ENV students develop network of ‘blue belts’e

By Jane Pojawa

A group of friends are just arriving at a park on a sunny spring day. One of them yells, “Dude, check out that awesome bioswale!” Laughing, they run through the grassy berm to play Frisbee.

“Bioswale” is not a commonly heard term these days, but if a group of Cal Poly Pomona graduate students have their way, Los Angeles County residents will be hearing it a lot more.

Besides providing a site for Frisbee challenges in dry weather, bioswales are vegetated ditches that prevent stormwater runoff. They meet the immediate irrigation needs of public places and help to replenish groundwater reserves. But they are only one tool in an arsenal of water conservation infrastructure.

Greenways to Rivers Arterial Stormwater Systems, better known as GRASS II, is one of several projects conducted by the Department of Landscape Architecture’s 606 Studio. Students enrolled in the master’s program plan biosustainable landscape designs that benefit the larger community. The Grass II group presented their ongoing research to a group of other 606 Studio students on Friday.

The scope of the GRASS II project is ambitious. Building on the success of previous project GRASS I, which used computer modeling to map bluebelts, which are naturally occurring runoff areas, GRASS II implemented a variety of data gathering techniques to narrow the scope from 12 potential blue belts to four main spines that track the flow of LA’s water from the mountains to the sea.

The Grass II project is comprised of just four students ” Erik Rowan, Jonathan Harnish, Trenton Vail, and Fidelitie Chang ” working under advisor and department chair Lee-Anne Milburn. The students’ client is Los Angeles County’s Bureau of Sanitation, a sprawling entity with a $373.6 million budget and 2,800 employees. Besides picking up trash, the bureau is charged with maintaining LA’s watershed.

“The water runoff situation is so wasteful,” said Rowan. “We lose about 39 billion gallons of water every year that goes straight into the ocean.”

To put that in perspective, 1 million gallons would fill a pool 267 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. This runoff would fill 39,000 of these football-field sized pools.

If adopted, the team’s plan is to use the bluebelts, which include such familiar landmarks as Vermont Avenue and Huntington Boulevard, to collect rainwater and spread awareness of Los Angeles’ water management network. Although most of the action is taking place invisibly below street level, Harnish presented a number of potential sites for an above ground interface, which included parks, parking lots, and landmarks like the Mulholland fountain and the Aquarium of the Pacific.

“The two projects [GRASS I and GRASS II] fundamentally redefine the relationship between stormwater management and the urban environment,” said Milburn.

Next steps include collaboration with engineering students and meetings with stakeholders such as the Environmental Protection Agency. Milburn said that the EPA just awarded Los Angeles a grant based on the charette presented by GRASS II at last week’s Professional Architect & Landscape Architect Practitioners event.


Jane Pojawa / The Poly Post


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