Regional Water CycleStorm WaterWaste WaterWater ConservationWater Harvesting

Harvesting Urban Drool

© Brad Lancaster, www.HarvestingRainwater.com

Urban drool running down concreted channel Tujunga Wash, Los Angeles, California. Photo credit: Brad Lancaster
Urban drool running down concreted channel
Tujunga Wash, Los Angeles, California.
Photo credit: Brad Lancaster

All around the world I see water wastefully flowing down and out of urban street curbs and concreted storm drains even though it has not rained in months. It is not stormwater I see flowing. It is urban drool. Others call it “nuisance runoff” – water from leaky pipes, driveway car washes, overwatered landscapes, and so on – our waste.  But it can be a resource. It can be harvested.

That is what is happening in Los Angeles, California long a mile long stretch of the Tujunga Wash Flood Control Channel, between Vanowen Street and Oxnard Avenue. It is bringing myriad life back to this community.

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Section of Tujunga Wash and fenced-off upper
bank pre-rehabilitation.
Photo credit: Brad Lancaster

Between 1950 and 1952 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cleared a 9-mile section of the waterway of its vegetation and lined it with concrete to drain the water out of the community as quickly as possible. The goal was flood control, but it also dehydrated the watershed and its aquifer, removed the natural water filter, and created a fenced-off sterile blight.

That is now beginning to be reversed with the Tujunga Wash Greenway and Stream Restoration Project. A stream has been recreated and replanted with native riparian vegetation on the upper banks of the concreted channel. The new stream is fed by water diverted upstream from the channel through a half-mile-long pipe. Much of this water is urban drool, which flows year round. As the water flows through the greenway, it is filtered and cleaned by sand, gravel, and tree roots. Some percolates into the ground (helping recharge the aquifer), the rest is returned to the flood control channel via another pipe. It teems with life and invites one to step off the wide pedestrian/bicycle path lining the stream to explore and play.

Section of Tujunga Wash and new pedestrian path/corridor post rehabilitation
Section of Tujunga Wash and new pedestrian
path/corridor post rehabilitation.
Photo credit: Brad Lancaster

Much of this life acts a living seed bank of indigenous plants, whose seed can help revegetate downstream areas as water and seed flows downstream, and upstream areas as wildlife walks and flies upstream with seed in tow.

As this life resides on the upper banks it is unlikely to be washed out in big floods. The floods will scour down the concreted channel, leaving the life in its protective upper bank eddy to replant what is scoured – and to germinate still more life not yet seen.

It is a small step. A beginning. An invitation to revalue and rehabilitate our waterways so they once again are regenerative corridors of water, pedestrians, and wildlife.

Playing in section of Tujunga Wash rehabilitated upper bank stream. Photo credit: Brad Lancaster
Playing in section of Tujunga Wash
rehabilitated upper bank stream.
Photo credit: Brad Lancaster

For more on this dynamic project see here and here (PDF).

For more ideas, strategies, and stories on how to harvest urban drool and rainwater runoff to generate more life higher in the watershed of our built environments see:

And thank you to David O’Donnell of TreePeople for guiding me to this project and its resources.

Brad Lancaster

Since 1993 I’ve run a successful permaculture consulting, design, and education business focused on integrated and sustainable approaches to landscape design, planning, and living. And as I live in a dryland environment, water harvesting has long been one of my specialties and a passion. I started writing the Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond series with the goal of empowering my clients and my community to make positive change in their own lives and yards, by harvesting and enhancing free on-site resources such as water, sun, wind, shade, and more. I wanted to provide accessible books that explain what water harvesting is, how to do it appropriately, and how to tailor water-harvesting strategies to the unique conditions of different sites and integrate it with the harvest of other resources. I believe we all can become beneficial stewards of the land, and partners in the ecosystem in which we live, and I believe that by harvesting water—and more—we can all begin to transform our households and neighborhoods from being consumers of resources to generators—and even regenerators—of resources. Drawing on my years of teaching, consulting, designing, on-the-ground implementation, and learning from others, I offer readers my clear and simple process to assess and design their own harvesting systems at home and throughout their community.

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