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Rain Harvesting Raingardens

Turning Stormwater Problems Into Water Supply Assets

EPCOTstreamThe EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), is testing a variety of different permeable pavement materials and rain gardens in the parking lot at the agency’s Edison, N.J. facility. Green infrastructure applications and approaches can reduce, capture, and treat storm water runoff at its source before it can reach the sewer system. Site-specific practices, such as green roofs, downspout disconnections (downspouts on many homes are connected directly the sewer system — I passed smooth out when I first heard about that little modern convenience!), rain harvesting/gardens, planter boxes, and permeable pavement are designed to mimic natural hydro logic functions and decrease the amount of impervious area and storm water runoff from individual sites. These applications and approaches can keep storm water out of the sewer system to reduce overflows and to reduce the amount of untreated storm water discharging to surface waters.

A raingarden is an approach to rainwater harvesting that can prevent flooding and erosion and turn storm water problems into water supply assets by slowing run-off and allowing it to soak into the ground. Akin to the vegetated roadside swales, now promoted as “bioswales”, which remain the conventional drainage system in many parts of the world from long before extensive networks of cement sewers became the conventional engineering practice here in the USA and other countries.

Flow monitoring done in the years after Dick Brinker, a developer building a new housing subdivision first had the idea to replace the traditional best management practices (BMP) pond with a bioretention area showed that the rain gardens have resulted in a 75–80% reduction in storm water runoff during a regular rainfall event. Rain gardens may be located near a drainpipe from a building’s roof (with or without rain barrels). They allow a household or building to deal with excessive rainwater runoff without burdening the public storm water systems.

build-a-rain-garden-01-ssIn developed areas, the natural depressions are filled in. The surface of the ground is leveled or paved, and water is directed into storm drains. Storm water runoff increases urban flooding and erodes the banks of rivers and streams. Urban runoff water is warmer than the groundwater that normally feeds a stream, which upsets the delicate system. Warmer water cannot hold as much dissolved oxygen and many fish and other creatures in streams are unable to live in an environment with fluctuating temperatures. Also along with trash, a wide variety of pollutants spill or settle on land surfaces between rain events. The initial rinse from each runoff event can wash this accumulation directly into streams and rivers and eventually into the oceans.

Rain gardens are beneficial for many reasons: improve water quality by filtering run-off, provide localized flood control, aesthetically pleasing, and provide interesting planting opportunities. They also encourage wildlife and biodiversity, tie together buildings and their surrounding environments in attractive and environmentally advantageous ways, and provide significant partial solutions to important environmental problems that affect us all.

Raingardens are not ponds, they are artificial depressions in the landscape that collects and stores storm water runoff. Thereby allowing the runoff from impervious urban areas like roofs, driveways, walkways, and compacted lawn areas the opportunity to be absorbed, ground filtered and returned to the water table. They are usually planted with native vegetation that is hardy and attractive. Plants in a raingarden can give color to the landscape at all times of the year. Raingardens can be designed for an individual yard or a neighborhood. They provide an urban habitat for many animals including native butterflies, birds, and beneficial insects. The water will infiltrate the ground within a day or two, an advantage in not allowing mosquitoes to breed.

harvard-raingardenNative plants are recommended for rain gardens because they generally don’t require fertilizer and are more tolerant of one’s local climate, soil, and water conditions. The plants should be a selection of wetland edge vegetation, such as wildflowers, sedges (any of numerous grasslike plants), rushes, ferns, shrubs and small trees which take up excess water flowing into the rain garden. Water filters through soil layers before entering the groundwater system. Root systems enhance infiltration, moisture redistribution, and diverse microbial populations involved in biofiltration. Also, through the process of transpiration, rain garden plants return water vapor into the atmosphere.

Raingardens run the gamut from extravagant to simplistic. They can be easy and affordable for all, from homeowners with little land to business’, towns, cities, and governments. You can let your imagination run wild with a myriad of possibilities that can be used to capture, channel, divert, and make the most of the natural rain and snow that falls on a property.

Beautiful and so environmentally conscientious Mother Nature smiles….

…… as the green future unfolds.

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18 Responses to “Rain Harvesting Raingardens”

  1. Theresa - MyWizardAds Says:

    Thank you for the information Linda, and for all those living in areas with tons of rain… lucky you! This past season I think we had one rain shower 🙁

  2. Linda Says:

    Hi Theresa … You might want to do a rain dance where you are to get some rain falling! 🙂

    Hi Diane … Well, this is one way to undo the damage. There are other options. As for the rain in this part of the country has been highly unusual. In fact, just two years ago, we were in a drought. So go figure!

    Hi Tom … Yep! have covered many ways. Come back again!

  3. Diane Scott Says:

    I will be passing this along. Having talked with you, I know your area of the country “floats” much of the time, along with the north east. Ideal solutions! Also I really never thought about “so where does it go” under the current (concrete) urban solutions. Hey, more jobs in the making???? How to undo the damage we’re causing….
    .-= Diane Scott´s last blog ..Sitting Still Is Not Going To Help You =-.

  4. Tom Usher Says:

    This is a solid effort. I would also like rain barrels, cisterns, etc. So many people live in deserts too. I imagine you’ve covered capture in other posts on your blog. Peace

  5. Jason Says:

    Do you have that middle graphic in a format that is large enough to read the small print on it? I have plans for collecting and using the rain on my property, which includes rain barrels. I think I’m going to have to look into a rain garden, I’ve got a couple of locations that would make beautiful rain gardens.
    .-= Jason´s last blog ..Harvesting Worm Castings From Kitty Litter Bucket Worm Bin =-.

  6. Linda Says:

    Hi Jason … Yes! Go to
    This will give you a much bigger picture to review!

    Hi American Idiot … I agree! this will become the norm once we get the hang of it! 🙂

  7. American Idiot Says:

    Pretty neat huh? I first learned about these back in July at a clean energy rally where some people were handing out brochures on this. I think it is something that will catch on and become pretty common in the near future!
    .-= American Idiot´s last blog ..Being A Horse While Eating Smores =-.

  8. A. @ A Changing Life Says:

    These small projects are practical ways that individuals can help, and the more often they are put into practice, the better.

  9. Linda Says:

    Hi A. … Correct! And everyone that decides to get this done, more the merrier.

  10. Robert Says:

    Rainwater has a ton of potential when it comes to ‘green’ living. Harness even a tiny % of it and you could power appliances in your home and reduce emissions.

  11. Linda Says:

    Hi Robert … Imagine a whole neighborhood doing this! It would be fantastic.

  12. Rain Gardens as an Eco-friendly Landscaping Alternative | Landscaping Ideas Says:

    […] Comment on Rain Harvesting Raingardens by Robert […]

  13. Chris Says:

    if a whole neighborhood did it that would be really delightful to look at

  14. Linda Says:

    Hi Chris … That would be absolutely incredible it that happened! However, lots of folks are really working at it.

  15. John Says:

    We teach sustainability to orphanages and would like to use one of your illustrations for a give away. I found it on the internet and traced it back to you!

    John Musser

  16. Linda Says:

    Hi John … You have my permission to do so. Would love to know how it turns out! 😀

  17. Carol Welch Says:

    I’m preparing a presentation for the Parker County Master Gardeners,and I’d like to use your rain garden diagram at How do I go about getting permission?

    Carol Welch

  18. Linda Says:

    Hi Carol … you have my permission to use All the best!

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