You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘stormwater drains’ tag.

Cooks River today

4 different views of verge gardens in Chippendale

Last August 2010 I wrote about Michael Mobbs, an Environment Architect well known for his sustainable house at Chippendale. He encouraged his neighbours to transform the verges outside their houses into sustainable gardens in at least 4 Chippendale streets.  This is quite an achievement & has been very successful.

The bustling verges are immediately noticeable when you drive off Cleveland Street into the streets that are part of this project.  The verges make these inner city streets look peaceful & it’s far nicer than looking at concrete or strips of lawn.

City of Sydney Council has come on board by openly supporting the project, supplying funds & signage, removing concrete & allowing some of Peace Park to be used. They may have even supplied the compost bins located on street corners & in the small park.  Fruit trees have been espaliered along one side of Peace Park creating an eatable fence. It looks great & allows 4 fruit trees to grow without taking valuable space from the park.

There are vegetables, herbs, fruit trees, bay trees, wild raspberry, daisies, Grevilleas, succulents, native grasses & many other plants.  There may even be potatoes growing under a couple of car tyres.  Some of the plants are labeled with home-made signs making the walk just a little more interesting for people like me who can’t identify every plant they see.

Signs like this one are all along the streets involved in the verge gardening in Chippendale

I spoke to a couple of people who noticed I was taking photos & they were very proud of what has been achieved. Most of the small front gardens were also well looked after & many cuttings have migrated to the verge. The sheer variety of plants makes it look interesting.  The street trees that were once encased in concrete are now sitting in the middle of well-watered composted gardens & would be wondering at their luck.

According to the signs, you can, “Pick any fruit, berry or leaf that you want to eat.   These plants provided by local residents for anyone. We need to grow food where we live & work.” How lovely to see such generosity. Anyone who has grown vegetables & fruit will know that unless you bottle everything, there is generally more than you can eat when a crop ripens so sharing makes sense.

Using the verges to grow vegetables, fruit & other plants has many benefits.

  • Removing concrete allows stormwater to go into the ground & this serves to keep your foundations more stable & stop movement & cracking walls. It also stops pollution entering stormwater drains.
  • The immediate environment gets greener & this has proven to make people feel happier.
  • Producing food cuts down grocery bills & gives people a huge sense of satisfaction.
  • It also teaches children that vegetables don’t come out of clear plastic bags & that they need to take care of the earth & the environment.  Most kids like gardening if they don’t have to work too hard or for too long.
  • Add the concept of sharing to everyone like this community has done would have an accumulative benefit that spreads outwards into the greater society.
  • Projects like this one bring people out of their homes & allow them to get to know each other in a non-threatening way.  A close community is a safer community.
  • As the soil gets richer & the plants start to grow & produce people would feel as though they are a part of something that improves the environment & helps each other.
  • Verge gardening encourages innovative thinking in that there isn’t much land to use so people have to think of ways to maximize the space.
  • It also beautifies & cools the area & creates community pride.

Wild raspberries are growing over this arch in the Chippendale verge gardenss

A few months ago, the then Mayor Sam Iskandar wrote in the Inner West Courier that he hoped many people would start verge gardens in Marrickville LGA.  He said Council would help them by removing concrete in suitable places if they applied.  We have a new Mayor now, but I’m confident that Fiona Byrne who is a member of Marrickville Greens also encourages verge gardens.

The September 2010 Eco Edition of Marrickville Matters said Council was starting up Groundwork, a grassroots sustainability project where people will be taught various gardening techniques & “designing, installing & maintaining gardens – especially non-traditional ones like on verges & roofs.” This would certainly be something good to be involved with.

If you look there are many, many verges around Marrickville LGA where verge gardens would be suitable.  From experience, you only need to start doing it to garner the interest of your neighbours & it is nice to have that bit of extra land to play with.  If we all did it, Marrickville Council could save up to $2 million a year in verge mowing costs. That money could be used for other things such as street tree planting, which is another way we can benefit.

