When most people think about sewer systems, they’re likely to envision unsightly industrial facilities like pump stations and treatment plants.
But in several San Francisco neighborhoods, including the Mission District, public debate is focusing increasingly on innovative approaches to public water management through green projects like rain gardens, vegetated roofs and sidewalk trees as ways to improve the city’s sewer system.
With its Mission and Valencia Green Gateway project, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission aims to improve storm water management on the section of Valencia Street that runs south of Cesar Chavez to Mission Street. The area is part of the Islais Creek watershed, which makes it more susceptible to flooding during rainstorms.
Last weekend the PUC invited Mission District residents to join in the discussion and share ideas on greening the neighborhood during a community meeting at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.
The Green Gateway plan envisions sidewalk rain gardens to absorb storm water and new plazas with permeable paving designed to ease ﬂooding. Developed in partnership with the San Francisco Planning Commission, the plan also aims to enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety and beautify the neighborhood.
The main goal is to decrease the volume of rainwater that goes into the city’s sewer system, to avoid overwhelming it during large storms, said Teresa Young, leader of public outreach for the project. The PUC wants to employ green technologies, but also to listen to the community’s needs, Young said. There is no official blueprint for the project yet, she said, “because we want to make the plans together and get the community involved earlier.”
Live demonstrations of green technologies took center stage at last weekend’s gathering. One material, a permeable pavement, is built to be to be very strong but is structured “like a Rice Krispie bar,” a project member said while pouring water onto a thick sample of pavement to show how liquid filters through it.
The plan also includes updates to the aging infrastructure of underground pipes, and building cisterns to collect storm water for alternative uses.
Rita Roti, a resident of Precita Avenue, said that she came to the open house with neighbors because “many of us have concerns and want our voices to be heard.”
“It will be good and challenging to create happiness among all,” Roti said, adding that she hoped planners would take into consideration locals’ point of view. Those attending the event were encouraged to write down their opinions of the proposal for planners to read.
Community debate over green water treatment will resume in late June. The PUC expects to present an initial project design in the fall. Construction is slated to begin in November of 2014 and end in 2015.
“All these changes affect me,” said Mission resident Steven Crow. “I hope to see all of this taking place to dramatically improve the look and the usability of the neighborhood.”
To find out more about the Green Gateway project and submit a comment, visit the project’s website here. The site also allows readers to rate each individual element of the proposal.