Rain Gardens in a Fairfield, Iowa Gas Station

“Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink,” wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Aging and outdated infrastructure is threatening the way we live.

The American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card on America’s Infrastructure grades America’s water infrastructure a “D-,” the lowest grade in any infrastructure category. The next lowest grade, “F” failure, is simply unacceptable.

Rain Garden at a Kum & Go Gas Station, Fairfield, Iowa

Rain Garden at a Kum & Go Gas Station, Fairfield, Iowa

In many communities our storm water system is combined with our sewer system. Rainwater is treated like sewer water. However, when as little as a quarter of an inch of rainfalls, our storm water system is overwhelmed and untreated sewer water is dumped into our local waterways. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers urban water runoff the greatest threat to our nation’s waters

The largest source of storm water comes from rooftops and parking lots. As human development occurs we interrupt the natural water cycle. In a natural environment, ninety-eight percent of the storm water that falls in an area stays on the area. The leaves of the trees that cover the property as the rain falls, slows the rain down. The soil, which is not compacted, captures the majority of the rainfall. Only two to three percent of the rain that falls on an area runs off. The speed of the water runoff is significantly slower because of the plants covering the area.

Rain Gardens are vegetated areas, lower in elevation than the surrounding area. The soil is engineered so that it allows rainwater to be percolated through a series of soil and gravel layers. Rain gardens serve two purposes. First, the rain garden captures and detains storm water. Second, the rain garden filters the storm water, thus reducing storm water runoff and pollution.

Rain gardens are located in an area as close as possible to the rooftops and parking lots that produce the storm water runoff. Native plants are usually used for vegetation because native plants are more adaptable to the local climate and do not require as much maintenance as turf or other plant materials. The plants in a rain garden maintain the soil’s permeability and assists in filtering the storm water.

The good news is that this natural, simple, common sense approach is less expensive to implement than conventional solutions. Green infrastructure uses natural processes to mimic nature for managing storm water. In technical terms, biomimicry, or copying nature, utilizes the same processes and systems found in a natural environment, before land development.

In the past we tried to conquer nature. Today we are trying to live with nature but the future is in learning to be a part of nature.

Note: This article originally appeared in The Fairfield Weekly Reader


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