A reverence and respect for water is a universal theme, found in cultures from ancient Greece to the remote Pacific Island of Vanuatu. The ritual significance of water spans across the globe to include the Native American rain dance, Christian baptismal font, the gleeful splashing of the Songkran water festival of the Dai New Year and the solemn funeral pyre on the Ganges. Learning to manage water, whether it is a lot or a little, is an important part of our shared community. Well-handled water can be cleansing, refreshing, energizing. Out-of-control water has the power to drown and destroy, to wash away with time even the greatest of mountains.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Our recent April deluges may be bringing out our May flowers, but the damages from local flooding are not so pretty. The runoff rate in developed areas may be as much as 70 percent higher than that from healthy wildscapes. In St. Louis, we know the dangers of floods all too well given our proximity to the Mississippi, Missouri and Meramec rivers.
As urban development spreads, there are more impermeable surfaces that create more storm water runoff. When rain water lands on hard surfaces, including the roofs of homes, garages and sheds, driveways, patios and sidewalks, the rivulets race to the lowest places and spill off of private property into their neighbor’s as it works its way into the public watershed. Even compacted soils under lawns can contribute to the increased rate of runoff. Unmanaged storm water races into creeks and streams, carrying with it pollutants such as lawn fertilizer, herbicides and oil-laden roadway runoff. The speed and volume of water, ever increasing because of urban development, washes away unsecured soil, erodes creek banks and undermines bridges. When a multitude of small streams spill together, rivers rise beyond pre-development levels, resulting in property damage. To make matters worse, sewer systems are often inundated and spew their bacteria-laden contents into open waterways, making them unsafe for human contact.
Become a Rainwater Steward
When I was a young girl, my mother took great pride in her large, elegant boxwoods. They thrived on the gentle down-hill rain seepage that came from our uphill neighbors. A little moisture movement can be well used. When we moved to the top of the hill a few years later, the new boxwoods were tiny and stayed that way forever. Later in life, as a landscape design professional, one of the most frequent complaints was that an owner’s landscape was drowning from a neighbor’s storm water runoff. The solution is simple. Controlling water flow near where it originates can be accomplished with many small solutions. We need to pay good attention to the water management within our own home gardens. Fortunately, many solutions are fun, easy, beautiful and green!
Storm water runoff has been easy to address in our garden. We are on a hill with undisturbed woodlands, so all I needed to do was to manage the rain from the drive, roof and terrace. Our driveway has broken the flow of water into three pieces, each easier to handle than the former major deluge that used to channel down straight to our garage door.
Houses on smaller yards are more challenging. Rainwater can be harvested from downspouts. Larger sections of lawns can be removed and converted into a loose soil and mulch herb garden. Mulch can be increased on landscaped beds to absorb rainfall and keep plant roots cool and moist during the heat of summer. Lawns should be aerated yearly to alleviate soil compaction to keep turf thick and allow for better rain water infiltration. More trees can be planted to filter and slow water on the way down. Gardeners are always looking for great excuses to dig another hole!
Rainwater Management Ideas and Resources
Have fun with your own opportunities to manage rain. The easiest and most rewarding solutions for water flow management are based on green infrastructure, or plant-based solutions, and are right up our gardening alley. First, put on your rain boots and trot out into the next pouring rain. Watch where your runoff gathers and flows. See what water leaves your property and trace it back to the source. Explore your possible solutions and consider the beauty and added value that a rain garden might provide. Much more attractive than most commercial retention ponds, a home rain garden might be as small as 8 by 10 feet per downspout. It can add seasonal interest, increase biodiversity by attracting frogs, dragonflies and butterflies, and solve drainage problems and alleviate downstream issues. If you plan to put in a rain garden now, you may even be eligible for 75 percent rebate, up to $2,000 per property, from the RainScape Rebate program outlined below.
New Round of Applications opens May 15
OPEN TO ALL LADUE RESIDENTS
All landowners in participating municipalities are eligible to apply.
Up to 75 percent of construction costs, to $2,000 per project
Friday, May 31, 2013 from 8–10:30 a.m.
Optional Landowner orientation
Saturday, June 1, 2013 from 9–11:30 a.m.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013 from 6:00–8:30 p.m.
Thursday, June 6, 2013 from 6:00–8:30 p.m.
Join the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance
The Deer Creek Watershed Alliance (DCWA) is an award-winning community program with dozens of participating organizations and municipalities. There are 22 municipalities along the tributaries of the Deer Creek Watershed. The drainage basin spans much of the St. Louis suburban area, and its boundary circles from Olivette, through Clayton, Maplewood, Webster Groves, Kirkwood and back up I-270.
The citizen-volunteer arm of the DCWA is chaired by Ladue resident Rick Holton. To become a volunteer and receive the newsletter, sign up online at deercreekalliance.org. The website includes the application materials for the RainScapes Rebate program, dates for rain garden workshops, resource lists of local rain gardens, and more.
As you can see, there are many creative, thoughtful people out there with lots of great ideas about how to improve our collective water management plans. The brilliant RainScape Rebate program can allow some of us to even finance our horticultural addictions. We gardeners can easily embrace the myriad green solutions that are our strength and passion. I’ve always been fond of water irises, rushes and sedges, blue amsonia and marsh milkweed. Now, there is a convenient excuse to plant more of them!