rain garden

Oyster Bay Goes Green with New Rain Garden

The newly installed rain garden at Oyster Bay’s Western Waterfront will capture, treat, and infiltrate polluted stormwater runoff before entering nearby Oyster Bay, and eventually Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Amy Mandelbaum, New York Sea Grant/ Long Island Sound Study.

The newly installed rain garden at Oyster Bay’s Western Waterfront will capture, treat, and infiltrate polluted stormwater runoff before entering nearby Oyster Bay, and eventually Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Amy Mandelbaum, New York Sea Grant/ Long Island Sound Study.

By Amy Mandelbaum and Mark A. Tedesco

Did you ever stop to think where water goes after it leaves your downspout? If you’re like most people, once stormwater is out of sight, it’s out of mind. Most likely, the stormwater rushes down your driveway, onto the street, and to the nearest storm drain. If you don’t live in the Big, I mean, Green Apple, then that drain goes directly to your local waterway, whether it be a lake, creek, river, bay, estuary, or even the ocean. So, what’s the big deal?

Well, that stormwater isn’t so clean by the time it makes it to your local waterway, as it picks up litter, nutrients, and plenty of other things along the way. This polluted stormwater runoff goes directly into the water without having a chance to be cleaned.

So, what can we do about it? That’s where green infrastructure comes into play. Green infrastructure is essentially mimicking what nature did before we started building gray infrastructure, such as gutters, roads, pipes, etc. Out of the many green infrastructure practices, one of the best for filtering polluted stormwater runoff is a rain garden: a shallow, vegetated basin that captures, treats, and infiltrates polluted stormwater runoff within a day. It is designed to treat the first inch of rain, which is the most polluted, and the plants, soil, and mulch filter the polluted stormwater runoff before it enters your local waterway.

The Town of Oyster Bay realized the need to redirect the polluted stormwater runoff from the roadway along the waterfront before going into nearby Oyster Bay, a Long Island Sound Stewardship Area, and eventually Long Island Sound. The Town sought and received a Long Island Sound Futures Fund grant to install a rain garden, all while educating the local community. The rain garden was installed in October, with assistance from other local organizations and volunteers. As part of the project, a corresponding rain garden training program is also offered for homeowners, municipal officials, and landscape professionals. This rain garden now serves as a demonstration to the local community and its visitors of a green infrastructure practice that can be easily incorporated into the landscape.

So, the next time it rains, I hope you take a closer look at your downspout.

If your town would like assistance mitigating the effects of stormwater runoff, contact your local Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) office in New York or Connecticut.

About the Authors: Amy Mandelbaum is the New York Outreach Coordinator for the Long Island Sound Study. She works for New York Sea Grant in Stony Brook, NY. She received her Ed.M. in science education in 2012 and a B.S. in environmental science in 2007 from Rutgers University.

Mark Tedesco is director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office. Mr. Tedesco is responsible for supporting implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound, approved in 1994 by the Governors of New York and Connecticut and the EPA Administrator, in cooperation with federal, state, and local government, private organizations, and the public. Mr. Tedesco received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Rain is Natural, But Run-Off is Not

by Andrea Bennett

Potted daylilies and ivy in a parking area help transform an impermeable surface into one that captures rainwater.

Potted plants in a parking area help transform an impermeable surface into one that captures rainwater.

While we know that forests, meadows, and other plantings help slow the flow of rainwater and filter out pollutants, some towns (including mine) still have zoning laws prohibiting homeowners from replacing impermeable surfaces with vegetation.

These ordinances may not make the most sense from an environmental standpoint, but they can inspire homeowners to get creative about adapting impervious surfaces around the house to absorb rainfall and prevent polluted run-off.

For example, in my case, I realized that putting plants on top of an impermeable surface, mimicking more natural ground cover, could make a real difference. The daylilies and ivy we now have in our parking area are helping to soak up rain before it becomes run-off.

When rain falls onto impervious surfaces that have pet waste, leaked oil, and lawn chemicals, they transport that polluted run-off to local creeks and rivers. By keeping the rain from contacting the pollution on land, or slowing down the movement of polluted stormwater, we give our local waterways a better chance of staying healthy.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension has crunched the numbers on how much runoff a medium-size house and lot in Virginia could generate, and they might surprise you.

