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
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, FoGP Board Member