Proclaiming "Now it can rain!," Mayor Helene Schneider cut the ribbon on Wednesday with other Santa Barbara leaders as they celebrated the completion of several stormwater filtration projects around the city.
Although the area badly needs some precipitation, the city is planning ahead for future storms, and people gathered at Oak Park to check out one of the completed projects, where the stage and picnic area on Junipero Street were redone, as well as the tennis court lot on Tallant Road.
Stevens Park, at 258 Canon Drive, also has been redone as part of the project, along with the Westside Neighborhood Center, 423 W. Victoria St.
The improvements are designed to allow stormwater and urban runoff to percolate into the ground, and about 100,000 square feet of asphalt was removed and replaced with permeable pavers.
Instead of water running off the asphalt, and taking oil, trash and other pollutants on the ground with it, water slowly soaks into the permeable surface.
Oil, auto pollutants and bacteria are naturally broken down by microbes in the soil, said Cameron Benson, creeks restoration manager for the City of Santa Barbara.
After the improvements, the area "can take a significant storm," he said.
Schneider said she hopes that private developers and homeowners will be inspired to use the same strategies on their projects, and Steve Moore of the state Water Resources Control Board called the changes a "great opportunity."
The project was funded by a grant from the state Water Resources Control Board and Santa Barbara's Measure B monies, and total construction costs are expected to be about $2.3 million.
In the past, the emphasis has been on moving water as quickly as possible to prevent flooding, according to Moore.
"We decided we were to going to direct our most precious resource — water — into the gutter," he said.
Now, he said, the emphasis is more on reclaiming the water and redirecting it from creating polluted runoff into oceans and streams.
Before it reaches the soil, the water hitting the project's surface will travel through 12 inches of gravel packed beneath the pavers but above the soil. The rock had to be that deep to support parking for fire trucks and other heavy loads that might end up parked on top, Benson said.
Staff also gave a demonstration showing how the pavers will work once it does rain. A city water tanker was on site and sprayed reclaimed water onto the ground — strategically placed between two trees so that they'd be able to use the water, Benson said.
Water immediately slipped beneath the pavers and into the gravel beneath.
Runoff has been a significant problem on the city's watershed, according to Kira Redmond, executive director of Santa Barbara Channelkeeper.
Redmond commended the city for the project, calling runoff the "biggest water-quality issue in the city," and a contributing factor to high bacterial levels in oceans and streams.