They found that a 1,600 square foot roof and 750 square feet of driveway and sidewalks results in a total of 2,350 square feet of impervious surface. With just a half-inch of rain, more than 700 gallons of water would run off – enough to fill about 15 bathtubs! During a bigger or longer storm event, even more rain would turn to run-off.

There are even more ways to keep rain from turning into polluted run-off. Around your home, you could build a rain garden; install permeable surfaces; sweep your driveways and walkways; pick up litter; and fix oil and antifreeze leaks from automobiles.

As for me, I plan to install a rain barrel to help capture rainwater to reuse in my yard. Keep an eye out for local rain barrel workshops in your town: these workshops explain how to construct a rain barrel from a plastic 55-gallon drum, so you can use the water it collects to water plants.

What else can you do around your home to make sure rain doesn’t turn into polluted run-off? Let us know in the comments.

 

About the Author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and she is a member of her local watershed protection team.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Art of the Natural Garden”

example of a native plant

example of a native plant

 

by Todd Lutte

  It’s once again time to experience that first “breath of spring” at the Philadelphia Flower Show.  A local tradition with international recognition, the Philadelphia Flower Show has been a prelude to spring for more than 150 years with EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region being a part of that tradition for more than two decades.  As one of the city’s most anticipated annual events, the Flower Show brings thousands of garden enthusiasts to the floors of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in early March.

The theme for the 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show is “ARTiculture…where art meets horticulture”.   The EPA exhibit is titled “L’Art du Jardin Natural” which translated is “The Art of the Natural Garden”.  The display showcases native plants, wetlands and sustainable landscaping techniques in a passive setting

Art and the natural world have forever been intertwined in the human imagination but our scientific understanding of the complexity of these beautiful places has only become its own field of study in more modern times. Through this study, we have learned that our rivers, streams, and wetlands are not just pretty pictures—they are dynamic ecosystems that continually respond to cues from climate patterns, local hydrology, invasive species, human disturbances, and many other factors.

The beauty of these wild places is founded upon resilience as an amazing number of plant and animal species have evolved to fill special ecological niches across very different habitat types. While these native species benefit from clean waters, they also enrich the whole ecosystem through functions that control and abet plant cover, sediment supply, water quality, flood control, and biodiversity.

The use  of native plants has many benefits, including relatively low maintenance, which saves both time and money.  Pollinators, beneficial insects, and other wildlife rely on native plants for food and habitat, and invasive species are less likely to colonize an area with an established native plant community.

If you’re in the area, stop by and experience “L’Art du Jardin Natural”.  The 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show runs from Saturday, March 1st   through Sunday, March 9th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia.

 

Todd Lutte is an EPA environmental scientist who works to enforce laws and regulations for the protection of wetlands. Todd is a key partner in creating EPA’s exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Rain Gardens in the Winter

My rain garden in February

My rain garden in February

By Sue McDowell

Back in April, 2013, I wrote a blog about the benefits of rain gardens.  Now with almost half the country engulfed in winter and freezing temperatures, should we just forget about our gardens for now?

In a way, yes. Your rain garden should take care of itself throughout the winter months and be refreshed for the spring.

If you recall from the previous post, a rain garden is a garden designed as a shallow depression to collect water that runs off from your roof, driveway and other paved areas. The gardens are filled with varieties of native plants and shrubs that are both water and drought tolerant.  It’s a sustainable and economic way of dealing with rainfall as nature intended – all year round. It might not look like it, but your garden still works hard throughout the winter months.  In the winter, rain gardens continue to manage rain water (or snow melt) by holding the water briefly to allow slower infiltration.

Winter rain gardens are similar to any garden – the flowers die back, waiting for spring to re-emerge.  Most rain garden designs plan with winter in mind, such as using native grasses, dry seed pods from native coneflowers (Echinacea) and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) .

By not cutting back last year’s growth, the rain garden can provide food and cover for winter birds such as sparrows and juncos.   Adding a fresh layer of mulch and raking out any leaves will keep the rain garden functioning during the cold months and ready it for the spring growth.

