First-of-its-kind project prepares SF park for drier times amid state's continued drought

BySpencer Christian and Tim Didion KGO logo
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
First-of-its-kind project prepares SF park for CA drought
A first-of-its-kind project is preparing San Francisco's Orange Memorial Park for drier times as California's drought continues.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- You could say that Orange Memorial Park in South San Francisco is about to turn deep green. Engineers Bianca Liu and Rob Dusenbury say the key to the eco-friendly transformation is underneath the dirt.

The project is actually harnessing the flow of the adjacent Colma Creek. It's an historic, natural waterway that was heavily cemented for flood control in the early days of the area's development. For decades, the creek has carried runoff from the surrounding watershed straight into San Francisco Bay, along with a significant amount of trash. But that's about to change.

"And so part of green infrastructure, and this is a green infrastructure project, is to restore and mimic some of the natural hydrologic processes that had been lost through development," said Dusenbury.

To take advantage of the creek's seasonal water flow, the team engineered a capture and storage system. It includes a mechanism to capture trash and clean the creek.

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But while that's happening, a percentage of the flow is also being rerouted, first into a massive holding tank underneath the park, then through a water purification plant.

Eventually, that formerly wasted water will be used to green the lawns and trees and recharge the groundwater basin, saving millions of gallons a year.

"The level of water quality treatment that this water receives through an ultra-filtration system followed by UV disinfection makes it appropriate for spray irrigation and broader re-use throughout the neighborhoods, not just the park, but surrounding neighborhoods," says Dusenbury.

Project manager Bianca Liu adds the system is not just capturing water, but also breaking new ground in Northern California.

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"It's the first of its kind, it's really exciting. We're happy to be part of it. And hopefully, it sets the model for future regional-scale projects," she says.

The model is so climate-friendly, that it's being singled out in a new sustainability report by Bay Area environmental nonprofits SPUR and the Pacific Institute. Laura Feinstein was a lead author.

"And here is a beautiful river running right through the city and none of the water was being used. And rather than being used, it was actually just carrying a lot of pollution into the bay. So instead of using this as a sewer drain, which just pollutes the bay instead of South San Francisco and San Mateo County are redesigning it so that they can use the water and clean it and have a more sustainable approach," Feinstein says.

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The construction is being completed in phases. And when it's finished, designers believe Orange Memorial Park will be in a unique position to flourish in the face of climate change, and continuing cycles of drought in California.

"And hopefully making way for a cleaner Bay, a cleaner future," says project manager Liu.

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