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Pasadena Water and Power Dubs Beautiful Bioswales Swale Experts

Years of working with Ursula Schmidt of Pasadena Water and Power paid off the other day. She sent the field representative for City Councilmember Gene Masuda to one of our events to learn about storm water capture.
Beautiful Swales is an ally of the local group Transition Pasadena and we’re all about infiltration of storm (and irrigation) water into the ground.  Right now in Los Angeles County, sheer rivers of rain pour over paved streets while waterfalls splash down from spouts.  The water collects pollutants and carries them dutifully to the sea, as planned.  But we of Beautiful Bioswales believe this water needs to be conserved.
Our dedication to infiltration means we look for opportunities to spread this idea throughout our region and beyond.  Solutions can be simple.  Check out our calendar for events you can attend locally or reach out to us for guidance in setting up your own local events and projects.  We’re here to help!
Councilmember Masuda’s field representative, Noreen O’Sullivan, contacted Ursula looking for help with the Sierra Madre Boulevard median.  New laws keep the city from watering medians now, so the plantings, designed for traditional irrigation, are not as pretty (or healthy) as they used to be.  Ursula thought the location would be perfect for swales so she directed Noreen to us.
Since swales are tricky to both talk about and draw pictures of, we made a date to visit some in-progress swales.  These were being installed by Lois Brunet, Program Manager at Pasadena Audubon, at Washington Elementary School to capture water for a new garden.
As founder of Beautiful Swales’, I leapt at the opportunity and brought along my clay.  This is a good tool for helping people visualize swale dimensions and function.  I used it to make a 3D model of the school garden site, including a dry stream bed included in their plan.  We did some experimenting with water poured over the clay surface, and this helped us determine that it would be a good idea to add some check dams to the dry stream bed.
A check dam is just a small dam to check, or slow, water flow.  Any time you slow water, you are allowing more time for it to infiltrate.  “Slow it” is part of the permaculture mantra about water capture:  “Slow it, spread it, sink it” the saying goes.
Ten check dams went in later that same morning.  No time like the present to build a little storm water capture infrastructure!
Noreen seemed enthusiastic about adding some similar elements to the Sierra Madre Blvd. median so we made another date to meet up there.
At that meeting, she brought along Tim Wheeler and I brought along my colleague from Transition Pasadena, Therese Brummel.  We walked a short way along the median.  It’s 2 miles long and 90 feet wide in places, so it would make a great storm water infiltration project!
At the top of Sierra Madre Blvd. the median is a slope.  If we cut the curb there, then storm water could rush downhill and enter the median.  Berms would be essential.  A berm is a mound of dirt that can catch storm water by slowing it, spreading it and sinking it.
I had a vision for a raised path for joggers that would double as a berm.  Back at my truck I made a quick model of what I imagined.
Here’s hoping that the Sierra Madre  Blvd. median will one day be another model of storm water capture for the community to learn from.
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Written by Sylvia Holmes
Edited by Jadene Mayla

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