I last wrote about Michael here –

Fruit trees at the edge of Peace Park Chippendale. This can be done in most places & allows fruit trees to grow without taking up much space. Most fruit trees do well in pots so long as they don't dry out so this could be done in a courtyard or on a balcony or roof space


I have found a product that could radically transform Marrickville LGA.

It will do the following:

  • Allow any ground surface to be permeable to water.
  • Allow ordinary traffic to use the lane, including vehicles up to 90,718.474kgs  (100 US tons)
  • Capture stormwater before it hits the gutters & goes down the drain
  • Adapt to the contours of the landscape without downgrading its ability to capture stormwater
  • Will not form ruts or tracks from wheels
  • Prevent soil erosion
  • Maintain its performance even during wet weather
  • Fully sustainable & made from recycled material
  • Virtually no maintenance
  • Never needs replacement
  • Looks great & can be made to be invisible.

Laneway in Newtown

The product is PermaTurf. An American company makes it, but there must be suppliers in Australia.  It is a system of large sheets of interlocking cells made out of recycled plastic that can be filled with dirt & planted with grass or filled with mulch, pebbles or similar. It can also be cut to size.

Imagine if Marrickville Council dug up the bitumen & concrete & covered our laneways with this product.  The photos on the company’s website show seamless grass, but using grass may be unsuitable for Council as the bill for mowing is already around $2 million a year. Pea pebbles can be used instead of grass.

This means that the lanes deemed unsuitable to be made into green laneways because the garbage trucks use them can also be transformed.

Undoubtedly this product will be expensive. However, the cost for paving the footpath outside 8 shops is around $60,000 & it only looks good for a short while. It is soon covered with chewing gum spots.  Surely this product is comparable in price & the benefits in terms of stormwater management & lowering the heat island effect has to make it worth thinking about.  The suppliers say it is easy & quick to install so there won’t be any specialist installation costs.

Every 1mm of rain that falls on every sq metre of roof equals 1 litre of water.  The formula is 1m x 1m x 1mm = 1 litre. So for a 160sq metre roof & 5mm of rain, 800 litres of stormwater is generated from that one roof.  A 250sq metre roof & 15mm rain will produce 3,750 litres of stormwater.

A section of the Cooks River showing the mainly plastic garbage that has collected along the banks. Pockets of this garbage are everywhere along the banks & bottles can be seen floating down the river. They mainly come from stormwater drains. Mudcrabs, a community group of volunteers collects the garbage regularly. Their contact details are in the blogroll in the left-hand column

At this stage, having rain tanks fitted to collect rainwater from roofs is not the norm.  Most of the rainwater from the thousands of roofs in Marrickville LGA flows down onto hard surfaces like driveways, car parks, lanes, roads & footpaths.  Very little of this rainwater is caught by gardens & verge gardens. Most of it ends up in the drains & eventually into the Cooks River. Around 85% of rainwater that falls on a typical large city will flow into stormwater drains.

You don’t have to drive far in Marrickville LGA to find roads & footpaths that flood during a brief downpour because the 100 plus year old drains can’t cope.  Covering our lanes with a product like this will capture millions of litres of rainwater. This water will refill the ground water, stabilize our buildings that are mostly built on clay & prevent our old drains from overflowing & stop a great deal of ground surface pollution ending up in the Cooks River.

The edges of lanes & other places could have plants growing along them because you only put this product where you want it.  The possibilities are almost endless.  You could have wall to wall PermaTurf in lanes where there is high traffic & for less frequented lanes or use it in conjunction with garden space along the edges.  See –

Laneway in Enmore

Apart from using this product to transform laneways, it is a very suitable alternative to a stamped concrete driveway.  The cells can be planted with grass seeds so the driveway actually becomes hidden. If you are worried about driving on the ordinary lawn, you could plant small ornamental plants to show the edges of the driveway.  The driveway can be mowed the same as the lawn.

The more you concrete your property, the more you affect the ground water & the clay soil.  The Inner West is built predominantly on sandstone & clay soil. When clay soils dry up, they shrink & cause movement & cracking of the structure, so a permeable driveway does much to prevent this.

I think it would be great if Marrickville Council could seriously look into this & other products like it to make our laneways permeable to stormwater. It’s the first step to making laneways green.

