Up Your Alley: Chicago's 2,000 miles of alleys are being repaved with porous materials to allow rain to seep into the soil and restore the underground water table. The new pavement, made of recycled materials, also reflects heat rather than absorbing it, helping reduce energy costs during Chicago's hot summers. —Lea Hartog from Sierra Magazine, http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/200803/lol.asp
By Nick Green, Staff Writer, the Daily Breeze
Torrance could spend an estimated $134 million for a water treatment plant to comply with stiffer environmental regulations set to take full effect in 2021.
Or, city officials could spend just $4.5 million to build so-called "distributed treatment systems" - essentially wetlands and infiltration basins designed to clean water - at three of Torrance's sumps.
Not surprisingly, city officials are opting for the less expensive solution.
In addition to preventing bacteria-laden stormwater from entering the ocean during winter rains, improving the sumps will have the added benefit of creating new open spaces for public recreation and wildlife habitats.
Two other sumps - one near Bishop Montgomery High School and one called Ocean Basin near Sepulveda Boulevard - could also be improved to both help clean stormwater and provide recreational opportunities.
"We're uniquely positioned to take care of a major problem that larger cities are going to be facing," said Mayor Frank Scotto. "We're on the leading edge, and I am pretty excited we have this opportunity."
Torrance is "uniquely positioned" because of its legacy of the sumps that dot the once flood-prone city.
The sumps were constructed as subdivisions went in, but have not always been universally popular with residents.
In the late 1950s, Torrance was derided as the "city of sumps" by residents who opposed their creation of "Frankensteinian" proportions. Others disliked the skunks or other wildlife seen as nuisances the oases harbored.
Over the years some were filled in or sold, but the sumps are now seen as having practical value.
"The city of Torrance is very lucky to have these open spaces - it's not common," said John Dettle, public works engineering manager. "So we need to take full advantage of these open spaces."
The so-called Stormwater Basin Enhancement Program is part of an effort with neighboring cities to clean up urban runoff during winter months. Similar regulations - which the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board recently accused Torrance and 10 other South Bay cities of violating - are already in effect from April 1 to Oct. 31.
The program will be unveiled Tuesday when the City Council holds its regular meeting at 7 p.m. at the West High Library.
Three of the sumps in West Torrance - the Amie, Henrietta and Entradero basins, named for the nearby streets of the same name - flow into the Herondo drain along 190th Street.
Torrance contains 57 percent of the 2,745 acres that flow into the Herondo Drain, officials said.
Therefore, improving the health of those three basins is seen as the city's best opportunity to clean stormwater.
"That drain exceeds what's allowed in (pollutants) and so that's the one we need to address during wet weather," Dettle said.
Screens across drains would be installed to catch trash.
Wetlands would be constructed to naturally clean polluted urban runoff, while recharging groundwater and providing habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.
Dettle foresees constructing "wildlife viewing platforms" in some areas.
In addition, the Ocean and Bishop Montgomery sumps would together account for another 26 acres of open space accessible to the public.
At the Bishop Montgomery Basin, three soccer fields - perhaps lighted - that the high school could use are proposed, with recycled water being used for irrigation.
Ocean Basin would offer more passive recreation with trails and infiltration basins to clean run-off.
Using sumps for recreation is not new - Entradero Basin boasts ball fields, for instance - and Scotto wants to see the others opened to the public to boost the city's park acreage. The mayor is a former national director with the Hawthorne-based American Youth Soccer Association.
"I'm excited about the possibility of using those sites in a different way," he said, noting the shortage of soccer fields for AYSO teams. "If people resist the lighting part I can understand that. We hope they're OK with using them as (soccer) fields.
"We're in a situation where these assets are really valuable to us."
WANT TO GO?
What: The Torrance City Council will discuss installing treatment systems at its sumps to clean stormwater and expand recreational opportunities.
Where: West High School library, 20401 Victor St.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday 3/17/2008.