Feb 20, 2012

Rain garden projects, and opportunities for more!

posted 2/20/12 - Amy Waterman, Sustainable Rain Project Manager

(Sustainable Rain is currently accepting applications from individuals and groups in our target communities for $1000 rain garden scholarships.  Learn more in this post and on our workshop page.)

The largest contributor of pollution to the Puget Sound is stormwater pollution.  It is estimated by the Washington Department of Ecology that at least 14 million pounds of toxic pollutants annually enter the Sound annually from our streets, roofs, driveways, sidewalks, yards, and farms. So much of our landscape is hard and impervious. One of the ways that we can help alleviate the problem of runoff is by encouraging the water to soak into the ground.

 One way to do that is to construct rain gardens which are built in a depression, and are designed to imitate the forest floor and soak up stormwater runoff. They are designed with special soil mixes and native plants are used to infiltrate runoff from roofs, driveways, sidewalks, or any impervious surface. When Rain gardens are constructed, they reduce the amount of stormwater pollution that enters Puget Sound. In addition, they are aesthetically pleasing and can create some wildlife habitat. (Image shows drainage bed before additional soil and planting.)

Sustainable Rain is a project of Sustainable Seattle, whose objective is to promote the installation of rain gardens and other ways of using the landscape to infiltrate stormwater, called low impact development (LID). The larger goal is to encourage LID techniques as sustainable practices for businesses and organizations.
Sustainable Rain is moving into its second year after the successful installation of five rain gardens in the summer, and a series of educational workshops on stormwater pollution and rain gardens in the fall of 2011.  The rain garden hosts are a very interesting group of organizations in our target neighborhoods of Beacon Hill, Central District, West Seattle, and White Center.   
  • Helen B. Ratcliff, a woman’s transitional facility and El Centro de la Raza, a Latino cultural center, are our Beacon Hill sites.
  • Green Plate Special, a hands-on cooking and gardening program for middle school children, is our Central District site.
  • Alexandria Melchior’s property, a combined business/residential site is our West Seattle site.
  • In White Center, we put in a rain garden in a commercial/industrial area, which sits next to the asphalt outside “beer garden” they have in the summer at Big Al Brewery.

These rain gardens were built with the work of some great volunteers (thank you!!) and the cooperation of our partners:  Stewardship Partners, Ground Up/Creatives for Community, Homegrown Organics, Alleycat Acres and Rain Dog Designs. 

Each of these neighborhoods had a workshop on rain gardens, where we brought in Sustainable West Seattle’s excellent stormwater slide show (developed with a Russell Family Foundation grant), showing the links between the health of the Puget Sound and stormwater runoff. Then we shared photos and stories from our rain garden installations. We ended with an hour-long training on how to select an appropriate site and build a rain garden on private property.     
Now, we are following up with this work with educational signs for each of the rain gardens, designed with Stewardship Partners.   At El Centro de la Raza, this sign is in Spanish and English.   Homegrown Organics, a local landscaping firm in the Central District, will install these signs.
We are also still accepting applications for rain garden scholarships, where we are going to fund $1,000 towards a rain garden in any of our target communities. Ideally, we are looking for businesses or organizations that can serve as demonstration and inspiration sites; however, we will consider residential sites.  We will be selecting these sites in the next couple of months, so get your applications in

We are exploring several different directions and possible funding sources for Sustainable Rain in 2012.   One of the exciting possibilities is in Ballard, where we have been asked by the Russell Foundation to submit a full proposal on our Sustainable Neighborhood project. The idea behind this project is to find rain garden “champions,” a neighborhood advocate who helps find neighbors interested in having a rain garden installed, in a few neighborhoods.This is the approach that our partners, Stewardship Partners, have used successfully in some of their project areas. Using this excitement and the rebates from Seattle Public Utilities in certain parts of Ballard as incentives, we would get clusters of about 10 rain gardens installed on certain streets.  Getting this many rain gardens together makes installation more cost effective, builds community as neighbors help plant the gardens, and gives more water quality benefit than one stand-alone rain garden.

Then, our project would differ from anything done in the past, because we would use the idea of creating a “sustainable neighborhood” to urge residents to take additional steps. The first would be to get homeowners in the neighborhood to do energy audits and some retrofits, again using existing public incentives to make these affordable.  Next, we would survey gardeners in the neighborhood and develop ways for sharing knowledge, tools, bulk buying, and plant materials.

We have lots of other ideas for Sustainable Rain, and they will be integrated into the neighborhood projects of Sustainable Seattle.  We also plan to be as responsive as we can to the needs and opportunities that we hear about in networking with the many government and non-profit agencies working in this area now.

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