PS – The company that sells PermaTurf is NOT owned by any of my family, friends, colleagues or acquaintances. Nor am I or anyone I know receiving any payment or benefit for writing about their product.  I found them on the internet. More about the product & some photos at –


One of the 3 ponds with sandstone pillars for the birds & the turtles

Today was the grand opening of the Cup & Saucer Creek Wetland in Canterbury.  We missed the official opening & the speeches, but apparently a good crowd of more than 100 people attended.

Sydney Water in co-operation with Canterbury Council have done something very special by creating a wetland from scratch. Despite its pretty name Cup & Saucer Creek is a concrete drain. It leads directly into the Cooks River taking with it anything & everything picked up in the local stormwater drains.

With the new wetland system, stormwater that comes down Cup & Saucer Creek gets diverted by a weir & taken into the first of 3 ponds.  Plants filter the water before it flows into 2 smaller ponds.  From these ponds, the water filters through the ground into the Cooks River or when it is really full, enters the lower end of Cup & Saucer Creek through an overflow system & then into the Cooks River.

30,000 plants (grasses & shrubs) have already been planted in the heavily mulched area with a further 10,000 water plants to be planted in the ponds soon. Around 30 Eucalypts, Turpentine & Angophoras have also been planted. Let’s hope they all survive.  One thing about Canterbury  Council that I like is that they do plant trees species that grow large & they don’t only rely on Casuarinas with a terrific selection of large trees along their section of the Cooks River parklands.

The storm water is diverted from Cup & Saucer Creek into the wetlands, then out into the lower section of Cup & Saucer Creek & then into the Cooks River

They also put down permeable paths. The only bit of cement I could see on the whole site was a little bit used to cement the sandstone seats together.

Elements such as sandstone blocks sticking out from the pond water appear Zen-like, but actually were installed for birds to perch & for the Sydney Long-necked Turtle to bask in the sun.  I didn’t know the Cooks River had turtles.  Apparently the turtles have trouble getting out of some sections of the river because of the steel & wooden purpose-built banks. So, this area will provide a safe habitat for them. Frogs, birds & other animals/insects will also benefit.  It’s like high-class housing for urban wildlife.

Right now the wetland is in its infancy, but it still looks beautiful. In 3-6 months time it will look very different as the grass & the plants will have grown. In 2 years it will look stunning.

Stream Watch will be collecting samples first from Cup & Saucer Creek & then from the end process of filtration to check on water quality & the efficiency of the wetlands. It will not only be a fantastic natural intervention to clean up stormwater pollution before it enters the Cooks River, but it will also do much to improve the water-quality of the river itself.  Imagine if all the councils along the Cooks River created wetlands like these. In time the river would become swimmable & that would be a great gift to leave our grandchildren & the urban wildlife of the future. A pelican was sunning on a sandbar in the river while we were there & everyone admired him.

Taken from the barrier around Council works in Steele Park Marrickville South

Around 85% of rainwater that falls on a typical large city will flow into stormwater drains. Our stormwater drains in Marrickville LGA are around 100 years old &, in many areas, totally incapable of managing heavy or prolonged rain. Now that more people will be moving into the area, our ancient drains are going to become a significant problem. Replacing them is a costly nightmare.

Usual type of road flooding in the Inner West

By their nature cities cause stormwater problems because the majority of the surfaces are covered by concrete or bitumen.  You only need to drive around Marrickville LGA when it is raining to see that the stormwater drains cannot cope when it rains.  Substantial volume of water builds up along gutters.  In a heavy downpour many of the streets of the Inner West become dangerously flooded. Half a road can be 30 cms deep in water.  While in the short-term this is great for any nearby street trees, it is not so great for infrastructure, the Cooks River or the safety of drivers.

Many cities worldwide have the problem of old & inadequate stormwater drains. Some of them are tackling the problem in a simple but creative way by replacing bitumen & cement with permeable surfaces. The US city of Chicago has started a Green Alley Program. Mind you, environmental programs that address global warming & create a sustainable, more livable city, are fast making Chicago the ‘greenest’ city in the world.

