First-of-its-kind project prepares San Francisco for drier times amid ongoing state drought

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — You can tell that Orange Memorial Park in South San Francisco is about to turn dark green. Engineers Bianca Liu and Rob Dusenbury say the key to sustainable transformation lies underground.

The project actually uses the flow of the nearby Colma Creek. This is a historic natural waterway that was heavily cemented for flood protection during the area’s early development days. For decades, the creek carried runoff from the surrounding watershed directly into San Francisco Bay, along with a significant amount of debris. But that will change soon.

“And so part of the green infrastructure, and this is the green infrastructure project, is to restore and mimic some of the natural hydrological processes that have been lost through development,” Dusenbury said.

To take advantage of the stream’s seasonal water flow, the team developed a collection and storage system. It includes a mechanism for collecting debris and cleaning the stream.

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But while this is happening, some of the flow is also diverted, first to the massive storage tank below the park and then through the water treatment plant.

Eventually, this previously wasted water will be used to green lawns and trees and replenish the groundwater pool, saving millions of gallons a year.
“The level of water purification that this water receives through an ultrafiltration system followed by UV disinfection makes it suitable for spraying and wider reuse in all areas, not only in the park, but also in the surrounding areas,” Dusenbury says.

Project manager Bianca Liu adds that the system not only captures water, but opens up new horizons in Northern California.

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“This is the first project of its kind, it’s really exciting. We are glad to be a part of it. And hopefully it will serve as a model for future projects on a regional scale,” she says.

The model is so climate-friendly that it has been featured in a new sustainability report from environmental nonprofits SPUR and the Pacific Institute. Laura Feinstein was the lead author.

“And here is a beautiful river flowing right through the city, and the water was not used. And instead of being used, it was actually just bringing a lot of pollution into the bay. So instead of using it as a sewer that just pollutes the bay and not South San Francisco, San Mateo County is redesigning it so they can use the water and clean it up and take a greener approach.” Feinstein says.

RELATED: Data shows driest January, February and March in California history despite recent rain in the Bay Area.

Construction is being carried out in stages. And when completed, the designers believe Orange Memorial Park will be in a unique position to thrive in the face of climate change and California’s ongoing drought cycles.

“And we hope this will lead to a cleaner bay and a cleaner future,” says project manager Liu.

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