Monday, June 11, 2012

Free Rain Gardens - An Idea I Can Get Behind

Diagram of the principle behind a rain garden. Image courtesy: © L.A. Rain Gardens

According to the L.A. Rain Gardens website, Los Angeles County has 300 million gallons of drinking water running off dry and impermeable surfaces every day. Rain in Los Angeles, as in all populated areas to a greater or lesser degree, travels across concrete and asphalt where the water collects pollutants like automotive fluids, trash and pesticides that it carries downstream through the storm drain system.

Much of this now "grey" water reaches the nation's waterways; and, eventually the ocean untreated. So not only is the water lost without any environmental benefit being gained from it; but, this lost water is eventually entering the waterways and oceans untreated and polluted.

The amount of urban runoff that reaches the rivers and ocean can be minimized by planting rain gardens.

Not only are rain gardens environmentally-friendly, they are a beautiful addition to any yard or garden. Photo courtesy: UF/IFAS Okeechobee Extension Service

So...what is a Rain Garden exactly?

Rain gardens are shallow depressions in the ground planted with native and region-appropriate flowering plants and grasses that trap runoff. These gardens beautify your property; support wildlife and biodiversity; and, direct water into the ground instead of into streets and sewer systems.

The water that is directed into the ground now can used for many useful purposes. The LA area (Los Angeles, CA) is a particularly dry area with not much in the way of rainfall. Los Angeles has a Subtropical-Mediterranean climate and receives just enough annual precipitation to avoid being judged a semi-arid climate. Los Angeles has plenty of sunshine throughout the year, with an average of only 35 days with measurable precipitation annually.

Los Angeles also boasts a very large population with a high demand for plenty of water. They can use every drop they can get!

One of the most obvious benefits to directing the water deep into the ground is that it is available for vegetation use for a much longer period of time. This means less sprinkling of gardens releasing a large portion water to be used in other ways - drinking, perhaps.

Through a partnership between Tree People and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (good for you!), L.A. Rain Gardens is offering rain garden installations to residents of the Northeast San Fernando Valley--free of charge!

The benefits of installing rain gardens in areas that have little rainfall coupled with drainage problems are so varied, I can't believe this hasn't been done before. Applause to the LA Department of Water and Power for realizing that the money spent on these free rain gardens will come back to them a thousandfold in the coming years.

Here are a few of the many benefits of installing a rain garden in your yard:

•Because rain gardens are comprised of native and location-friendly plants, they play an important role in restoring habitat for and diversity of animal species, some of which are endangered

•Rain gardens save homeowners money on their water bills because native plants require less water and less maintenance (once established) to maintain a sufficient level of health and beauty

•The use of native and location-friendly plants restores native landscape that pioneers and settlers saw upon their arrival

•Location-friendly plants aesthetically enhance our natural environment

•Rain gardens promote soil health and independence by giving the soil water when it needs it, producing healthier and stronger rooted plants

•Rain gardens reduce toxic runoff from entering storm drains and instead promotes efficient use of rain water by diverting it into our largest and most organic storage facility, the soil

•Helps to restore and sustain the water quality and flow of the LA River Watershed
•Allows water that runs onto your property to infiltrate through soil

•20% of California’s electricity resources are devoted to transporting, cleaning, and using water; installing a rain garden helps to mitigate these costs

•Lastly, with the LA Rain Gardens Project installing a rain garden is completely free!

Los Angeles County has 300 million gallons of drinking water running off of dry and impermeable surfaces daily. That's a lot of good drinking water going to waste.

This is the type of program that could (and should) be initiated everywhere. What a low-impact, low-cost, environmentally-friendly solution to a real problem.

If you live in the LA area, here is how the program works:

There are two ways to participate in the test program if you live in the area. The Do-It-Yourself option gives you the opportunity to plant the garden yourself and be reimbursed up to $500 per garden installed or $1000 per household (credit for two gardens allowed). This option, of course, allows you to have exactly what you want, where you want it.

The second and easiest option, is to sign up and let the L.A. Rain Gardens program install your rain garden for you. I can't find out whether the LA Rain Gardens team takes your ideas into consideration or not. I would expect that they do; however, a question worth asking.

To learn more about the project, and to get your own rain garden installed, visit the L.A. Rain Gardens website.

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