New permeable paths recently created by Marrickville Council in Steele Park Marrickville South

Chicago’s Green Alley Program established in 2007 is laying permeable surfaces in their 3,058 km (1,900 miles) of alleyways. All up this amounts to 14,163,997 sq metres (3,500 acres) of impermeable concrete in 13,000 alleys. These figures make it much easier for me to imagine the positive impact.

Another issue for Chicago was untreated stormwater flowing into Lake Michigan, affecting water quality.

Permeable surfaces prevent around 80% of water from rushing into stormwater drains by allowing most of the rainfall to flow naturally into the ground. This is important for many reasons, including topping up the groundwater table.

Impermeable surfaces are replaced with crushed rocks, recycled slag or recycled crushed concrete, or, with pavers designed to channel water into the ground. Alleys are still suitable for use by all sorts of vehicles, including bikes & by pedestrians. They won’t become muddy or trap cars in boggy ground.

Additionally, the products that make permeable surfaces in the green alleys are light in colour (high albedo) with light reflecting qualities. They reflect rather than absorb sunlight, significantly lessening the Heat Island Effect.  They also make dark areas brighter at night, as they reflect moonlight & potentiate any street lighting.

Permeable path in Sydney Park

What I find really exciting about Chicago’s Green Alley Program is that they see green alleys as an improvement to people’s quality-of-life.  They work with the cooperation of residents to encourage use of alleys  as an extension of living space where appropriate. Obviously some alleys are frequented by traffic, but others are a rarely frequented space used mainly for the placement of garbage bins. We have the same situation in Marrickville LGA as well as the old ‘dunny runs.’

Chicago encourages planting small bird-friendly native gardens along the edges of alleys & also encourages planting shade trees at the back of people’s property to create shade in the alley. Where it’s appropriate they install rain gardens to capture roof water from a downward pipe that would usually channel rainwater collected from the roof onto the road surface. They also install water tanks & bio-swales where appropriate.

Most alleys have community compost bins for everyone to use.

Expensive? Well yes & no. Obviously staff time is expensive, but there are many ways to start employment programs where the costs are kept down whist giving people a chance to learn a skill. Rainwater tanks are expensive, but this could change.  I imagine bio-swales are expensive to create, however a small rain garden isn’t & the plants could be grown at the community nursery.  Good topsoil around the edges of alleys to encourage residents to plant the area & care for it isn’t too expensive either.

Permeable surfaces in Chicago alleys were costed at around US$45/sq yard.  This has got to be comparable with laying impermeable surfaces.

Chicago alleys have become places where people sit in the sun (or shade) & talk with their neighbours. The alleys stop being places where potential thieves walk to case entry points. Beauty comes into what are often ugly & neglected areas full of rubbish.

Back lanes are often cool places because the wind travels freely unhampered by tall walls. Imagine if they were a nice place to sit, an extension of your back garden.  It’s what they do in many places overseas & have done for hundreds of years. Often new arrivals to Australia find it strange that everyone either sits inside or in their private back garden. They are used to sitting on the porch or near the street so they can say hello to everyone & greet passersby.  Laneways can become places like this. There is no reason why the end or the edges can’t become a community garden. This will offer urban wildlife more sources of food if any planting includes natives.

A typical laneway complete with dumped rubbish

I think we get conditioned to accept the status quo. We view laneways as utility places even when the utility has stopped decades ago. We periodically clean them & store garbage bins there, except in those lanes where this has been prohibited.  Graffiti artists have recognized the need for laneways to be spruced up, though their method may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

2010 recorded the hottest temperature world-wide since they started recording temperature. All the experts believe the heat will get worse which means the Heat Island Effect will get worse.  We will find we are roasting in the oven we created.  I think a time will come when people will willingly rip up the stamped concrete that surrounds their house because power costs to cool our homes will be very expensive & we will be forced to embrace new ways of living.  Actually, they are the old ways of living before King Concrete began its reign.



© Copyright

Using and copying text and photographs is not permitted without my permission.

Blog Stats

  • 711,040 hits
%d bloggers like this: