Innovation that Infiltrates: 21st Street Recognized for Pioneering Sustainability

It isn't always easy to be at the leading edge, but when you succeed, the rewards erase the challenges encountered while pushing the envelope. For the central California city of Paso Robles, successfully positioning themselves at the leading edge means recognition by  the Central Coast Chapter of the US Green Building Council (USGB-C4) with the 2014 Green Innovation Award for their pioneering low impact design (LID) demonstration project:  21st Street.

The groundbreaking nature of this project began at its inception. After fines were levied against the City for illicit discharges into the Salinas River, the City, led by Wastewater Resource Manager Matt Thompson, negotiated with the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to apply the fine money to a novel use that would benefit water quality within the region. The Water Board agreed and worked with the City to reallocate fine money and develop a work plan. The outcome was a partnership between the City, the Central Coast’s Low Impact Development Initiative and our office to develop guidance for the design of green/complete streets in the Central Coast region as well as a specific concept plan for 21st Street in Paso Robles, the runoff of which directly discharges to the Salinas River.

SvR was honored to be a part of the design team for the project, which was heralded as the first Green and Complete Street on the Central Coast. Informed by context-sensitive design strategies, the corridor helped the city create a more livable, walkable public realm while embedding sustainability strategies within the right of way, including:

  • 26,000 square foot reduction of impervious pavement,
  • locally-informed public art pieces,
  • dedicated infrastructure for cyclists,
  • wider sidewalks for pedestrians,
  • infiltrating bioretention areas that incorporate native plantings, and
  • a stream-bed channel that transforms a perceived liability—the high-volume, high velocity storm flows coming from the the Mountain Springs Creek watershed—and celebrates and reveals the creek while allowing for increased groundwater recharge.

Our involvement began when we were invited to help get the City "over the hump" to imagine a street unlike any they had done before. Working with the community, we established the schematic design bones that would inform the final design, tailoring our design solutions to fit within the existing fabric of the neighborhood, whether the adjacent land uses were residential or commercial.

After establishing the foundational concept  for the project, a team of local consultants, lead by the team at Cannon, moved the  project from concept to reality. Cannon estimates that, with recent local rains, "approximately 250,000 gallons of water have recharged into the groundwater basin, equal to a family of four using potable water for an entire year."

The 21st Street Green, Complete Street Project was made possible in part by an Urban Greening Grant from the California Strategic Growth Council. Thank you to Cannon for many of the images above.

Must See TV: Hope for Cleaning Polluted Runoff in the Puget Sound

Former Representative Norm Dicks, speaking at the annual Futurewise luncheon yesterday, mentioned this remarkable video he had seen on PBS about the challenges facing Puget Sound. The images of polluted stormwater runoff billowing into the Sound are astounding and deeply concerning, but the work at WSU-Puyallup's Washington Stormwater Center is utterly inspiring. We're so proud to have played a role in making their state-of-the-art facility a reality, and are excited by the research the team is producing.

Watch Seattleites Make Rain Gardens to Curb Stormwater Pollution on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Weekly Reading: Climate Is Back

Articles and images this week remind us of one thing: climate change is real, and it is happening now. First there was the confirmation that 2012 was, indeed, the hottest year on record for the continental US.  (Of course, The Onion had the most sardonic headline). But, the seriousness of climate change was brought home by several images out of Australia, where a massive, extreme heat wave has caused the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to adjust the color spectrum on their temperature map, adding magenta at the top representing 129 degrees Farenheit.

The heat wave has contributed to scorching forest fires have driven families into the water seeking refuge (Image via AP):

And soil into the sea:

Fortunately, this week there has also been a lot of hope.

UW's own Dr. Howard Frumpkin offered an inspiring opinion piece in The Seattle Times, a new report from the National Academies recognizes climate disturbance as a cause for more extreme disasters and advocates for a softer approach to risk-mitigating infrastructure, and, in real, concrete action, the City of Seattle has become the first City in the country to pledge divestment from fossil fuel investments as part of's Do The Math campaign. And the City has a new climate mitigation and adaptation blueprint, as part of the Green Ribbon Commission's, which our own Brice Maryman served on, Climate Action Plan.

One of the adaptation strategies the City recommends includes more adoption of low impact development as part of a comprehensive suite of adaptation strategies. Fortunately, the newest edition of the Low Impact Development Technical Guidance Manual for Puget Sound was just released to help Seattle and other Puget Sound area cities implement LID strategies. Our own Kathy Gwilym served on the Technical Advisory Committee, providing particular expertise on porous/pervious pavements and bioretention facilities. And to fund green infrastructure, the NRDC suggests that this is going to be a big year for sustainable infrastructure financing.

All of this reminds us that, now more than ever, we need people taking ideas and turning them into a more hopeful future. It's hard work, as this commiserating presentation from Rilla Alexander attests, but "without the doing, the dreaming is useless."