Tree planting project seen as solution to water pollution
on October 22, 2010
With mayoral candidates Don Perata and Rebecca Kaplan looking on approvingly, a dozen journalists pointed their cameras at an opened storm drain cover on the corner of 31st and Market Streets yesterday morning. The object of their attention was inside the drain, where a tree-planting organization named Urban Releaf had installed a blue bucket and experimental water meters like one setup a block away on 32nd Street.
The difference between the two intersections: 32nd Street has trees on its sidewalk.
The idea, said UC Davis water scientist Qingfu Xiao, is to study the power of trees to purify storm water. “In the drains, you can easily find electronic waste and even needles that were probably abandoned by drug users,” said Xiao, who since 2005 has been collaborating with Urban Releaf. “The storm water in this area contains lots of heavy metal too,” he said. “So I won’t eat the fish fished from the Bay water.”
Xiao said the storm water, which carries lots of noxious substance from the urban area, used to be directly pumped into San Francisco Bay and result in massive pollution. Cleaning the water before pumping it out to sea, which is now required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a costly process. But there may be a simple way to help fix the problem, Xiao said: planting more trees.
“Trees can trap and absorb many types of chemicals that cause the water pollution,” Xiao said, “They will produce oxygen and purify the air as well.”
Xiao’s current research involves the designing of a new model of tree wells—the area right around the tree root—that are integrated into the city’s drain system. This will allow the tree roots to become the cheapest water purifier. “The new well will save at least 20 percent of water in terms of irrigation as well,” Xiao said.
Jane Wardani, project manager of Urban Releaf, said the installation of a demonstration tree well, in which two trees will be planted on 31st Street, is scheduled for sometime in November.
Founded by Kemba Shakur in 1998 as Oakland Releaf, Urban Releaf has contributed to planting more than 12,000 trees in the city. Shakur has said she believes rehabilitation through tree planting and environmental awareness will revitalize Oakland’s core urban areas.
“When I first moved to the community, it just freaked me out to not see any birds,” Shakur said last year in an interview with an online environmental magazine. “I used to work in a prison, and the prison looked greener and more livable than a lot of the communities in the flatlands.”
Urban Releaf continues to focus on environmental science education by preparing youth for urban forestry-related job opportunities, and is gaining support from a number of public officials in Oakland and partners, including the U.S. Department of Water Resource and the U.S. Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “It touched me, in terms of the ability of Shakur to care about the community, but also trying to incorporate science and engineering into what’s going on,” said Christy Spector, a Department of Water Resource scientist.
Wardani said that in cooperation with two young adult employment-training agencies, Youth Employment Partnership and East Bay Conservation Corps, Urban Releaf has trained more than 5,000 young people in tree planting and maintenance projects.
“This is an investment that provides long-term benefits in terms of our health and quality of life,” Kaplan said at the podium Thursday morning, with a shovel in her hand. “The trees we plant today will benefit our community for years to come.”
In the morning’s demonstration, Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata said Urban Releaf is “doing something that has far more benefits to community building and environmental reservation across the board … more than people in Sacramento—colleagues of mine—have tried to do for years.”
Lead image: Urban Releaf founder Kemba Shakur (left) listens to Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata (right). “If you are out there in the open hills looking down at the flatland of Oakland, it is easy to assume that this is a tree-laden city,” Perata said. “But it’s not.”
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