Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Rain Gardens Capture Recent Rains

This rain garden at Fire Station 29 features an arroyo — dry river bed — that captures the water that falls on the site so it can percolate into the ground.

A recent story in the Los Angeles Times reported that most of the water from recent rains has been flushed out to the ocean in the city’s storm sewers.

“When you look at the Los Angeles River being between 50% and 70% full during a storm, you realize that more water is running down the river into the ocean than what Los Angeles would use in close to a year,” said Mark Gold, associate vice chancellor for environment and sustainability at UCLA. “What a waste of water supply.”

But that’s changing, thanks to an ordinance passed in 2012 that requires the first three quarters of an inch of rainfall to be collected on site for reuse or to percolate into the ground — in essence “un-paving” Los Angeles and capturing more run-off,  Gold told the Times.

Windsor Square resident Steve Matloff is doing his part to capture the water that falls on his family home and channel it back into the ground.  Matloff created a rain garden in his front yard as part of this sustainable landscape plan to compliment his LEED Platinum certified renovation of the home where he  grew up.  A system of pipes collects all the water that falls on the roof and sends it to the rain garden area in the front yard. From there, it slowly percolates into the ground below. If there’s a lot of rain and it overflows, the overflow is directed out to the storm sewers.

The size of the rain garden is determined by the City’s Low Impact Development Ordinance which also prescribes where it may be located on the site with certain setbacks, etc. Like many homeowners, Matloff chose to put his garden in the front yard in case he or a future owner ever wants to install a pool in the backyard and because he hopes the garden will demonstrate to his neighbors how they can also recapture water. The plants in the garden were selected to tolerate occasional flooding. Matloff says he is continually amazed at how the garden changes with each rain. 

“I have taken a million pictures, even though I know exactly what is going to happen, each time it fascinates me,” he told us when we stopped by after the rain on Saturday, Below are some photos he shared with us showing the garden full of water Saturday morning and nearly dry by the early evening.

On Saturday morning, the rains from Friday night and early Saturday morning had filled this rain garden in Windsor Square (photo by Steve Matloff)
By the end of the day Saturday, the rain garden is nearly dry. (photo by Steve Matloff)

Margaret Lee told the Buzz that when she was developing plans for her renovation of an old 1920s home in Fremont Place, the new rules required her to install rain  barrels or a rain garden. Lee said she chose the garden over the barrels because she would have been required to have over 30 barrels and didn’t have the space to dedicate storing water. Instead, she dug a basin in her front yard. The water that is collected from the roof is directed into the basin where it eventually percolates into the ground. Any extra overflow goes into the storm sewer. Lee’s garden doesn’t flood, the water is collected in the basin then it slowly seeps into the ground.

Lee also added a laundry-to-landscape irrigation system that channels the gray water from her laundry into the certain plants in the garden. Lee has to be careful not to use harsh detergents because the water is not filtered, but it’s been relatively easy and she feels good about sending extra water to a thirsty old Magnolia tree that’s been on the property for years. The laundry-to-landscape system wasn’t too expensive, said Lee, and it comes with a switch if she needs to use stronger detergent for a load of really dirty clothes generated by her three children.

Lee rain garden doesn’t accumulate water at the surface, instead the water is directed into a basin below the garden where it slowly percolates into the ground.

If you don’t have funds to capture the rain coming off the roof, you can install a simple rain garden like the new garden at Fire Station 29 on Wilshire Blvd., installed in honor of its centennial anniversary, which uses arroyos to catch the water. The site was graded and trenches were dug to create swales that were lined  with rocks like a dry river bed to catch the water so it would not run off the site. The trenches don’t need to be very deep, just 6-12 inches and they can hold quite a bit of water.

Rain garden at Fire Station 29 features an arroyo that captures the water that falls on the site so it can percolate into the ground.
All three of these gardens are relatively new so there’s still a lot of room for the plants to grow and fill in. But they were installed just in time as forecasters are predicting heavier rains for the area. These gardens are something everyone can do and they do a much better job capturing water than lawns and certainly much better than impervious surfaces like concrete. In addition, these gardens feature native plants with support our local wildlife.
If you’re not ready to change your landscaping, you can simply install a rain barrel or cistern under your downspout too. LADWP  periodically offers rebates or free barrels that can store the water to be used as irrigation later.
Rain barrels can hold water which can be used for irrigation later. (photo from
Admittedly, though, rain barrels are not that attractive. Another easy alternative is a rain chain, suggested Cathy Roberts, landscape designer and La Brea Hancock resident who serves on the GWNC’s Sustainability Committee and Land Use Committee.
Rain Chain is an easy, inexpensive way to direct water from gutters back into the ground (photo from Tree People)

“A rain chain that drains into a gravel pit can be an attractive and easy alternative,” said Roberts.  Install the chain under your down spout and rain can be directed to a gravel pit or a pot filled with gravel so there’s no standing water. The pit or pot has an open bottom or large weep hole so the water can seep into the ground.  Tree People has a handy one-page flyer on how to install a rain chain.

“Anything that homeowners can do to slow down the water and allow it to seep into the ground instead of going into the storm sewers is a good thing,” said Roberts.
Residents are likely to hear a lot more about capturing rain water on a larger scale as the LADWP begins implementation of their Stormwater Master Plan, a major capture effort to reduce the LA’s need for water and the pollution levels in the ocean from stormwater runoff. Next year fees from Measure W will soon be in place to fund larger city and county programs.
But in the meantime, local residents and do their part to reduce the flow of precious rain water into storm sewers and capture what lands on our property and beautify our neighborhoods at the same time. Check them out in today’s rain!


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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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