New technology could help cities capture more rain

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Community street greening projects are a key tool in fighting California's water crisis and a way to take full advantage of El Nino. (KGO-TV)

We've all been counting on El Nino storms this winter to put a big dent in the drought.

New data from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows a shift in our state's condition. Recovering from the drought isn't about more rain falling. A group of Bay Area researchers said the key is what we do to take advantage of it.

PHOTOS: Rain, storms hit Bay Area during 2016 El Nino season

Corianna Seelig-Gustafson and her daughter Clara love strolling by the trees and bushes that pepper their sidewalk in San Francisco's Inner Sunset.

A community street greening project is now in full bloom. "Our neighbors organized the planting, of all these trees and flowers and stuff. It just makes it feel like a neighborhood," Corianna said.

But after years of drought, the squares of green are more than an urban oasis, they're a key tool in fighting California's water crisis and taking full advantage of El Nino. "We're starting to think about how to capture it, and put it to use," said Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute in Oakland.

In a 2014 study, Gleick's group helped analyze the massive amounts of water that run down urban storm drains every winter. They estimate the San Francisco Bay Area, and Southern California together could capture more than half a million acre feet. Enough water to serve the city of Los Angeles for a year. And they said the tools, if not right under our noses, are certainly right under our feet. "We're trying to figure out how to turn our streets from waste water conduits into more green infrastructure. We call it green infrastructure," Gleick said.

He said a new generation of permeable pavement allows storm water to seep into the ground turning sidewalks and driveways into a giant urban sponge. Home catchment systems channel water to backyard cisterns and some cities have installed huge versions underneath city parks.

Other opportunities aren't under our feet, but right over our heads. "We can put green roots on office buildings, and we're actually putting gardens on our roofs that grow and it reduces runoff to the street," Gleick said.

And back on the ground, a number of Bay Area cities have expanded funding for green street programs. Lisa Gelfand helped organize the sidewalk oasis project on her block of the Inner Sunset. "We got a grant to just to create the opportunity for planting areas in front of every house," Gelfand said.

Creating a beautiful stretch of green belt, while helping to fight the drought sidewalk by sidewalk.

And if you're looking for tips on urban greening several agencies have web sites dedicated to helping entire neighborhoods launch their projects.

Click here for green infrastructure projects.

Click here to find out more about sfbetterstreets.

Click here to find out what Pacific Institute is working on.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.

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Related Topics:
weatherel ninobay arearainstormfloodingflash floodingwinter storm
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