Sustaining adequate water resources is a priority given the ongoing water crisis in Southern California. Vast quantities of water are wasted in urban areas via runoff from storms and daily local usage that flows directly into the ocean. The journey through impervious urban surfaces such as streets and parking lots accumulates nutrients, metals, fire retardants, pharmaceuticals, and organic contaminants, such as hydrocarbons, into the water. Contamination from runoff is a well-documented problem for both marine life and humans.
One underutilized tool to retain potable water and remove contaminants from runoff are biofilters. Biofilters are constructed to use natural processes, e.g. plant uptake, and living materials, e.g. microorganisms in the soil, to treat urban runoff before it reaches the ocean. Small biofilter systems have been built in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties by individual developers, universities, municipalities, transportation authorities and water districts, but there is no comprehensive listing of their location, design, and size. This project will study both the ecology of biofilters and how to optimize the design and locations of biofilters to maximize their benefits.
This project will:
Biofilters require low-energy input yet provide multiple benefits including flood and erosion control, biodiversity conservation, and detoxification that can improve the water quality of our coastal ocean. Lisa Levin, the principal investigator of the Sea Grant project, is Director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla and Distinguished Professor at Scripps.
Read the summary project proposal.
2017 Research Update:
1) This studycompiled the first database and map of Los Angeles biofilters with information about drainage mechanisms and soil microorganisms. View interactive map of Los Angeles area biofilters: https://goo.gl/76sswN
2) The project looks at biofilters from an ecosystem services perspective, providing the groundwork for monetary valuation of biofilter ecosystem services.
2016 Research Update:
This project generated a lengthy list and interactive map of Los Angeles region biofilters, with information about drainage mechanisms (bioretention vs. biofiltration) and distances that can be used as the basis of applied research by regulators, industry, or academia. The project has provided a first look at biofilters from an ecosystem services perspective and expects to use this information to recommend designs that maximize functions valuable to humans and nature.
This project provides the groundwork for monetary valuation of biofilter ecosystem services, information that could be very persuasive for the adoption and implementation of low impact development plans for jurisdictions that have not yet done so. The project’s faunal studies will contribute to a database used to study the importance of soil invertebrates in biofilter function.
Researchers expect to use this information to recommend designs that maximize the functions of biofilters to capture, treat, and harvest urban stormwater runoff in southern California.