Rain gardens provide scenic, artistic way to protect your watershed

01/20/2012 5:00 AM

01/20/2012 1:08 PM

We drink water every day. We need it to survive. But it’s surprising how little we think about where it’s coming from or what we’re doing to it.

I mean, do you even know your watershed address? I had no idea such an “address” existed until about 10 years ago. It usually follows a nearby waterway. Ours is the Middle Arkansas-Slate.

What it basically means is that water we let run down our driveways and into our streets, goes down the storm sewers and will eventually end up in the Arkansas River. Since we know it runs downhill, we can look at the impact of the oil, fertilizer and other stuff we let join our storm runoff and see where our pollution ends up. In our case, the Arkansas River runs into the Mississippi River, which carries our waste into the Gulf of Mexico. Seems a little bit bigger doesn’t it?

Studies show storm runoff has a big impact on water quality, but there are small practices homeowners and professional landscapers can take to reduce this kind of pollution. A rain garden is one of the easiest solutions.

Sedgwick County residents can get training on how to make a rain garden at two workshops Feb. 2. That’s on a Thursday.

Rain gardens are small recesses in your yard filled with water-loving plants. If you place it near a downspout, and direct the flow to the garden, the plants soak up the rain and the water goes back into the ground. That improves water quality.

The Sedgwick County Extension Center is providing two workshops:

Professionals can learn how to install and maintain rain gardens for larger projects during a session running from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cost is $15 and includes lunch. You can register online. From 6 to 8:30 p.m., homeowners can learn how to put in their own rain garden. Cost is $5 and includes vendor booths by nurseries, seed and wildflower centers to help select plants and set it all up. Online registration is available. Lee Skabelund, assistant professor of landscape architecture at Kansas State, is a featured speaker at both sessions.

Rain gardens don’t have to be huge, but if enough people do it, they can provide a big step toward cutting pollution and improving water quality.

Cities such as Minneapolis have adopted rain garden programs for entire neighborhoods. The Seattle area provides incentive programs for home rain gardens.

These and other cities have found rain garden programs also reduce flooding, which has been known to be a problem around these parts.

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