Traverse City Record-Eagle


March 16, 2013

Answer to stormwater runoff problems

Stormwater runoff can quickly drain a homeowner’s wallet. The flooding erodes yards, soaks basements, pollutes streams and wastes a precious resource.

But rainscaping — an integrated system of directed water flow and settling basins — can convert those losses into gains by providing new wildlife habitat, beautifying properties and in some cases providing food for the dinner table.

“It’s becoming a pattern of capture and reuse rather than simply moving the water off,” said Pat Sauer, Rainscaping Iowa Program administrator. “There are more options out there than just rain gardens. We’re looking more comprehensively at what can be done on the landscape.”

Numerous state and local groups are holding workshops and providing rebates for residents who add such refinements to their properties as rain barrels, cisterns, permeable paving, settling ponds, green roofs and berms.

“Iowa is providing training for professionals — certified rainscapers — who are designing some of those programs,” Sauer said.

“Many of these agencies also build large-scale infiltration systems projects on public lands,” said Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, who along with Apryl Uncapher wrote “Creating Rain Gardens.”

Landscapers often merge art with science.

“In Portland, Ore., many parking lots and curb strips sport swales (depressions) and retention basins, often decorated with sculptures of leaping fish,” Woelfle-Erskine said.

Rainscaping, though, can be expensive and complicated. So why bother?

“A rain garden is not only a beautiful, low-maintenance, water-saving garden, but can additionally provide habitat and forage for local fauna, sustain select edibles for harvest, reduce pollution, flooding and erosion to nearby rivers and become a daily reminder of the importance of water conservation,” Uncapher said.

Yards vary, and rainscaping designs must be site specific. Some suggestions:

— Perk. Conduct a soil test to see if your yard will percolate (drain) rainwater, Sauer said. “If it doesn’t perk, then all you’ll be left with is standing water. If your yard is hard, like concrete, you’ll have to improve the soil.”

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