter School Campus, collecting trash and pollutants such as oil drippings from parked cars and busses. Instead of flushing the pollutants out to the Santa Monica Bay, the water will be diverted through a cleaning unit and into a huge underground tank where it is stored and used to irrigate trees and grass playing fields.

"This project transformed our school into a beautiful oasis with grass ballfields, trees and gardens that actually help protect the surrounding neighborhood and the beach," said Open Charter Elementary School Principal Robert Burke. "The kids love tending to the trees and plants and watching things grow - it's a great way to teach about caring for the natural world."

The Open Charter project uses technology that mimics the functions of a forest: trees, mulch, creek-like swales and an underground stormwater treatment-and-storage facility. The campus has a 110,000-gal cistern that captures rainwater for irrigation and reduces polluted runoff to Santa Monica Bay.

"In a city that imports more than half of its water, technology like that implemented at Open Charter could significantly impact Los Angeles," said Shahram Kharaghani, L.A. city watershed protection manager. "This technology reduces use of potable water for irrigation, decreases our demand for imported water and conserves unused water in a time of increased competition for limited supplies."

The stormwater component of the project was funded by a $500,000 grant from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project, now known as the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission. The city of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power funded the landscaping and trees through its Cool Schools program. In addition to capturing and cleaning stormwater, the project provides much needed recreation space for Open Charter School's 364 students. Grassy playing fields have been installed above the cistern. The combination of trees and landscaping near school buildings and the grassy areas reduces the urban heat-island effect, decreasing the need for air conditioning.

"We're setting an example for the nation by transforming L.A.'s landscape one school, one park one neighborhood at a time," said TreePeople President and Founder Andy Lipkis. "This technology is based on nature's own systems and could solve some of our greatest environmental problems."

Open Charter Elementary School is one of several stormwater demonstration projects that TreePeople has established in Los Angeles. Other projects include a 250,000-gallon cistern in Coldwater Canyon Park; a retrofitted home in South Los Angeles; a large stormwater capture and groundwater recharge system under a soccer field at a Pacoima elementary school; and with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works' Watershed Management Division, the retrofit of a nine mile long, 2700-acre watershed in Sun Valley.

TreePeople has spent the last 10 years researching technologies and building demonstration projects to help local government agencies solve the Southern California's urgent flooding, pollution and drought problems. TreePeople's research has shown that these multi-purpose water capture and reuse technologies can solve the region's problems more cost-effectively than traditional single-purpose approaches. These solutions can be deployed at schools, parks and parking lots during renovations as well as new construction.


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