Greenwich Time (Sunday)

Rain garden can keep rainfall from flowing away downstream

- ROBERT MILLER EARTH MATTERS Contact Robert Miller at earthmatte­

In the past, the rain going down the waterspout carried whatever it had picked up along the way — lawn fertilizer, oil-soaked road sand, litter, itsy-bitsy spiders and more.

This water found its way into lakes and ponds, polluting them. Streams carried the runoff to rivers and on to Long Island Sound. It was a contaminat­ed throwaway.

“It was treated as garbage,“ said Mike Jastremski, water conservati­on director of the Cornwallba­sed Housatonic Valley Associatio­n.

But in recent years, attention has turned toward gathering that rush of rainwater and beautifyin­g the landscape at the same time. And thus, rain gardens are coming to the fore.

”We are seeing more of an interest in them, for a variety of reasons,” said Cynthia Rabinowitz, executive director of the Northwest Conservati­on District, which promotes soil and water conservati­on projects in 34 towns in Litchfield County and northern Fairfield County.

“All the state conservati­on districts are promoting them,” Rabinowitz said. “Nearly every town in the state has a garden club and they're promoting them. The state's master gardener program is involved.”

Rain gardens are becoming a “very popular and valuable way to do a variety of things,” said Eric Thomas, an environmen­tal analyst with the state Department of Energy and Environmen­tal Protection's watershed management division.

Carol Haskins, executive director of the Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition — which protects that river's watershed land in Southbury, Woodbury and Bethlehem — said her group has received a good response from residents who want to install rain barrels under their downspouts.

“Going from rain barrels to rain gardens would be the next step,” she said.

Loosely defined, a rain garden is an area dug slightly below the surroundin­g area that can catch and collect rain rather than let it flow down driveways and sidewalks.

They do several environmen­tally useful things. Rain gardens collect stormwater, stopping erosion, and keep that water from carrying pollution downstream.

The water that collects in a rain garden seeps back into the ground. The soil beneath them will filter out pollutants and bacteria that the rain might carry. That water, in turn, can help replenish groundwate­r supplies.

By filling the garden with native species, rain gardens provide plants that help pollinatin­g bees and butterflie­s and they promote biodiversi­ty.

“I like to call them multifunct­ional,” Rabinowitz said.

As the state becomes more developed, all these attributes become more valuable.

“As we build more impervious surfaces, there's more runoff,” said David Dickson, interim director of the University of Connecticu­t's Center for Land Use Education and Research, or CLEAR.

Climate change is making the state's weather more erratic — with more flash floods and more droughts. Rain gardens are one more way to even out the rainfall, collecting rain from heavy storms and putting it back into the ground when it gets dry.

To help homeowners create their own rain gardens, UConn has created a website at­s.

It has also created a rain garden app to download at

“Any homeowner can do it on a weekend,” Dickson said.

But keep in mind these caveats: Like any garden, rain gardens need care, said Jastremski of the Housatonic Valley Associatio­n. That means weeding and keeping invasive plants at bay.

In some cases, Jastremski said, the rain gardens may collect sediment, which must be occasional­ly cleaned away so the garden won't get clogged.

“They have to be designed well and maintained well,” he said

Along with homeowners, towns are starting to install rain gardens around public buildings, as are private developers.

In Bethel, the Northwest Conservati­on District is collaborat­ing with the town Parks and Recreation Department to build two rain gardens. The first, at Bennett Memorial Park, was finished last fall. The

second rain garden is expected to be built at nearby Meckauer Park.

In both cases, the aim is to limit storm runoff from flowing into Limekiln Brook.

Rabinowitz of the Northwest Conservati­on District said the rain garden at Bennett Memorial Park is catching the rain from the roof of the park's pavilion — rain that had been eroding the nearby pavement.

The rain garden is doing what it's supposed to do — collect the runoff and prevent erosions, she said. “It's working,” she said. Rain gardens are a shift in how residents — and towns — think about rain, Jastremski said.

Rather than rain-raingo-away, everyone is beginning to see rain as a natural resource that will be increasing­ly valuable in the years ahead.

“We want to see every drop we can get back into the ground,” he said.

 ?? ??
 ?? Cynthia Rabinowitz/Contribute­d photo ?? A common rain garden shows the benefits of using rainwater on the landscape.
Cynthia Rabinowitz/Contribute­d photo A common rain garden shows the benefits of using rainwater on the landscape.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States