The Importance of Rain Gardens
The environment took a major hit when Hurricane Sandy reared her ugly monsoon head at the east coast. The storm waves washed petroleum and other toxic chemicals from thousands of different sources into the Hudson River and New York harbors. While the rest of us are just coping with moderate to heavy rainfall, it brought me to wonder ways we can prevent storm water pollution from flowing into our rivers. While we welcome rainfall after this year’s drought, it can put major stress on our rivers and add a heavy dose of pollution to creeks and streams. This is where rain gardens can help, particularly in urban areas.
What is a rain garden?
A rain garden is a collection of flowers and plants that are designed to withstand high volumes of moisture along with high concentrations of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus that are often in storm water runoff. They are strategically placed close to the source of runoff and aim to filter and slow the process of water traveling downhill.
It hinders the momentum of water and gives it less erosive power. The garden may look like any other beautiful garden except that the design and selection of foliage caters to the environment by cleaning and reducing the volume of storm water runoff once it enters the garden.
How it Works
Rooftops, streets, and pavements act like funnels during rainy season and can cause flooding and toxic pollution to our water supply. Things like oil, bacteria, dirt, and pesticides accumulate on surfaces like rooftops, driveways, and lawns, which wash down streets and enter storm drains untreated. Ultimately the dirt-laden water flows into nearby streams and ponds which the EPA says accounts for nearly 70% of all water pollution.
The two different types of rain gardens include- under-drained, outfitted with storm pipe system underneath the garden; and self-contained that is designed to drain from the surface within hours. An average sized garden can retain thousands of gallons of water each year and is considered to be a form of river-friendly landscaping.
Rain gardens take some of the burden off our waterways by temporarily holding and soaking in water acting almost as a small bioretention cell. They have been known to be extremely effective at removing up to 90% of nutrients and up to 80% of sediments from storm runoff.
A rain garden doesn’t necessarily resemble a wetland because it’s dry most of the time except during and after a rain. The water drains from the garden in roughly 12-18 hours after a surge of rainfall.
The Benefits of a Rain Garden
As previously mentioned rain gardens help to decrease pollution in our waterways. In turn, it can increase local water quality and provide a low maintenance attractive setting for a business or household. It also has the potential to reduce basement flooding, eliminate puddles in your lawn, and it provide a nice habitat for beneficial critters like insects, birds, and butterfly’s.
Rain gardens are used by many cities as a cost effective way to manage storm water runoff and is considered a sustainable solution to an ongoing and important problem. Without careful rainfall management, particularly in wet regions like Pennsylvania, the consequences include increased flooding, water quality degradation, reduced groundwater recharge and loss of aquatic life.
The great thing about rain gardens is that anyone can build them and can be low cost. You can do your part to help mitigate storm water runoff and pollution by creating your very own “water catchment garden” and improve our environment one drop at a time.
The Importance of Rainwater Capturing
Another way to alleviate dependence on city or county water supplies is to install a rainwater capturing system. The system can be as simple or complicated as your budget allows, and could help alleviate water shortages and drought problems (especially in drought stricken areas). Capturing water from the rain is also a free renewable source that could serve as a backup in case of any type of emergency.
In some states across the US and in some countries, rebates are offered to citizens by the government who purchase a water tank to capture rainwater for the specific purpose of alleviating water shortage. Rainwater systems can be as simple as a plastic barrel with a gravity feed to a flowerbed or vegetable garden, or it can be as complex as serving all your water needs.
To start off with a rain barrel water collection system, you’re first going to need to aquire some rain barrels. You can buy them new or you can use old wooden barrels from an old neighbors home or whatever. If you can’t seem to re-use an old one, you can find them at most hardware or gardening stores or online at CleanAirGardening.com.
Depending on the amount of rainfall in your area, a 1000 square foot home can collect over 500 gallons of water over a winter – which should be plenty of water for your sustainable gardening.
Most people encounter several fixable problems after installing a rain barrel water capturing system. Usually this includes mosquito problems which could be solved with a gold fish or two in the barrel or a mosquito donut. Other problems are typically dealing with clearing the screens which could get caught up with debris – the easy fix is to clear the screens.
Capturing rainwater runoff from your roof is the single easiest thing anyone can do to ensure water security in drought stricken areas. Captured water is useful for your sustainable garden but is also useful for washing the car, washing the dog, irrigation, drinking (if you properly filter it), and even filling the swimming pool if you have a big enough system. Besides just saving a precious resource, rainwater also helps to reduce storm runoff which spares toxics and other harmful stuff from entering the environment.
I have visited parts of Mexico with no water at all or running water limited to certain days of the week. Most people had to get creative during the winter months to ensure enough water for their families. Often times, rows of rain barrels are utilized to save water. This is an easy thing to do and its fun too.
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