In the baseball field of the San Fernando Recreation Park, work has begun on constructing an infiltration system to capture runoff rainwater and prevent pollutants from reaching the local water supply.
The estimated $11.2 million project, which began construction on April 4, is being built in the field near the Pacoima Wash. It is expected to take at least 15 months to complete.
Its main purpose is to collect runoff from three storm drains, remove any impurities from the water and convey it to an underground system to be infiltrated (the process by which water enters the soil).
The end goal is protecting local water bodies like the Pacoima Wash and Los Angeles River from impurities, and also supporting groundwater recharge for the San Fernando Valley Groundwater Basin.
By doing so, the local water supply would be improved, according to project and city officials.
“One of the impacts of climate change is water reliability and local water reliability, so by infiltrating the water it will support local water resources,” said Katie Harrel, special projects manager at CWE Corporation, the company that is the design engineer and construction manager.
“As climate change progresses, and there’s more significant environmental impacts, having additional local water sources will be beneficial.”
Matt Baumgardner, San Fernando director of public works, explained that all cities are required to do these types of infiltration projects regardless of whether the project directly benefits them.
“This is a regional effort that we are contributing towards, sort of like being a really good partner and neighbor with the whole Southern California region,” Baumgardner said.
The project would also reduce the impact of heavy rain in the City, like the volume it experienced fairly recently. On March 28, more than an inch of rain fell in some parts of the Valley and Southern California. The Pacoima Wash was filled with rushing water. The park itself was flooded, rain soaking the baseball field and the recreation area.
Harrel said that the project would capture runoff from approximately 70 percent of the City’s area, improving the water quality in the downstream water body, and making a big impact on the overall environment.
“Less water in the channel is better,” Harrel said. “In the rivers, you’ll be able to see a big improvement with less trash and less pollutants and less water in general.”
There are two groundwater basins in the area: the San Fernando basin, located in city limits, and the Sylmar basin. The former is used by the City of LA while the latter is shared between LA and the City of San Fernando.
The project only affects the San Fernando basin, which San Fernando residents do not get their water from. Rather, this project is an effort to help LA save its water. If the San Fernando basin was to dry up, LA would have to use more water out of the Sylmar basin, leaving less water for San Fernando residents.
In the event the City of San Fernando used too much water, it would have to import water from Metropolitan Water District, which it hasn’t had to do since 2015.
“As far as our own supply, we just do our part by making sure we don’t overuse water that we get from the Sylmar basin so that we’re not put in that situation,” Baumgardner said.
Construction will involve excavating the ground and installing precast concrete storage structures. The drainage area will measure more than 940 acres in size. A single storm capture volume is expected to be 24.9 acre-feet.
The project is being funded through several sources: the Safe Clean Water Program, Proposition 1 Groundwater Grant Program and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), since the city of LA will benefit from the project.
Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a study was conducted to investigate the impacts the project would have on the environment. It was initially found that the project could have a significant impact; however, revisions in the project have mitigated those issues.
Although the project does not have a material impact on San Fernando and its residents, Baumgardner said it is important for Southern California communities to stick together, especially during a time of extreme drought.
“San Fernando should feel good about what it’s doing,” Baumgardner said.
“It’s such a significant project for the region that I think it’s a measure of pride that our residents should understand. This is a really significant infiltration project and one I think the city of LA is very happy to be a part of too.”
The City has had a few pop-up events to get the word out about the project and inform community members that will be most impacted by the construction.
One community organizer claims the response has been positive.
“I think a lot of people are shocked … I mean in a positive way, because they don’t see a lot of cities do projects like this,” said Cindy Villegas of TreePeople.
“I think it’s a learning opportunity for them,” she said. “They’re asking questions … that to me shows that there’s enthusiasm behind it.”