One of Los Angeles’ first water filtration initiatives that features a tree well design paid for by a citizen-approved clean water bond has been completed.

The Grand Boulevard Tree Wells project in Venice is comprised of seven water filtration systems that will capture stormwater from high density areas and remove water runoff pollutants prior to the toxins entering the local storm drains.

“We are proud of this project as it only improves water quality,” said City Engineer Gary Lee Moore. “It also beautifies the neighborhood of Venice and contributes to the growth of our city’s urban forest.”

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, believes that the coastal community is the perfect place for this type of water filtration system.

“This is a perfect example of how the city can lead the way to enhance the beauty and health of our communities,” Rosendahl said. “We need more innovative projects like this all over Los Angeles.”

The Grand Boulevard project, which began in September, is the first fully funded Prop. O project designed and constructed under the water bond’s program, according to the Department of Public Works. The initiative, which was approved by 70 percent of Los Angeles voters in 2004, will also provide funding to protect water quality, help the city meet new stormwater regulations by improving storm drain systems and fund improvements to water quality.

It also authorizes the Los Angeles city government to issue a series of general obligation bonds for up to $500 million for projects to protect public health by cleaning up pollution, including bacteria and trash, in the city’s waterways, beaches and the ocean, in order to meet Federal Clean Water Act requirements.

“This is an example of how many public and private agencies working together can change the way that we manage stormwater in Los Angeles,” said Public Works Commissioner Paula Daniels.

Stormwater overflow will be diverted to the tree wells for treatment before entering storm drains.

Previously, refuse, including dirt and bacteria, would enter the ocean and the storm drain system practically unfiltered.

Each of the seven biofiltration systems is centered on a magnolia tree.

“These seven beautiful trees are an added enhancement to the community,” Rosendahl added.

Filterra Bioretention installed the water filtration systems.

Venice resident Nicholas Karno feels that the tree wells project is a good first step towards improved water quality.

“We need to do a lot more of these projects,” said Karno, a Los Angeles deputy city attorney who is also a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Environmental Committee.

Kirsten James, the director of water quality for the environmental organization Heal the Bay, applauded the project’s goals and the collaboration with city officials in implementing the tree well purification project.

“We’re very excited to see this project completed,” she said. “Stormwater runoff takes pollutants like cigarette butts, the number one source of coastal pollution, into our oceans, and this filtration system has the potential to prevent that from happening.”

James also noted that the stormwater runoff could be used to recharge aquifers, and her organization would like to see that possibility explored.

“That would be another benefit to the tree well project,” said Heal the Bay’s water quality director.

Karno feels that option is something that should be explored as well.

“The more that we can use natural systems to counter the ill effects of stormwater runoff, the better off we’ll be,” he asserted.

Catherine Tyrell, a senior associate with Malcolm Pirnie, an environmental consulting firm, views the Venice tree filtration project as an effective way of cleansing stormwater from streets and parking lots prior to it entering the water system.

“This is really wonderful because it is one of the first projects that has been completed under Prop. O,” said Tyrell, who is a vice-president of the Friends of the Ballona Wetlands and a specialist in water quality.

Daniels agrees that by making water cleaner through purification, local governments can open up the possibilities to using stormwater runoff.

“If we can infiltrate our water, we can reuse it eventually,” the public works commissioner predicted. “It’s very important how we manage the water runoff from our streets.”

Tyrell, a former environmental program manager for the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board who worked with Filterra on a similar project in Santa Monica, says that utilizing a combination of diverse water quality measures would offer the best chance to reuse water that has been purified.

“If we want to be able to control stormwater from entering our coastal waterways, we’re going to have to find different strategies that can compliment each other,” she said.

Karno feels that Venice residents have a special appreciation for an initiative like the Grand Boulevard project because of the community’s historical environmental activism and its proximity to the ocean.

“Being a beach community, we’re very sensitive to water systems, the protection of the coastline and the pollution that washes into our oceans,” Karno said.

Rosendahl concurs.

“This is the perfect place for a filtration system like this that will reduce urban pollution and preserve the delicate balance between our urban landscape and the natural environment,” said the councilman, a former Venice resident. “I say to my Venetians, we’re moving in the right direction.”

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