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Measure W


“It never rains but it pours.” That expression has never been truer than the last two years. Heavy rainfall during the winter months sent gallons of water rushing down Fern Dell Drive and into the storm drains on Los Feliz Blvd. Yet for nine months out of the year, the Upper Dell is as dry as a bone with no water at all in the creek.

Friends of Griffith Park (FoGP) is actively working on a solution to this dichotomy. We won a Los Angeles County Measure W Safe Clean Water grant for a Feasibility Study of our plan to capture and store stormwater and use it to recirculate water year-round to the top of the creek and to irrigate the plants in the Dell.

Measure W was approved by voters in 2018. It created a special property tax to fund projects to capture stormwater. First, with the drought condition prevailing in California, we cannot afford to let water flow uselessly into storm drains and out to the ocean. We need to keep as much water as we can on site and use it instead of paying DWP for water to irrigate the ferns and trees. Second, the water that goes into the storm drains from our parking lots and streets is contaminated with oils and bits of rubber tires. All that debris flows to Ballona Creek, then overwhelms the Hyperion treatment plant and goes straight into the Santa Monica Bay. We all love to swim, surf, and play in the Pacific Ocean, but we don’t want to contaminate it.

What to do? FoGP plans to capture as much storm water as we can, run it through filters to remove the contaminants, and store it in a huge underground tank. The tank would be located underneath the grassy area just north of Los Feliz Blvd. where sun bathers relax near the Berlin Bear statue. Yes, the actual construction of the tank would be disruptive, but once installed, the sunbathers won’t know it’s there. It will capture not only the water coming down Fern Dell Drive, but also the water flowing down Black Oak Drive, Red Oak Drive and down Hobart Blvd. which also flows into the storm drains on Los Feliz Boulevard.

Parking Lot 9 above Trails Cafe will be repaved with a permeable surface. That water will be run through filters and piped underground across the street where it will be put into the creek. The upper part of the creek will then get some much-needed water.

The water that is captured in the storage tank can be recirculated back up to the top of the Upper Dell so that the creek will have a steady supply of water all year. It won’t be deep, but it will have a few inches of water so that the creek actually looks like a creek. In the 1930s, Fern Dell had a recirculating water system that took water out of the creek and pumped it as far up as Trails Cafe. That system rusted out many years ago; its remnants are still visible in the little green shack opposite Black Oak Drive. Modern pumps and pipes are far more efficient and can achieve the same result with smaller pipes.

The captured water will also be a valuable resource for the Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP). They are currently paying a large water bill to DWP. RAP can use the stored water to irrigate the ferns, native plants and trees.

In chatting with the public about the project, we found that even children understood the need to save the rain water to water the plants. They definitely understood that putting dirty water into the ocean is a No-No.

In addition to stormwater capturing and recirculating, there are several other community benefits that might be included in the project. For example, the WPA-era walls lining the creek could be reset. The waterfall in the Lower Dell that has not worked for years could be converted to an independent recirculating system so that visitors can see it in its 1930s glory. The little grotto in the Lower Dell could be repaired. The dirt paths could be refreshed. More native plants could be planted. When we polled people on their preferences, almost everyone said they liked all the suggestions. One man commented that he had taken many long hikes just to see a waterfall. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could see a waterfall on their weekly walk through Fern Dell?

FoGP is reaching out to local homeowner groups like the Oaks Neighborhood Association and Los Feliz Improvement Association, to our neighborhood councils, to the LA Conservancy, to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, to the California Native Plant Society and others to tell them about our project. All have provided letters of support. We’ve talked to more than 150 people in Fern Dell to explain our project. All were enthusiastic. FoGP welcomes that enthusiasm as we start the process of saving, reusing and enjoying the waters of Fern Dell.

 ~Marian Dodge  Summer/Fall 2024 Griffith Reporter


    Griffith Park has been ahead of the game when it comes to sustainability and water recapturing. Long before it became a popular practice, the Park was employing modern practices.

    One of the best examples is in Fern Dell. You’ve all seen the little stream that throughout much of the year has very little water in it. Have you noticed the old green shack on the east side of the road across from Black Oak Drive? That’s the old pump house for a water recirculating system. It used to capture water from the stream as it flowed from the west side of the road under Fern Dell Drive. A large pipe, still visible, fed water into the pump where it was pumped back up the hill and was released back into the stream somewhere above Trails Café. This made maximum use of the small amount of water that naturally flowed down the stream. The remainder of the water that was not captured continued down the stream on the east side of the road and disappeared into the storm drains on Los Feliz Blvd.

    Friends of Griffith Park recently won a Technical Assistance grant from L.A. County’s Safe Clean Water project. Part of the plan is to replicate that old water recirculating system but with modern, more powerful pumps and smaller more efficient pipes. If the project is implemented, Fern Dell will once again have a steady flow of water in its stream.

    And water that currently flows into the storm drain? Much of this water will be captured and stored in a huge underground storage tank that will be located under the grassy area behind the Berlin Bear. You’ll still be able to picnic or sunbathe on the grass, but the water that was captured below you will be used for irrigating the ferns in Fern Dell or replenishing the stream. A remarkable amount of water runs down the street even during a relatively light rainfall. That’s because the watershed area in the canyon is so big. It drains everything from the Observatory down to Los Feliz, an area of 320 acres. The area above the Fern Dell parking lot includes a series of catch basins, built in the 1930s, which have two main functions. The first is to protect the Dell from mud flows during heavy rain storms. The second is to catch the rain water in giant basins where the rainwater will seep into the soil and replenish the aquifer.

    Another large series of catch basins is located between the heliport and the Commonwealth Nursery. As you walk up Commonwealth to Vista del Valle and Cedar Grove, you may have noticed a beautiful stone mandala and thought it was just a lovely artistic creation. It is indeed that.

    Constructed by a very talented CCC team during the Depression, it is the final and largest catch basin in that series. If you look down on it from the heliport, you can see the various channels and basins that contained the flow of water. Do catch basins really work? Indeed they do. The trick is that they need to be cleared of debris annually so that they will be able to handle the next storm. Sometimes a storm is so heavy that it overwhelms the system. In the early 1970s, heavy storms did exactly that. So much mud flowed down Fern Dell stream that it filled the stream bed to just under the small bridges. Crews had to hand dig out the mud. Many homeowners are using a similar system today to catch much of the rain that falls in their yards and lead it toward a rain garden, a low spot in your yard designed to capture the water and slowly replenish the aquifer.

    The Commonwealth Nursery used to feature another example of water recapturing. Rain that fell on the roofs of the now-abandoned green houses was caught in gutters that fed into storage tanks. You, too, can practice sustainability in your own yard, albeit on a smaller scale. You can create a rain garden. You can take water from your gutters and store it in rain barrels to use later to water your garden. Follow Griffith Park’s lead and become a good steward of water.

    ~Marian Dodge  Winter/Spring 2023-24 Griffith Reporter