In the News

New Landscaping Demonstrates Ways to Save Water and Help Environment

By Linda Fridy, Mid-County Post, 2/9/11

New landscaping at the Soquel Creek Water District Office demonstrates ways to conserve water and protect local waterways from pollution in runoff, according to district officials.

In recent years, environmental and water management agencies have focused on changing the way rainwater is handled. For many decades, it was sent into storm drains. Now environmental groups know that the storm water picks up a lot of pollutants that are better kept out of creeks and rivers.

Even something like lawn fertilizer that we think of as safe can cause an unwelcome algae bloom if runoff from watering reaches rivers, explained Angie Stuart of the county's Resource Conservation District.

Redirecting rain water also offers benefits in areas like Santa Cruz County that have water supply shortages.

Those twin goals brought the RCD and Soquel Creek Water District together to show local residents how they can make a difference.

The RCD is happy when runoff doesn't reach the ocean or streams and the water district is pleased with every bit of water directed underground to recharge nature's underground water caverns.

Saving Storm Water

The first phase of the landscaping project demonstrates how rainfall can be directed from the roof to three different types of storm water storage. To make the point, runoff from the roof goes to three downspouts, each of which manages the water differently.

One captures the water in a 2,825-gallon rain harvesting tank. That water irrigates specially selected plants during dry months, creating a water-neutral garden and illustrating the water district's conservation efforts.

This not only keeps plants alive during dry months, but also allows water to drain from the soil and into the earth, allowing underground aquifers to recharge.

Water from another downspout heads to a rain garden, which is similar to a bioswale. It was created by digging a pond-like hole and partially filling it with gravel and soil, then topping it with plants that thrive in wet conditions for part of the year.

The remaining water also goes to a location where it will eventually seep into the ground, but with a different design. There, an underground infiltration basin temporarily stores water in containers resembling milk crates. A river rock feature, which water can pass through, covers the crates.

Both designs hold nearly 1,000 gallons, but vary in the amount of space needed.

Sharing What They've Learned

All three methods not only reduce storm water runoff, but also can help recharge the aquifer. The rain garden and basin promote seepage, but the water captured in the tank can also be fed into the ground, noted Ron Duncan of Soquel Creek Water District.

People often think that once a tank is filled it just sits until the dry months. Duncan explained that during the rainy season, water in the tank can be drained between wet periods and then refilled. That extra water goes into the aquifer, naturally filtered by soil and rock formation until it is someday pumped from underground and to your tap.

The tank at the water office has a special feature to allow him to track how much water goes in over the whole season so the district knows how much water has been diverted.

This first phase of landscaping is behind the front office building, but later in the year the rest of the site will be updated and all the different methods explained with educational signs.

Stuart said the next portion will include workshops for those who want to learn more. Upcoming features include replacing some pavement with permeable pavers, additional rain gardens, a recycled-water fountain, demonstration plant plots and cisterns.

County residents can request the free booklet Slow it, Spread it, Sink it, a Home Owners Guide to Greening Stormwater Runoff from the Resource Conservation District. They can also get on a list to learn about upcoming workshops by emailing Angie Stuart at astuart@rcdsantacruz.org.

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