■ By Matt King / Contributed
Whenever I drive down Florida Ave. in Hemet after there has been some type of rainfall, there is always massive amounts of flooding in the streets. It has been like this ever since I could remember. Visiting my grandma in Hemet when I was a kid on a rainy day meant driving through some serious water. When driving by other cars, it is easy to accidently splash them with a tidal wave of dirty water.
Other similar-sized cities I have lived in don’t seem to have a flooding problem this bad. I remember the last big storm here in 2014 when people had to be rescued from their cars during a flash flood. That was the worst flooding I had seen since living here but everyone talks about the flood of 1980 as the worst of their lives.
I have always been interested in the movement and distribution of water. Irrigation and drainage were two of my specialties when I first started out in the landscape industry. I enjoyed being able to take water from a pressurized mainline, and at the control of an automatic electronic valve, move it where it was needed using PVC pipes and poly tubing. When it rained, I learned how to use drain pipes and culverts to get natural irrigation to where it needed to go.
With my landscape business, rain is a terrific event because all of our finished projects are in the process of capturing natural irrigation. I try to check out all our past projects the next day after a rain to see how much was captured in the bioswale.
We receive many calls about flood prevention projects. We can stop flooding by changing the topography of the site, building mounds and swales to force storm water away from the house and direct it where it is needed, and eventually drains into a low point of the yard. However when it comes to my hometown, when it rains even just a small amount, the water doesn’t have anywhere to go, resulting in huge flooding problems. This is a major hazard for cars and even more so for people trying to get around on foot or bicycle.
What we need to solve this problem is to create somewhere for storm water to go. We need more permeability and less new concrete. Traditional thinking has always been “get the water away as fast as possible”. In situations where there is water in the street, getting it out of the street quickly is the main priority but once the water is moving down the gutter, we have to think about how can we use the water as a benefit.
One possible solution is storm water infiltration. If we could infiltrate storm water into nearby planters, drought tolerant plants that are used to infrequent amounts of rain would get the natural irrigation that they need to survive a prolonged drought. If storm water was infiltrated into parks via dry river bioswales, as well as swapping out unused turf for drought tolerant natives, the parks would be much more sustainable and less costly. They would work with nature rather than against it.