Here’s a bonus tip: when you do ready your rain garden for the spring, you can put the leaves and cuttings you remove from your rain garden in your home composter. If you’re not composting, but plan to start when the weather warms up, the brown leaves and cuttings will be a perfect starter food for your compost pile.

What are some of your observations of your rain garden through these winter months?

About the author: Susan McDowell joined the EPA family in 1990.  Her work on community-based sustainability throughout her career includes the award-winning Green Communities program which has traveled across the United States and internationally.  She brings her ‘ecological’ perspective to her work including Pennsylvania’s nonpoint source pollution program the mid-Atlantic National Estuaries, and the G3 Academy (Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Streetcar Named…Green Infrastructure?

By Matt Colip

A 40-degree day wasn’t ideal for an open-air trolley ride.  But the sights we witnessed in Virginia’s capital were worth the chill.

I joined EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin as he participated in a recent trolley tour of projects in Richmond that are helping to improve water quality in the James River and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.  The tour was provided by officials from the City of Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the non-profit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

The first stop was the city’s wastewater treatment plant to view massive upgrades designed to sharply reduce pollution discharges to the James.  EPA funded more than half of the project through its Clean Water State Revolving Fund.  From here, the trolley rolled off toward downtown Richmond.

Regional Administrator Garvin (center) tours green infrastructure sites in Richmond.

Regional Administrator Garvin (center) tours green infrastructure sites in Richmond.

There, we came to a stop for a different form of transportation: the Bus Loop Green Street project.  This project retrofitted the bus loop for the Capitol to utilize pervious pavement and rain garden planters with native species to filter and absorb the captured rain water.  This was a great example of the green infrastructure opportunities offered by urban environments – a strategy EPA supports across the region to improve water quality.

After a few minutes at this site, we traveled to our third stop, Capitol Square – this time by foot. Walking past the Capitol to this next stop reminded us of how beautiful Virginia’s Capitol building truly is; its historic architecture makes you think that Thomas Jefferson could be walking out the front door.  It may have been a cold day, but the sky was clear and the sun was beaming down and reflecting off the Capitol building’s sheet white walls – you almost needed sunglasses just to look at it!

It wasn’t long before a representative from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay explained that the brick walkway surrounding the Capitol that we were standing on was pervious, too.  An underground cistern harvests rainwater from the walkway, which is then used to water plants and provide water for the Bell Tower fountain on Capitol Square.  This project not only reduces the amount of stormwater runoff from what was once an impervious surface surrounding the Capitol building, but serves as a high-profile education tool to inform the public about the benefits of controlling stormwater with surfaces that let the rain soak in.

The final stop was a single-lane carriage street on 12th Street near the Capitol that had also been retrofitted with porous material, another example of history interfacing with cutting-edge environmental solutions in Richmond.

Both Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin and I were very impressed with these projects, which provide a tangible representation of what Richmond and other urbanized areas can do to improve the long-term health of their local waters and the larger water systems they are a part of.

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s Office of State and Congressional Relations as the as the State and Congressional Liaison for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Originally from Texas, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with an interdisciplinary BA in Public Health and has a MS from Saint Joseph’s University that focused on environmental protection policy and management. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Chance to Walk the Walk When it Comes to Green Infrastructure

By Tom Damm

What happens in my hometown doesn’t stay in my hometown.

Actions on the land and in the waters of Hamilton Township, N.J. have an effect on the Delaware River, which is a major focus of our cleanup work in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region.

As a possible blog idea, I wanted to look into the pollution impacts of stormwater that enters the sewer drain across from my house.  When I accessed my township website for a contact number, I found something even more interesting.

Class is in session with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

Class is in session with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program. Photo courtesy of Jess Brown, Rutgers.

I learned that Hamilton is Ground Zero for a new initiative by Rutgers University to promote green infrastructure techniques that soak up stormwater before it reaches the sewer system and creates nasty problems in our streams and streets.

Better yet, Rutgers was recruiting volunteers to be part of the action in Hamilton and elsewhere.

Green infrastructure is one of the hottest topics I write about at EPA.  We’ve helped communities in our region become national leaders in using green strategies to slow the flow of stormwater.

