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Home > Feature Articles > Landscaping > Landscape Design for Sustainable Urban Environments

Rain Gardens and Bioretention Basins To Improve Water Quality and Save 30% More Rainwater

Compared to a patch of lawn, a rain garden allows about 30% more water to soak into the ground!

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Rain Gardens Soak Up 30% More Water

Compared to a patch of lawn, a rain garden allows about 30% more water to soak into the ground!

California's water supply is more fragile and seasonal than in most of the country because we are in "the West". Seasonal rains in our desert areas can be severe, and water retention for the rest of the year is dependent on snowpack, water tables and manmade lakes.

Capture Fresh Water and Prevent Runoff

When rains come, we need to capture that fresh water for use by the flora and fauna in our communities. Capturing it also prevents runoff from roofs, streets, parking lots and lawns from washing pollutants into streams, rivers, lakes and eventually the ocean. Runoff pollutants can include fertilizers, pesticides, car waste such as oil and fluids, pet waste and its bacteria, eroded soil, road salt, grass clippings and litter. Rain gardens will not remove ALL these pollutants, but they do remove some of them as the water seeps into the ground, which serves as a natural filter.

Rain Gardens Designed as Cache Basin

A beautiful, useful way to capture rainwater runoff is with a "raingarden" that is well designed, well placed and serves as a cache basin that filters and helps the water find its way to the roots of plants...and our watertable.

Rain gardens look like regular flower gardens but they are more -- a rain garden fills with a few inches of water and allows the water to slowly filter into th ground rather than running off to the storm drains.

Benefits of rain gardens include beauty for the neighborhood, providing habitat for wildlife such as butterflies and frogs...and they save our fresh water supply.

Rain gardens are designed to catch water from roofs, driveways or streets. They can be located on private property, in parks, and incorporated into corporate campuses or shopping center parking lots.. An area that is relatively flat or has a slight slope with good drainage is most effective. Remember, you want the water to soak into the soil rapidly.

Landscape Design Tips for Rain Gardens

Rain gardens are NOT solutions for wet areas -- they must have good drainage. Water must soak into the soil within 24 hours to prevent water buildup that becomes a mosquito breeding ground.

  • The garden should be at least 10 feet away from buildings.

  • The garden should receive full or partial sunlight.

  • Avoid areas over septic tanks.

  • The garden must include an overflow structure that will allow heavy rains to divert to a natural drainage pattern, not a neighbor's lawn.
  • Size the garden to serve the area draining into it, the type of soil on the site, and the depth of the garden.
  • Before you dig, remember to call to locate underground utility lines: (1-800-272-1000)
  • Choose plants that can tolerate both wet and dry conditions and suited to your garden's sun/shade exposure.

RESOURCES

You'll find a variety of reference materials about rain gardens at this Water Resources Program website ... including: Landscaper Training Program for Rain Gardens - Fact Sheet 29, Cornell University Cooperative Extension, 2007

California trees and shrubs recommended for your rain gardens. A list of California trees and shrubs to brighten and enliven your rain garden.

Low Impact Development with rain gardens. Download a PDF.



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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