Reinventing stormwater: Take the tour

Which campus facility has an underground mechanism for separating litter from rainwater before it reaches Strawberry Creek? What two materials, forming the sub-surface and surface of Wellman parking lot, help filter out oil and other pollutants before they can reach the stream?

booklet cover

Students created and funded this tour of campus installations designed to support Strawberry Creek.

If you said the renovated California Memorial Stadium and a gravel “pool” topped with interlocking pavers, congrats. If not, consider taking a new walking tour of water-infrastructure and ecological-restoration projects designed to protect and restore UC Berkeley’s signature stream.

“Reinventing Stormwater,” a 20-page tour booklet available in print and online as a PDF, is a product of the Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), a student-funded program to support campus sustainability innovations.

Environment, Health and Safety staffer Tim Pine, who provided technical support on the project, says the pavement and concrete that dominates urban watersheds “completely flips the natural flow of creeks and streams on its head.” In a rainstorm, instead of rainwater having the chance to “bounce around on leaves and leaf litter” and make its way gradually to creeks and streams, water jets out of pipes with force, sending pollutants directly into waterways and scouring the bottom and sides of creeks, to the detriment of water quality and aquatic life.

Strawberry Creek is no exception. Since the campus’s founding in the 1860s, engineers attempting to control the creek have armored its banks with concrete and introduced culverts and check dams, while surrounding areas have been developed and paved.

Today, a growing movement to reinvent urban waterways advocates more sustainable solutions. The tour showcases a variety of these measures, at 10 campus installations designed to mimic or restore natural hydrologic flow and rehabilitate the watershed.

vegetated bio-swale

Tour stop No. 7: A “lawn island” — a small chunk of lawn that requires water and fertilizer and yet is too small to be an inviting place to sit — has been converted into a vegetated bio-swale, which uses plants and porous soil to catch and store water runoff and filter out pollutants.

Stop No. 1 is the Grinnell Natural Area, near Oxford and Center streets, where more than 500 students and community members removed a dense mat of invasive English Ivy nearly a decade ago, and approximately 50 native plant species effective at curbing erosion and promoting stream health have been reintroduced in the decade since.

Following the tour upstream, all the way to stop No. 10 at Memorial Stadium, the guide features, among other installations, a streamside crib wall made of redwood logs and roots (a bank-stabilization system said to be stronger than concrete), a stormwater catchment garden and a vegetated bio-swale.

Conservation and Resource Studies major Nicole Kush – who graduated in June and wrote and designed the tour booklet with guidance from grad-student Sasha Harris-Lovett – says she hopes “Reinventing Stormwater” will help educate the community about water issues in the urban environment and will serve as an example for other institutions, “to see what we do at Berkeley.”

Printed copies of the tour booklet are available from EH&S and TGIF; for multiple copies, email Tim Pine at


At Dwinelle parking lot, a bio-filtration system breaks down harmful pollutants and slows stormwater before it enters the creek.