Nature Knows Best in Strategy to Improve Stormwater Quality

Innovative approach creates critical habitat

January 05, 2016 in Environment

Environmental engineer Debbie Taege is on the team managing the investigation and cleanup of Boeing’s Santa Susana site in Simi Valley, Calif. Taege leads Boeing’s stormwater management strategy for the site, which must meet challenging regulatory standards.


Debbie Taege can look across tranquil woodlands and sandstone bluffs at Boeing’s Santa Susana site in Simi Valley, Calif., and know that nature is hard at work.

“One of the most innovative technologies we use to treat stormwater that flows from Santa Susana is a biofilter that harnesses the natural ability of soil and native plants to get rid of contaminants,” said Taege, environmental engineer and stormwater project leader. “It’s a natural ecosystem that not only filters pollutants in the water but also creates critical habitat for pollinators and wildlife.”

Boeing’s stormwater management strategy for Santa Susana combines state-of-the-art technology and natural systems. Two treatment plants make use of filters, activated carbon and chemicals that are similar to those used by cities to treat drinking water. But active systems aren’t suitable for the entire site, Taege said.

“Some watersheds are too large or the terrain is steep and rocky. For those locations, passive technologies, including the biofilter, are more effective,” she said.

Boeing collaborated with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, Pollinator Partnership and the Stormwater Expert Panel to design a biofiltration system that is part stormwater treatment and part wildlife habitat.

Rain water runoff collects in a cistern where debris settles out before the water is pumped to a basin planted with native vegetation. The basin allows soil particles to settle out before the water flows into the adjacent biofilter to be treated with a mix of sand, carbon and minerals.

Pollutants such as organic compounds and metals are filtered out and clean water flows from the biofilter to natural drainage channels.

“It’s an amazing natural system. Native plants stabilize soil and attract bees and butterflies, while physical, chemical and biological processes underground remove pollutants,” Taege said.

Boeing also is taking a similar approach in Seattle. The company installed biofilters and bioswales at its facilities along the Lower Duwamish Waterway to help improve the quality of water that enters the Duwamish. 

“We pride ourselves in developing and replicating the best technical solutions and sharing what we’ve learned with other companies and organizations to help improve stormwater quality on a broader scale,” Taege said.

Helping design more natural systems to treat the site’s stormwater has brought Taege a lot of personal satisfaction. “I want to be able to walk up here as a community member with my daughter one day and say, ‘Wow; your mom helped build that’.”