San Francisco Partnering with Community Organizations to Build Green Infrastructure
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If you head south of San Francisco’s busy downtown center along I-280, and idle just along the top of the San Francisco Golf Club, you’ll find yourself crossing Brotherhood Way, home to a mix of faith communities, ethnicities, and cultures coexisting side by side.
Along this corridor are St. Thomas More Catholic School and Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. Like so many of their neighbors, these properties are mostly paved, with a few plants dotting the grounds here and there, but that’s about to change. St. Thomas More and Holy Trinity are among the first participants in San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s (SFPUC) Green Infrastructure Grant Program. In the coming year, these institutions, and the land they sit on, will be transformed. Permeable pavement and detention systems will slow down, filter, and store stormwater during rainstorms, while rain gardens and stormwater swales will bring pollinator-friendly native flowers and grasses.
Looking back at the last decade, the United States has been experiencing more frequent and intense rainstorms, prompting water utilities to adapt their methods of delivering safe, clean water. In this context, SFPUC introduced their OneWaterSF vision as a new, integrated approach to water and energy resource management.
With our OneWaterSF approach, San Francisco will optimize the use of our finite water and energy resources to balance community and ecosystem needs, creating a more resilient and reliable future.
OneWaterSF Vision Statement
SFPUC recognizes that part of what makes San Francisco so special is the diverse bodies of water that surround it: the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay, and many inland watersheds. SFPUC is determined to consider ways to protect its local water resources in a way that conserves resources and returns benefits to its customers. Which brings us back to SFPUC’s Green Infrastructure Grant Program.
As one of the oldest cities on the West Coast, much of San Francisco relies on a combined sewer system, similar to cities in the East and Midwest. Simply put, this is a system that combines stormwater and wastewater. And during especially heavy periods of rain, these sewer systems overflow into nearby lakes, rivers, and streams in what are called Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). These events are bad news, not just for the plants and animals that live in the bodies of water, but for people who depend on the water for drinking, recreation, and agriculture. CSOs bring untreated human waste, car exhaust, pet waste, lawn fertilizer, and more into our precious waterways.
SFPUC’s Green Infrastructure Grant Program uses green infrastructure to combat CSOs and safeguard its watersheds. Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) installations are engineered stormwater management tools that slow down, clean, and route stormwater to keep it out of a sewer system. Simultaneously, GSI provides native habitat, beautiful landscaping, groundwater recharge, and non-potable water reuse. Through this program, SFPUC encourages landowners to build GSI on their property by providing grants that cover design and construction. “Green stormwater infrastructure is one way that we can invest in our community, efficiently manage rainfall, and ease the burden on the City’s sewer system,” said SFPUC Utility Specialist Sarah Minick.
Greenprint Partners, a green infrastructure delivery partner, helps landowners participate in SFPUC’s Green Infrastructure Grant Program. St. Thomas More and Holy Trinity are the first of many projects that Greenprint Partners is collaborating on with landowners to help bring the restorative effects of GSI to San Francisco and its watersheds. Together, these projects represent a $2.7 million investment that will help optimize San Francisco’s water and energy resources while also paying attention to community and ecosystem needs. The projects will manage a combined 2.2 million gallons, or about 62,850 standard bathtubs, of stormwater runoff each year.
Greenprint Partners CEO April Méndez noted, “We are enthusiastic partners with SFPUC in bringing more green stormwater infrastructure to San Francisco. These sites demonstrate our company’s commitment to delivering high impact GSI at scale and in partnership with the community.”
As a school that prides itself on preparing its students to become citizens committed to service, St. Thomas More sees SFPUC’s Green Infrastructure Grant Program as an opportunity to be of service to the greater community. The school is looking forward to contributing to SFPUC’s stormwater management goals and gaining the restorative benefits of GSI for its students.
Greenprint Partners plans to enhance St. Thomas More’s impervious, paved surfaces with rain gardens, swales, and updated landscaping. Outdoor classroom areas will be expanded, and rainwater reuse features will offer students a hands-on, up-close look at the water cycle. Educational gardens featuring native plants and fruit trees are planned, to add greenery to the grounds and teach children about healthy food supplies. Currently, the parking lot does double duty as a playground and outdoor classroom, causing its students to experience a reduced connection to nature and frequent exposure to vehicle exhaust.
“We are committed to providing the very best learning environment for our students’ academic, spiritual, and social growth. Investing in the future starts with investing in the next generation, and we continue to do so each day at St. Thomas More School,” says Principal Marie Fitzpatrick. “St. Thomas More School is proud to contribute to SFPUC’s stormwater management goals and the surrounding community.”
Just up the street from St. Thomas More, Holy Trinity is also excited about upcoming GSI improvements. Despite being the oldest Greek Orthodox Church west of the Mississippi River, Holy Trinity has a vision set squarely on the future, honoring its Hellenic roots while embracing persons of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds. In light of this, Holy Trinity is participating in SFPUC’s Green Infrastructure Program to help serve its surrounding neighbors with better stormwater management practices. Planned improvements include seven rain gardens that will be filled with native plants, featuring an eye-pleasing array of colors and textures throughout the year. These enhanced gardens will soak up, filter, and let stormwater permeate into the ground, which will replenish the groundwater supply, while also offering up mini-habitats for local bees, butterflies, and birds seeking shelter and food. The rain gardens will increase green space for Holy Trinity’s parking lots and sidewalks, helping congregants better connect with and enjoy nature.
Parish Council President Nick Johnson said, “Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church is excited about the water infrastructure program. Soon we will have the opportunity to conserve one of God’s blessings, which will assist us in maintaining the beauty of His home. This will contribute to our mission to grow our Church, live our Faith, and walk the world as Orthodox Christians.”
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