Rain Gardens can improve water quality

Environmental Notes

Keith Miller
Oakdale Environmental Management Commission

Have you ever thought about installing a rain garden on your property, but you didn’t know where to start? I’ve thought about putting a rain garden in my backyard this spring – in an area that gets a lot of runoff and is near a stormwater pond. Fortunately, I know exactly where to go for information on how to do it. The Oakdale Environmental Management Commission has put together a simple educational packet with rain garden standards and design examples, and it is available for the asking.

The rain garden packet explains how to test water infiltration in your yard, how to size a rain garden, and how to construct it for proper drainage. In addition to straightforward instructions, there are pictures and diagrams to illustrate how to build a rain garden. There are also design examples for a bird and butterfly rain garden or a native prairie rain garden, all of which take the guesswork out of what types of plants to use to create a beautiful and functional rain garden. Personally, I’m leaning toward the native prairie as my area is fairly shaded, and the packet offers an example garden ideal for medium to full shade that appeals to me. I like all of the ferns plus the blue flag iris and greenheaded coneflower. I also like that all of these plants are low maintenance.

Some of you are probably wondering, why a rain garden? The biggest reason to make a rain garden is that, in doing so, you can improve local water quality. Rain gardens allow rain and snowmelt to seep naturally into the ground rather than flow to storm drains. This helps recharge our groundwater supply and prevents potential water quality problems from polluted runoff.

Stormwater runoff from developed areas can increase flooding and carry pollutants from streets, parking lots and even lawns into local wetlands and lakes. It can also lead to costly city improvements in stormwater treatment structures. By reducing stormwater runoff, rain gardens can be a valuable part of solving these problems. While an individual rain garden may seem like a small thing, collectively, they produce substantial neighborhood and community environmental benefits.

Rain gardens also are an important way to make our city a more attractive place to live. And they build a healthy city environment by creating beautiful natural areas that will attract birds and butterflies. Hmmm…maybe I should take another look at the bird and butterfly rain garden design!

Have you ever heard people talking about the energy-water nexus? It turns out that energy and water are linked in many ways. In fact, the largest single source of energy use in the city of Oakdale is for the pumps used to move water within the city. Yes, pumping water to all of you. So when you use water to water your lawn this summer, you are also using energy. I’m planning to water less frequently this summer, and a rain garden in the back yard should help.

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