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Companies install innovative project designed to prevent urban flooding: 'There isn't anything else like this in the county'

If all goes well, the hope is future projects of this kind would receive additional support from the government.

If all goes well, the hope is future projects of this kind would receive additional support from the government.

Photo Credit: iStock

A trio of nonprofits are giving a California community new hope in its efforts to prevent flooding and water pollution.

The Almanac reported that Climate Resilient Communities (CRC), Fresh Approach, and Grassroots Ecology began installing a network of 25 rain gardens in East Palo Alto this winter at no cost to the homeowners. 

People across the country have been turning to these sunken, water-collecting gardens as a means of protecting their property from soggy weather, but this coordinated community effort is the first of its kind in the area.

"To date, there isn't anything else like this in the county," said Reid Bogert, stormwater program director for the San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention program. 

CRC was granted almost $1 million by Coastal Conservancy, which focuses on reducing water pollution — at surface level, 70% of water pollution is due to stormwater. 

California was drenched by nine atmospheric rivers over a matter of weeks at the end of 2022 and into early last year, and the beginning of 2024 brought with it more powerful storms

According to the World Meteorological Organization, El Niño is expected to contribute to the soggy weather through at least April, even as the overheating of our planet has led to the increase of destructive precipitation events.

In East Palo Alto, which saw $40 million in damages in 1998 floods, the rain gardens are a bold new step toward preventing displacement. According to a project document by Coastal Conservancy, 45% of the low-lying city is a flood plain.  

The initiative came to fruition thanks to local residents, who envisioned the gardens as the best way to address multilayered concerns. 

The beautifully designed gardens, which will be seeded with flood-tolerant native plants, may also increase property values. CRC director of programs Cade Cannedy told The Almanac that this was particularly of interest to residents who have worried about being priced out of the neighborhood. Developers swooping in to purchase property after floods was another fear. 

While construction on the first garden didn't begin until November, discussions in 2019 and at the 2020 East Palo Alto Community Vulnerability Assessment helped clear the path toward the system becoming reality, with nature-based solutions top of mind. 

At this time, project partner HighTide Intelligence projects that East Palo Alto requires more than 1,000 rain gardens to avoid wide-scale flooding, though more funds would be needed to install such an extensive system.  

Meanwhile, water resources specialist David Freyberg, a Stanford University professor, pointed out that there isn't a lot of data on rain gardens as a water management tool but indicated he was intrigued by the possibilities. 

If all goes well, the hope is future projects of this kind will receive additional support from the government, according to Cannedy.

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