It Takes a Village to Protect a Watershed

This is the eighth of a 10-part blog series examining the nature of ASBS, the threats they face and the actions we can take to protect these biological hotspots for future San Diegans.

Over the past several weeks, our ASBS blog series discussed projects put into the ground by the University of California, San Diego at Scripps Institution of Oceanography to help improve and protect water quality in the two ASBS near La Jolla. The UCSD/SIO projects are large low impact development projects engineered by professionals to clean urban runoff before it enters the ocean.  In looking at them, I have been awed by their size, complexity and their reliance on ecology to do the dirty work. But at the end of the day, I can’t put one in my backyard. Or can I?


If you are at the SIO ecology embankments and you amble north of Scripps pier, you will see something that is seemingly mundane but is secretly quite remarkable – a rain barrel attached to a small garden box, not much bigger than five feet by three.  The rain barrel/garden is part of a wider pilot project of the City of San Diego studying how this design can capture, slow down and disperse cleaner runoff than when it entered.  The rain barrel captures water that runs off the roof and then discharges excess water into the attached garden box. Like the ecology embankments, this garden holds special soil that grabs on to pollutants and releases cleaner water.  It takes time for the water from the rain barrel to pass through the complex soil matrix, which means that excess water leaves the garden after the storm has passed. By slowing down how much runoff enters the urban environment, this garden box reduces another problem caused by storm water – erosion. Rain barrels and rain gardens are simple and growing in popularity.  Rain barrels and gardens come in all shapes and sizes, with many resources available online to help you put them in the ground in your yard.  So it turns out those even small spaces like your yard, sidewalks, or medians in your local business district can also host a mini version of what UCSD/SIO installed at La Jolla Shores.  That means we don’t have to rely only on big projects like what UCSD/SIO did; everyone in La Jolla can play a part in keeping the coast off La Jolla clean and healthy.

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2 Responses for It Takes a Village to Protect a Watershed

  1. brightcoast says:

    How is this project related to/is it related to the street/sidewalk mini gardens? (The ones that are planted in alternating locations to help drain the water, etc.)

  2. Jen K says:

    Brightcoast –

    The underlying philosophy is basically the same. When sidewalks or street edges are designed to capture storm water runoff, the planted area slows down the runoff and the soil, roots, and microbes work to filter the runoff. Not all planted areas at the edge of roads are designed to do this though –some are just decorative landscape. You can usually tell ones that are meant to help clean/slow runoff because some portion of them is at a lower level than the road and/or there are cuts in the curb that direct storm water into the planted area.

    Thanks for reading our blog.

    Jen Kovecses
    Staff Scientist