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A watershed project in many ways

Shipley Nature Center installs plastic tanks to gather rainwater, which will be used for nursery plants sold at fundraisers.

July 20, 2011|By Michael Miller, michael.miller@latimes.com
  • Norah Bustamante, Diana Nguyen Jonathan, Nick Riehl and Jonathan Zazueta, with the LA Conservation Corps, install a rain water collection system on the walls of a bathroom at the Shipley Nature Center on Tuesday.
Norah Bustamante, Diana Nguyen Jonathan, Nick Riehl… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Diana Nguyen spent Tuesday at the Shipley Nature Center in a hard hat, orange vest and gloves, working by the outdoor nursery in the sweltering July sun.

Her job? Preparing for rain.

Nguyen, a sophomore at UC Berkeley, joined about a dozen other LA Conservation Corps members to install 12 large plastic tanks outside the public restrooms at the facility in Huntington Central Park. The tanks, designed to catch rain as it falls from the roof, will provide Shipley with a ready source of water for the nursery plants it sells at fundraisers.

The staff, though, hopes the project will be a watershed in other ways.

Later this week, Shipley leaders plan to install signage showing visitors how they can install a similar system to conserve water at home. And for the LA Conservation Corps, who arrived at Shipley on Monday and plan to work through Thursday, it will hopefully be another step on the career path.

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The corps, founded in 1986, provides at-risk teens and young adults with job skills training, education and work experience. Nguyen's group joined with members of the similar Orange County Conservation Corps to install the tanks and work on the center's courtyard.

"Apart from the training we get to know why we're doing this; we get hands-on experience," said Nguyen, 19, a Los Angeles resident who plans to major in landscape architecture.

The tanks, manufactured by Rainwater Hog, wrap around two walls of the restroom building and connect to each other through piping, so that as soon as one tank exceeds capacity, it overflows into the others. Nick Riehl, the L.A. corps' program manager for the Shipley project, said the tanks would probably hold about 50% of the rainwater that rolls of the roof in a year.

Shipley landscape architect Guy Stivers said he was excited when the corps approached him with the proposal, which was funded by a Boeing Co. grant. With hundreds of visitors coming through the center every week, the Rainwater Hog installation will hopefully inspire a few homeowners, he said.

"We hope it takes off," Stivers said. "Everyone, I think, should have a rain barrel or two."

The corps visit Shipley at least once a year, with past projects including removing non-native plants and restoring trails, Education Chairwoman Shirley Dettloff said. The Los Angeles and Orange County crews both belong to the California Assn. of Local Conservation Corps, which oversees job training and education programs for young adults aged 18 to 25.

According to Riehl, most participants stay in the program for 18 months, alternating between school and job training and preparing for the California High School Exit Examination.

Outdoor projects like the Shipley installation are valuable as work experience, he said, but they also provide a new environment for many members, who live in inner-city areas without many parks or wilderness nearby.

"I have kids ask me, 'Who planted those trees?' when I take them to the forest for the first time," Riehl said. "I take it for granted, but they've never seen this kind of open space."

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