Make Chico a rain-absorbent city

Roger Cole is a member of Streamminders, a Chico organization dedicated to preserving clean waterways.

In an average year, 27 inches of rainwater falls on Chico. Each year, the California Water Service supplies 9.85 million gallons of water pumped from the Tuscan aquifer below Chico—and thousands upon thousands of gallons that roll off rooftops (4,492 gallons per 2,000 square feet) are essentially thrown away. That is some of the cleanest water around, yet many of our roofs dump that pure water into roadways, where it is mixed with dirty water and dumped into our creeks.

It really is time for the city and residents to step up and begin to remake the city to absorb as much of the rain as it can. The Avenues and the Barber neighborhood plans can be the beginning of saving water, saving energy and saving money as well.

Chico State hosts the Concrete Institute; one of its products is a “pervious” concrete that can absorb 13 to 30 inches of water per hour. Imagine if the gutters on our new residential streets were constructed of pervious concrete—we would gradually eliminate the muddy pools of water that line those streets.

Groundwater replenishes dry creeks in the summer, and traditional asphalt prevents groundwater from replenishing. We would save millions of gallons of water—water that Cal Water would not have to pump from the Tuscan aquifer—and save money on our water bills.

There are many other ways to absorb rainfall. Water gardens can use roof or driveway water to feed beautiful moisture-loving plants. These features attract songbirds and can be real assets to our yards. Walks, driveways and patios can be constructed with pavers.

If your roof gutters drain into the street, consider redoing your yard to absorb that water, or even just let it run over your lawn on the way to the street. You also can create a small gravel channel or bioswale—that way you get free water “music” when it’s raining. Some of that rainfall will absorb and water your nearby trees.

In parking lots, we can route runoff water through tree planters before it goes into the storm drains. That way some of the rain is absorbed, and we get bigger shade trees to cool the parked cars.

Cities around the nation have been “water harvesting” for years. They require new buildings and remodels to retain and absorb runoff. Often the costs of these practices can be paid off within a few years by water and energy savings.

The Chico Planning Commission gave instructions to staff to write the Avenues plan with language to seriously consider natural stormwater management systems and pervious surfaces, as well as narrower streets to reduce runoff. Let’s encourage our elected officials to require Chico to be as rain-absorbent a city as possible.