Why Rain Gardens? Why Now?

As the Euclid Creek Watershed Program Manager I am tasked with work to address water quality issues in a highly developed watershed on the East side of Cleveland. In our developed watersheds most rainfall and snowmelt are sent straight from our homes, businesses, and streets to our stormwater system of pipes and basins that funnel that water unfiltered straight to our creeks and Lake Erie.

As the rain and snowmelt travels to the pipe and basin systems it becomes stormwater. Stormwater picks up pollutants from yards and streets, it gets heated as it travels over hot pavement, and the amount of water becomes concentrated, causing even smaller rain events to contribute to erosion of creek banks and flooding.

Polluted runoff affects fish, plants, and humans alike. A significant amount of resources are required to remove pollutants from Lake Erie water before it is sent back to our taps for drinking. Beach closings are common after rain events due to high levels of bacteria and algae caused by pollutants in runoff. Increased flows from concentrated conveyance of stormwater can cause loss of property and flooding.

So how do we solve the problem of stormwater runoff?

This summer I investigated one simple way individuals can help keep pollution out of our creeks and lake, reduce flooding, and recharge our groundwater:

Build a Rain Garden

Since 2006 Northeast Ohio conservation and watershed groups have provided guidance on how homeowners can build a rain garden, but it seems the program hasn’t really taken off. With almost half of land use in the Euclid Creek watershed belonging to single family residences, this is a tool that is being underutilized.

Many factors are at play including that some communities do not allow for disconnection of downspouts. But now is a great time to get to work on factors preventing a more widespread adoption of rain gardens. Property owners in communities in Northeast Ohio Sewer District can receive stormwater credits for installing rain gardens. There’s a big push right now to shrink your lawn with addition of native plants. Efforts are being made to re-forest the city. Local agencies are working to create pollinator habitat. All of these programs align well with rain gardens.

So this summer I took a 5 week online webinar class hosted by Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office on how to become a Master Rain Gardener and I built a rain garden in my front yard right here in Cuyahoga County. All with the hopes of more rain gardens in the ground here in Northeast Ohio soon. Over the course of my next few blogs I will share my experience and lessons learned and how you can get involved locally.

But before I do let’s define what exactly a rain garden is.

A rain garden is a shallow saucer-shaped garden that soaks rainwater into the ground quickly. They help protect our creeks and lake by filtering stormwater runoff and replenishing groundwater. Plants in the garden create a beautiful landscape throughout the growing season that also provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects.

We will be hosting Susan Bryan from Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office here this summer to do our own 5 week in person course (3 hours a week) for those looking to build a rain garden this fall or spring of 2020. Please reach out to us if this is a course you would be interested in taking.

Do you already have a rain garden? Let us know about it! Send pictures and share your experience with us. Join our facebook group.

Blog Auther: Elizabeth Hiser, Euclid Creek Watershed Program Manager

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