Rain, Rain, Don’t Go Away

Posted on: February 15, 2018

We all know the importance of rain. It is a precious resource that sustains living things, cleanses and dilutes pollutants, replenishes aquifers, influences weather systems, and can be harvested and used for showering, flushing and irrigation.

It also can be problematic in developed areas where impervious surfaces cover a large percentage of the land, leaving less area for rain to soak into the ground. Instead, it rolls over the surface and can lead to flooded basements, over-topped lakes and ponds, impassable roads, soggy and muddy backyards, and over-burdened storm-sewer systems.  As stormwater travels across the hardened landscape, it also picks up salts, petroleum, herbicides and other chemicals that get washed into our rivers, streams and lakes.

As rain events continue to increase in severity and frequency, we should encourage and embrace long-term green infrastructure solutions in our community. There also smaller scale ways to combat saturated situations, utilize the rainwater, create habitat, and provide spaces for water to slow, collect, infiltrate and filter. A lot of good things happen when rain can stay where it falls. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Rain gardens are typically described as depression areas that are planted preferably with native plants that can handle both wet and dry situations. They typically are 4-8 inches deep and utilize existing soil or amended soils that consist of sand, topsoil and compost. Often they are placed near gutter downspouts, along impervious surfaces like driveways and sidewalks, or in lower lying areas. These spaces can solve problems while adding color, interest and value to your yard.
  • Rain barrels come in a variety of sizes and styles. They are hooked up to gutter downspouts where they fill quite rapidly. Often people link barrels together to harvest as much water as possible. Over-flow hoses that lead away from the foundation of your home prevent water from seeping into your basement. Often plants watered with rain water grow better than water from the spigot, and with most barrels having a capacity of 50+ gallons, you can quench a lot of thirsty plants all over your yard.
  • Permeable hardscapes are becoming more commonplace. Options include simple crushed stone or gravel, grass and brick pavers, porous asphalt, and pervious concrete. As we update hard surfaces around our homes, there are many options available that allow rain to infiltrate into the soil.

WHAT WE DO:  Rain garden landscaping is installed around the Boathouse at Lake Ellyn. This ornamental planting is beautiful, functional, and feeds all sorts of pollinators. Last year, a rain garden was created at Prairie Path Park in an area that was heavily shaded, had poor drainage, and little vegetation. Many of our parks feature swales and streams that are vegetated with native plants that help hold soil in place during times of high flow, preventing erosion and silt-laden water from entering larger water bodies. Our natural areas also have a huge capacity for holding and storing stormwater. And, seven vegetative restorers (a.k.a. floating islands) were added to Lake Ellyn last summer. Native plants roots grow through the bottom of the islands, and provide surface area for microbes to attach and help filter pollutants that enter the lake via storm sewers.

WHAT CAN YOU DO: Consider planting a small rain garden. There are multiple resources available on-line that provide plans if you are a do-it-yourself type. Many landscape companies work with homeowners to design, construct, plant and maintain rain gardens, but also can install permeable hardscapes. Consider visiting either park to glean ideas. You can also purchase an upcycled rain barrel by pre-ordering one for pick up at our Earth Day event on April 22, 2018.