Santa Rosa gives water-saving demonstration garden green light

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Santa Rosa has been encouraging people to conserve water and protect creeks from harmful runoff for years.

Now it’s moving forward with a $1 million project to show them how it’s done.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday signed off on plans to rip out two large lawns at City Hall and replace them with demonstration gardens designed to save water and special landscaping features meant to cleanse stormwater runoff.

“This garden is a great way to show people that there is a choice,” Vice Mayor Robin Swinth said. “They don’t have to choose between green and brown; they can actually make a third choice that is beautiful and great for the community.”

The city has many programs to encourage residents to reduce their indoor and outdoor water usage. The outdoor programs include paying people to remove water-thirsty lawns, giving rebates for gray water reuse systems and rainwater harvesting systems, and educating people and businesses about “water wise” gardens.

It has also required developers of new homes to install water efficient landscaping and design their projects to minimize stormwater runoff and improve the cleanliness of water that does run into creeks.

The City Hall project has been many years in the making and will allow the city to “walk the walk” when it comes to the water conservation and stormwater measures it requests of residents and requires of developers, said Utilities Director David Guhin.

He called the project “a success story” for the way city staff had been able to secure state funding for the project.

The city has received $806,174 in grant money for the project, and will spend $226,256 in matching ratepayer funds on it as well for a total cost of just over $1 million.

As part of the grant requirement, the city must agree to spend the money necessary to maintain the garden for the next 35 years. That cost is estimated to be $15,000 per year.

There are three areas of the City Hall campus that will be renovated.

The north lawn, facing First Street, will be removed, and replaced with a variety of low water-use plants in a demonstration garden. Rainwater captured from the roof will be retained in a large tank that will be used to irrigate the gardens. Excess water will be directed through a bio-swale meant to slow runoff and give water time to seep into the ground, a process that allows the soil and plants to remove pollutants.

“Previously none of this water received any treatment before entering into the creek,” said Heaven Moore, an engineer in the city’s utilities department.

Santa Rosa Creek runs under City Hall in a culvert and emerges again on the west side of Santa Rosa Avenue.

There will also be signs discussing sustainable management practices and picnic tables that can be used by city staff or for public workshops.

The west lawn, facing Santa Rosa Avenue, will also be removed and replaced with a similar demonstration garden and bio-swale.

The east parking lot will also get a stormwater makeover, replacing planter strips with new trees and plants that act as “bio-retention areas” that remove pollutants and sediment from the stormwater before it enters the creek. No park space will be lost, Moore said.

The city will perform water testing before and after the project to confirm water quality improvements, Moore said.

Final design is expected to be completed by the end of the winter 2015, with construction starting in the spring of 2016.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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