Now I had the chance to get directly involved.  So I signed up for the training offered by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

The course was designed to develop a corps of paraprofessionals to help Rutgers engineers and scientists identify sites ripe for rain gardens and other green techniques to “keep the rain from the drain.”  The classroom training took place at Duke Farms, a model of environmental stewardship, and at Rutgers, where we also stepped outside to examine how a parking lot could be fitted with green features.

Instructor Chris Obropta described the problems posed by stormwater, the solutions offered by green infrastructure, and the role we would play initially in scouting out potential locations through aerial maps, photos, site visits and other analysis, and then writing up our findings.

I have a head start in Hamilton.  Our town officials are supportive of the initiative and the program already has found 72 candidate sites in our six sub-watersheds, including hard surfaces at my local Little League field and firehouse.  Large rain gardens have been installed at two of our high schools, providing real life lessons for students.

With certificate in hand, I’m looking forward to taking the next steps with the folks from Rutgers.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Calculating the Impact

By Andy Dinsmore

What happens when all of the rain from a storm can’t soak into the ground on my property?  Where does it go?  Is that runoff causing any problems?

These are questions many people may be asking themselves.  In developed areas, that runoff likely enters into a storm sewer (a pipe) which outlets directly to a stream.  And too much runoff after a storm can cause severe damage to our streams, such as bank erosion and habitat loss.

Screen shot of Stormwater Calculator

Screen shot of Stormwater Calculator

But do I know how much runoff is coming from my property?  A new tool from EPA, the National Stormwater Calculator, has made it much easier to figure out.  It uses a simple, step-by-step process to assess a property (land use, soil features, and rainfall) and give an estimate for runoff.

I used the tool to evaluate my property and found it to be very user friendly.  I just entered my address and a window showed my property location.  Then I selected my soil type and landscape features using the incorporated links and overlays.  I gave my best estimates for the percentage of trees, grass, and impervious surfaces (my roof and driveway).  The calculator then showed me approximately how much runoff my property produces in a year.

The intent of the calculator is to compare current runoff estimates with reductions that would result from some simple practices, like redirecting your downspouts over your lawn, installing rain barrels, or making a rain garden.  More complex practices that may be used by industrial, commercial, or municipal properties are also available, such as curbside planters, green roofs, infiltration basins, and porous pavement.

I already have two rain barrels and a rain garden, so I ran the calculator twice.  The results of my two calculator runs (one without the rain barrels and rain garden and one with them) showed that I’m capturing an estimated 1.77 inches of runoff each year.  When I convert that to volume, it becomes 6,343 gallons of runoff that does not leave my property – enough to fill more than 100 average-sized bathtubs.  You can see the output from the calculator here.

So if you’ve asked yourself where your runoff goes, check out the calculator.  And then consider taking some basic steps to reduce your impact.

Maybe my next blog will have to be about how easy it is to build your own rain barrel and install it yourself.   But for now, be sure to check out our Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin’s recent blog about rain barrel art.

About the Author: Andy Dinsmore has been with EPA since 1997 and is currently the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Stormwater Team Leader, responsible for ensuring that regulated entities, such as construction sites, certain industrial facilities, and urbanized municipalities, properly manage their stormwater runoff and comply with their NPDES permits. Outside of the office, Andy enjoys gardening, playing racquetball, and spending time with his two children.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Photo Essay: Old and New Environments Coming Together in Pittsburgh

Blog and Photos by Christina Catanese

A few months ago, home in my native Pittsburgh, I paid a visit with my family to a place I went to many times growing up – Phipps Conservatory.  My childhood recollections of the place mainly revolve around the stunning plant displays, and the plethora of colors and types of flowers that seemed to grow out of every possible surface.  I was enchanted by the re-creation of various ecosystems, like the tropical plant room that thrived even in the bleak Pittsburgh winter.  But during this visit, I encountered a new aspect of the Conservatory that changed how I saw the place, and indeed, my hometown itself.

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes was opened last year as Phipps’ hub for education, research, and administration.  Striving to be “one of the greenest buildings on earth,” the Center utilizes innovative technologies to generate all its own energy, as well as treat and reuse all water captured on site.

