The historic Long Beach landmark Rancho Los Cerritos has unveiled a plan to build an advanced groundwater-reclamation system designed to capture, store and reuse rainfall by up to 95%.

The $4 million initiative, “Looking Back to Advance Forward,” is funded by grants provided by the Port of Long Beach, Metropolitan Water District, Long Beach Water Department and Rivers and Mountains Conservancy. It will “reuse nearly 95 percent of rainfall, decreasing water use and preventing runoff and pollutants from reaching the ocean,” according to a press release. The project will also include an extensive public education program that strives to teach students about science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

“This project offers us an opportunity to talk about climate change, environmental justice, the conservation of water and all the things that California is facing and going through,” said Alison Bruesehoff, executive director of Rancho Los Cerritos.

An overhead rendering of the water-recapture systems planned for the site. Photo courtesy Rancho Los Cerritos.

The name is derived from the landmark’s plan to use both new technologies and old techniques used by the Tongva people over 5,000 years ago. The first method will use new technologies to capture and store stormwater through water-permeable paving at the top of the site that leads to a 22,000-gallon cistern. The stormwater collected in the cistern will then be filtered, treated and used to provide irrigation to the site and its gardens.

The more traditional, natural technique is meant to utilize the natural resources available by leveraging Rancho Los Cerritos’ geographically elevated position at the top of Bixby Knolls to allow gravity to channel rainwater into a natural arroyo at the lowest part of the property.

Stormwater runoff is a serious pollutant that can carry disease-causing bacteria and viruses to nearby oceans and wetlands, negatively affecting water quality and the wildlife that lives in that area, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This groundwater reclamation system will prevent hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of runoff from reaching the Dominguez Gap Wetlands and the Los Angeles River, both less than ¼ mile away.

The project will provide protection to the vast variety of plant and animal species that call Rancho Los Cerritos home. From birds, butterflies and lizards, to squirrels, raccoons and coyotes. It will also protect the California native and drought-tolerant plants around the entire site.

Designed by Studio One Eleven, an architecture, urbanism and landscape-design firm, this project is the first of its kind on a registered historic site.

While Rancho Los Cerritos is recognized as a green-certified business by the city and has worked to teach and preserve its history, this is the first time the site has launched a project based solely on conservancy. “This is a launching point for us,” said Bruesehoff.

With the introduction of the conservation project, Rancho Los Cerritos will also build upon its partnerships with the Long Beach Unified School District, Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach Community College to bring educational programming for students of all ages.

Bruesehoff hopes that this project will be a model for the revitalization of public and private land. “We can become a model about what future sustainability can look like, what environmental education could look like and that would inspire other institutions or even individuals to want to learn more about climate change and environmental education,” she said.

To further reduce runoff, a large parking lot that adjoins the city of Long Beach roadway will add “bioswales”—a natural waterway that removes pollutants. This system will capture an additional 140,000 cubic feet of runoff annually increasing stormwater capture from 40% to 95% annually.

Rancho Los Cerritos will also create an innovative educational curriculum, visitor programs, exhibits and tours to focus on the history of water conservation, environmental justice and climate change for the roughly 30,000 visitors who come to revel at the historic site each year. Due to the pandemic, that number decreased to around 10,000 but digital engagement for the site increased substantially, said Bruesehoff.

A groundbreaking for the project took place Wednesday at 4 p.m., but due to supply chain issues, construction operations are set to begin tentatively in April and will take around five months to complete.

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