Welcome to the bioswale.
A two-block stretch of the Richmond Greenway is now more than just an aesthetically pleasing bicycle and pedestrian path through the Iron Triangle. A multiyear effort by the nonprofit Watershed Project and a dozen partners has completed installation of a bioswale, an engineered creek channel that will improve drainage and reduce urban toxins that runoff into San Francisco Bay.
About 30 people, including Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Councilman Tom Butt, attended Wednesday's ribbon-cutting for the bioswale, which runs alongside the greenway between Sixth Street and Eighth Street.
"This is can be a model for naturally filtering runoff and a community asset that draws people to the greenway," said Linda Hunter, executive director of the Richmond-based Watershed Project.
In 2008, the Watershed Project worked with a group of foster youths from Richmond to design and plant a native garden on the southwest corner of the greenway, a former railroad right-of-way, at Sixth Street.
The project expanded to include creating a green space that connects people to nature, pairs them with urban agriculture and uses low-impact design to mediate urban stormwater pollution.
Creating the new creek required tons of rock and soil, as well as major excavation, Hunter said. The list of partners and volunteers is lengthy. Participation included city vehicles to transport supplies, trees donated by the East Bay Municipal
The bioswale is a meandering creek bed, filled with 2 feet of fresh soil and lined with hundreds of square feet of jute fabric, which helps prevent soil erosion and runoff, said Drew Jack of the Watershed Project.
The bed is padded with a thicket of native plants and grasses, including sage, purple needle and rye.
"It all acts as natural filtration," Jack said. "It's a sponge for all the oils, pesticides and the other nasty stuff that comes from streets and the lawns, cleaning the water before it drains into the bay."
When it rains, the new creek bed will handle the deluge of water that existing grading funnels south on Seventh Street, between Sixth and Eighth streets. Planners said the small willows and alder trees will grow in coming years to create a lush canopy. Councilman Butt sifted around the creekside, pawing at the clusters of yellow and orange flowers.
"This is how you bring a city back, by spreading projects like this through neighborhoods with young people leading the way, not contractors," Butt said.
Hunter said two more projects are set to start this year: another bioswale along the greenway at 21st Street, and a project to plant 200 trees donated by Cal Fire in the Iron Triangle neighborhood.