Meeting the Challenge: Riverside County’s Low-Impact Development Practices

This blog posting and video are part of a series being produced by CSAC to highlight county best practices through our annual Challenge Awards. These awards recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Challenge Awards provide California’s 58 counties an opportunity to share their best practices with counties around the state and nation. The programs being highlighted are recipients of the 2012 awards. The Call for Entries for the 2013 CSAC Challenge Awards has been distributed; the entry deadline is June 28, 2013. 

To review a video about how Riverside County is meeting the challenge, click here.

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“Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink” complains the Ancient Mariner as he recounts a harrowing voyage at sea. Here in California, on dry land, we too lament our water situation. Like the Mariner, we sometimes run short of clean fresh water for thirsty cities and agricultural crops. And just as often it seems, we have too much water, in the wrong place, all at once. Dealing with a flood can be just as harrowing as going thirsty.

Instead of merely lamenting on that sad fact, the people at the Riverside County Flood Control and Water Conservation District are putting science to work to see if they can reduce storm-water runoff, improve water quality, use less irrigation water and replenish the aquifer at the same time. The District is developing a Low Impact Development (LID) manual for developers, so, they can incorporate Best Management Practices (BMP) to reduce runoff and improve water quality in their project designs.

But the Riverside District isn’t just writing the book for others to follow. They are leading the way. When their headquarters campus was in desperate need of a facelift, they redesigned the landscaping to include many of the low impact development best practices that help reduce storm water runoff from parking lots and other hardscapes. They also included various natural filtering processes that help improve the quality of the water that does run off.

“We didn’t want to just talk the talk, we wanted to walk the walk, too,” said Dusty Williams, the District’s General Manager and Chief Engineer. “Let’s show what can be done in an industrial type facility, especially in a retrofit situation, to bring the facility into the modern word, into the low-impact development compliance world where we do water quality and water conservation.”

The result is beautiful campus landscaping that is more attractive and needs less water. It also significantly reduces storm water runoff and improves the quality of the water that does runoff in a big rainstorm. This is especially important in a County where it doesn’t rain often, and when it does, the result can be flash floods. Using the low-impact development concepts, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors can make better decisions about land use, building codes and landscaping rules. The Board, which also governs the Flood Control District, can begin reducing storm water runoff and dry-month irrigation needs, without placing onerous regulations on developers or landowners.

“We wanted to do the right thing, but we also wanted to test the science that’s out there about what is LID? And how does it work? And how does it work over time?,” said Williams. “So that’s what makes this facility unique; not only have we done the water conservation and water quality procedures, but we’re monitoring them over time.”

The facility has built-in testing and monitoring systems that measure how well each of the design elements works. Williams says they are already sharing what they have learned with visitors that come to see the facility from all over the world. But as the years go by, they’ll collect more data that will hopefully give them a better understanding of how to make sure that there is plenty of clean fresh water for the people of Riverside County, and even any Ancient Mariners who might still be harboring a thirst.

 

About: Gregg Fishman:
Gregg Fishman is the Communications Coordinator for the California State Association of Counties.

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