Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Black Rock City, Nev., with a population of 47,000 people in 2007, is a community of performers, musicians, and other artsy, progressive types.

And for 51 weeks out of the year, it doesn't exist.

Burning Man, an eight-day festival, attracts colorful participants from across the globe to the middle of the desert, a patch of barren land about 90 miles northeast of Reno. While the event has a decidedly freewheeling spirit, it does have the Black Rock City Department of Public Works to ensure participants have such amenities as streets and water. The band of DPW staffers plans, surveys, and builds the basic infrastructure of the temporary community. Duties include laying out roads, maintaining potable water systems, and ensuring vendors properly dispose of wastewater.

When the festival wraps on Labor Day, the ad hoc public works department tears down the infrastructure and makes sure festivalgoers remove all of their garbage, erasing all traces of Black Rock City until the next year.

To read the 92-page DPW Handbook, visit

Judge Approves Use of Biosolids

Overturning an earlier ban, a U.S. District Court has granted the city of Los Angeles and other agencies, businesses, and farmers the right to use biosolids for crop fertilization, landscaping, and other applications.

According to Cynthia Ruiz, president of the Los Angeles Board of Public Works, the ruling proves the city operates a safe, exemplary biosolids reuse program at the city-owned Green Acres Farm.

“An adverse ruling would have caused significant harm to the city and region by dramatically increasing the costs of managing biosolids and increasing pollution in our environment,” she says.

Voters in Kern County had passed the banning ordinance in June 2006. However, in his summary, Judge Gary Allen Keess stated that agencies cannot be required to stop producing biosolids, and that land application constitutes a beneficial and safe way to manage the material.

Guerilla Gardeners Producer Green Graffiti

Gardening is an activity usually enjoyed in the bright light of day. But for a certain group of green thumbs, the digging is done in the dark.

“Guerrilla gardening” is a growing movement around the world, with its roots in both environmental friendliness and community beautification. Illicit cultivators set their sights on barren ground—most often in rights of way or vacant lots. Under cover of night, or at least when no one's looking, they wield their shovels and watering cans and turn empty plots into urban Edens.

Sometimes, the rogue planters' actions can be disruptive—in May 2000, thousands of them took over London's Parliament Square, planted vegetables and flowers everywhere, and even gave the statue of Winston Churchill a green Mohawk. Most often, however, the random acts of greenness are seen as harmless, or even beneficial. After all, an abandoned square of ground can be an eyesore, or a prime place for mosquitoes or other health risks to thrive, whereas wildflowers and other plants are nicer to look at, and stormwater friendly.

In 1973, New York City's Green Guerrilla Group descended upon an abandoned lot and planted the heck out of it—today, the plot is still flourishing, but under the protection of the city's parks department.

For more information, visit

Sewer tour shows another side of Paris

Ah, Paris. Known the world over for its fine wine, exquisite cuisine, and...sewers?

The Musee des Egouts de Paris—or the Paris Sewer Museum—offers visitors to the City of Lights the chance to tour its wastewater system. In addition to an exhibition area that displays artifacts and audiovisual presentations on sewer technology through the years, the museum also offers a tour that gets right down into the city—literally.

The average tourist might turn his or her nose up at the attraction, but for infrastructure aficionados—and for fans of Les Miserables, in which the Paris sewers play an important role—it's a gem. Visitors get to see what was once the main line between the Place de la Concorde and the Pont de l'Alma, historic sewer-maintenance gear, and much more.

Vive le sludge.