Taking a stroll through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes’ grounds. The center building’s exterior incorporates repurposed wood salvaged from barns in Western Pennsylvania.

Taking a stroll through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes’ grounds. The center building’s exterior incorporates repurposed wood salvaged from barns in Western Pennsylvania.

While a beautiful architectural construction, I was most impressed with the stormwater management measures the Center took, from the green roof, to rain gardens, to the pervious pavement used on the walkways.

Click “read more…” below to read the rest of this photo essay!

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Rainy Day Lesson

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

Like many New Englanders, we’ve been really busy lately with our garden. The warm growing months are so fleeting here that you have to be ready the minute you can plant veggies and herbs to harvest some good food later in the summer.

It’s been even more hectic this year, because my wife and I acted on our carefully-developed plans of long-overdue landscaping in our yard. But as any homeowner can tell you, there usually is no simple plan. If you do this, then it triggers that. And that. And something else.

As we thought about how we wanted our yard to be, we knew we needed to address some drainage issues: gutters were draining directly onto a walkway, and in the winter that’s a recipe for dangerous slick ice. So we excavated a channel for the gutter to drain under the walkway, leading into a dry well. Now the water will slowly infiltrate into the earth without turning into mud or ice where we need to walk.

We have another area nearby, where a gutter channels rainwater from our garage, and we thought, “this is a great spot for a rain barrel!”

Diverting rain by collecting it in a rain barrel, or channeling into a dry well (or a rain garden) has a lot of advantages besides our immediate need to address extra runoff in our garden. Stormwater runoff can collect a lot of bad stuff, especially in urban areas with lots of pavement and other hard impermeable surfaces. As water runs off roofs, parking lots and roads, it collects all the trace residues of chemicals, nutrients, silt and debris that have accumulated, and swiftly deposits it all in the nearest storm sewer, and from there it often goes directly into nearby streams, ponds or another water body. In other words, pollution.

It’s amazing how quickly our 55 gallon rain barrel fills up, just waiting for a dry spell when we need to water our garden. It’s been raining steadily for about the past six hours – not even pouring hard – and the rain barrel is full. That’s just one section of roof and gutter. It makes me realize how much water comes down in a typical rainstorm, and how much of a difference our household decisions can make to help solve a problem.

Find more New England resources on how to “Soak Up the Rain.”

More Green infrastructure solutions to stormwater

About the author:  Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not digging rocks out of his garden, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Making a Difference – One Rain Garden at a Time

By Sue McDowell

The Rain Gardens for the Bays Campaign has gone local!

The Borough of Ambler, Pennsylvania, in collaboration with the Ambler Environmental Advisory Council, is helping to install rain gardens to improve local water quality in the Wissahickon Creek watershed, a tributary to the Schuylkill River, which leads to the Delaware Bay.

Through local volunteers and partnerships with state and local governments, Ambler is well on the way to its goal of 100 rain gardens over the next 10 years.

A rain garden is a garden designed as a shallow depression to collect water that runs off from your roof, driveway and other paved areas. It’s a sustainable and economic way of dealing with rainfall as nature intended.

Check out this video about Ambler’s ambitions!

The Rain Gardens for the Bays Campaign is greening our neighborhoods and protecting our streams by dotting the landscape with thousands of demonstration rain gardens in local watersheds. Town Halls, libraries, schools and other public institutions are showcasing this natural way to manage stormwater on the property that generates it.

The campaign is a partnership with EPA’s three mid-Atlantic National Estuary Programs (Delaware Bay, Delaware Inland Bays and Maryland Coastal Bays), the state of Delaware, the University of Delaware and other organizations.  One of our prime goals is encouraging residents and other property owners to install their own rain gardens.  You, too, can help your local watershed and our bays and rivers, one garden at a time.

For more information about Rain Gardens for the Bays Visit: http://www.raingardensforthebays.org/

About the author: Susan McDowell joined the EPA family in 1990.  Her work on community-based sustainability throughout her career includes the award-winning Green Communities program which has traveled across the United States and internationally.  She brings her ‘ecological’ perspective to her work including Pennsylvania’s nonpoint source pollution program the mid-Atlantic National Estuaries, and the G3 Academy (Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.