Rain gardens are the new buzz in environmental circles, according to North Mountain Nature Center Stewardship Coordinator, Linda Chesney.
To fund its water education program, Ashland Middle School has received a $500 grant from the Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association to create one. The project is being coordinated by the nature center, but due to minor issues, it has been delayed by the city of Ashland. The fact that it will be constructed on public property is of concern because the garden could become the model for rain gardens in Ashland.
"There are no set standards for rain gardens yet in Oregon," said City of Ashland Building Official Mike Broomfield. "Their efforts are all laudable, but there are no set standards. In order to tie in private water to public, a code needs to be implemented."
Broomfield explained how public water pertains to the storm drain system and private water is that which ends up in that system, all of which eventually drains into Bear Creek. The state and many municipalities are currently working on an acceptable code to be adopted statewide. As all things green and sustainable become more urgent, many cities are striving to be the example that gets adopted in the 2010 state code.
Oregon allows municipalities to set standards concerning these issues, with the city of Portland being a leader.
Currently, the State of Oregon Building Codes Division provides for rainwater harvesting under local approval. This is in order to ensure that rainwater recycling systems are consistently installed statewide. The alternate method has not been adopted as code, which is what the city is waiting for.
"We are monitoring all of this right now," Broomfield said, "and we are going to adopt these things, but not without some study.
Landscape architect Laurie Sager designed the proposed rain garden and said the issue boils down to how much rain water is able to be collected and how much will drain into the gutters. Broomfield said before the garden can be installed, a professional has to do the proper calculations because the water will run into the creek, and the effects need to be known.
The proper disconnection of downspouts from building structures is an important part of rain garden construction. Chesney said this redirects drainage water away from building structures and into the garden, and the middle school project currently does not have this issue. Chesney heard there was a regulatory process, but thought it was no real concern.
The current code only focuses on piping internal to buildings.
"The location at the middle school has two downspouts and they are not currently connected," Chesney said. "Currently, the water is going right into the ground, and we wouldn't be interrupting the water flow to the storm drains."
Sager said protective measures have been implemented to deal with overflow in the case of a storm and the water level exceeds the capacity of the garden.
Besides being a storm water control measure, this garden is part of the middle school's sixth grade water education program, which the Ashland Parks Department has been involved in for a number of years.
"The garden is a long-term tangible project for students to be hands-on and learn about water issues," Chesney said. "The construction and maintenance of the project will be an exciting way to educate and help improve water quality."
Sager also wanted proper design issues as well as education to be prominent features of the garden.
"What we are looking at is an aesthetically pleasant garden that looks good both wet and dry," Sager said. "And it will be a demonstration to educate students on how water can be used effectively."
Chesney plans on having the garden completed by November.
Rain gardens are defined as "a shallow depression that collects rainwater and is often planted with native plants," according to a City of Portland Environmental Services brochure. The American Society of Landscape Architects Web site, asla.org, further describes them as a "a more natural method of sustainable storm water management." Simple in concept and design, rain gardens channel storm runoff from roofs and pavement into a more useful application than a direct storm drain path. The city of Portland has an array of brochures on rain gardens, downspout disconnection and other storm water issues at cleanriverspdx.org.