Know your Roots

Where Water Falls: Rain Gardens as a Clean Solution to Spring Stormwater Pollution

It’s not too soon to be thinking about spring. For when the snow melts and spring showers arrive — without meaning to — we pollute our waterways.

By Carol Navarro

Rain and melted snow become stormwater runoff, finding its way to the storm drains and carrying with it our donations of lawn fertilizers, pesticides, animal wastes, dirt, winter salt from paved surfaces, human waste bacteria (E.coli) from leaking septic tanks, and oil from cars, asphalt roofs, and roads. This pollution-laden water then becomes the ‘non-point’ and leading source of pollution that finds its way to Lake Michigan.

Rain gardens — a landscape design that redirects stormwater runoff — is the quickest, easiest, and most practical solution to stormwater pollution. And a rain garden is a relatively simple solution to a seemingly daunting task that any Benzie County resident can install in his or her own yard.

The basic principle: water stays where it falls.

The bowl-shaped design — usually located in the lowest point of a yard — uses native plants and well-drained soil to catch, clean, and recycle stormwater runoff. Acting as a filtering system, the plants’ deep root systems soak up excess water and filter out pollutants, leaving behind clean water.

Because most of the water stays where it falls, it recharges the aquifer, and any water that does find its way to the surface is clean and free of pollutants.

Native Plants Are Good for the Environment.

It’s not only what the eye can see, but what grows beneath the surface. The root systems of native plants have a much greater mass and run deeper than the traditional grass that we typically see lining our neighborhood streets.

A rain garden needs native planting, sand, and compost. After the initial investment of money and labor, rain gardens require only annual maintenance — removing invasive plants and adding fresh mulch to keep the soil damp — in place of the mowing, watering, and fertilizing of the typical lawn that all contribute to stormwater pollution.

Changing attitudes and behavior are what is needed to insure the integrity of one of our priceless natural resources: our freshwater supply.

Rain gardens are a way for home and business owners to take responsibility for the social practices that are responsible for polluting. The end result is that water runoff that does find its way to the Great Lakes will be clean.

Carol Navarro, a Frankfort resident, is the outreach coordinator for the Benzie Conservation District, a sponsor of the upcoming Benzie County Water Festival. At the festival on March 19, Navarro will co-lead a rain garden workshop with Carolyn Thayer — a landscape designer, owner of Designs in Bloom, and the president of Plant It Wild — who has designed a rain garden for the new Gateway Housing Project development on Forest Avenue in Frankfort. This workshop is designed for private homeowners interested in the basics of rain garden fundamentals and design. For more information on the workshop, contact Navarro at 231-882-4391.

This article is the part of a new series called The Water Column, as an on-going part of the first annual Benzie County Water Festival, an education and celebration event taking place March 18 through 20. For a schedule of events and more information — or if you’d like to learn how you can become a contributor to The Water Column — send aubreyannparker@gmail.com an email.

One thought on “Where Water Falls: Rain Gardens as a Clean Solution to Spring Stormwater Pollution

  1. Matt Schroeter

    Storm water runoff is a big problem in summer. The run-off picks up chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants and flows into storm sewer systems or directly into waterways. which also mixs with water that we used for drinking and for other activities.

    Reply

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