Thursday, September 6, 2012
Bluegrass Pride: Rain gardens, barrels reduce water, pollution drainage to storm sewers
By Kara Sayles
Every time it rains, stormwater runoff from developed areas creates problems. Our modern cities are engineered to funnel rainwater from the land as fast as possible into storm sewers were it then goes, untreated, into nearby creeks and streams. This causes water pollution (from all the oil, salt, fertilizer, and grit the rain water picks up as it travels across impervious surfaces), stream bank erosion, flooding of urban areas and creeks, and reduces groundwater. Increasing urban sprawl also contributes to the problem because current stormwater systems often cannot handle the extra volume of water that each rainstorm requires.
The good news is that everyone can do something to minimize these problems. Rain barrels and rain gardens allow you to keep the water on your property so it never enters storm sewers. Rain barrels can be attached to downspouts on your gutters to collect the rainwater. Later, you can attach your hose to the spigot at the bottom and use the water to water your lawn and garden or to refill outdoor fishponds.
So how can rain gardens help? Simply put, a rain garden is a garden planted with native perennials, built with a shallow depression in the bottom, and located in the path of stormwater runoff (from a gutter, parking lot, roof, yard, or any impervious surface) to catch and hold the rainwater. Ultimately, this just gives the water time to soak into the ground instead of into the storm sewers. The result is improved water quality, reduction of the quantity of water going into storm sewers, minimization of flooding concerns, recharge of the groundwater, and the reduction of stream bank erosion and the need for curbs, storm drains, and piping.
The roots of the native plants go extremely deep into the ground, as much as 18 feet for some grasses, which means they almost never need to be watered even during droughts. The gardens also increase vegetation in urban areas, helping to reduce the Heat Island effect, a phenomenon that causes urban areas to be up to 5°F warmer than rural settings.
Rain gardens are designed to hold water for 24-48 hours before it soaks into the ground, which means they are not a breeding ground for mosquitoes that need about 7 days to complete their reproductive cycle. Rain gardens can create exciting and beautiful additions to your property. Plant native plants and watch the humming birds, butterflies, and other native wildlife when they visit your garden for food. Consider adding berry bushes or nest boxes to create a wildlife habitat in your own yard.
A rain garden tour open to the general public will take place on Sept. 9, 2-5 pm, sponsored by the Lexington Chapter of Wild Ones Native Plants and the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance. The tour features two residential sites and one business site, and there will be two rain gardens at each of the three sites: 507 Chinoe Road; 325 Glendover Road, and the Coca Cola plant at 2275 Leestown Road.
Kara Sayles is an environmental educator, focusing on middle and high School grade levels. In addition, she serves the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance as rain garden project coordinator. Kara hlds a B.A. with a focus on Ecological Design and Sustainable Agriculture from The Evergreen State College. She also received an A.S. in Environmental Technology at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Contact Kara with questions about environmental education in middle and high schools or rain gardens.
You might also be interested in: Focusing on water quality, Coca-Cola built area’s first rain garden, plans a second one.