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Laurel Prairie-Kuntz - Jamie Lusch

Rogue River launches storm-drainage program

ROGUE RIVER — The parking lot of the Cedar Rogue Apartments is a microcosm for how a shift from the old "rain, rain go away" mentality of storm-water management could improve the city's namesake watershed without losing its small-town atmosphere.

During an average rainstorm, the complex's sloped asphalt parking lot efficiently funnels runoff into storm drains, through a pipe and into nearby Wards Creek before it is all whisked to the nearby Rogue River.

"It gets it off the ground and into the river," says city planner Laurel Prairie-Kuntz. "It does what it's supposed to do."

But the runoff also carries pollutants from leaky vehicles and other sources that could be filtered naturally by porous paving stones, plant roots and strategically placed shrubbery to cleanse the runoff before it becomes river water.

Rogue River is embarking on a new program to look at potential improvements to its storm-water plans that will help put more and cleaner water into the ground and creeks while keeping the city's no-curb flavor.

Funded by a $6,000 grant from the Oregon Environmental Council, the city has hired a Medford firm to map the city's storm-water system and analyze municipal codes to make it easier for homeowners and developers to install alternatives to the traditional pipe-it-out approach.

" 'Out of sight, out of mind' is what we don't want to do," Prairie-Kuntz says. "We want to see if there are better ways to do things."

The analysis ultimately should lead to small demon-stration projects where city officials can show developers how pervious pavers allow rain to soak through driveways, and how "rain gardens" can aesthetically filter runoff and allow it to soak into the ground.

In short, the project would show how the practice of paving paradise to put up parking lots is as outdated as the 1970s song.

"There's a lot a person can do and there's a lot a community can do," Prairie-Kuntz says.

"Let's find some tools for future development to work this water into the ground instead of paving the world one block at a time."

A softer approach to storm-water management is the crux of a program the OEC is pushing throughout Western Oregon's developed areas, says Teresa Huntsinger, the OEC's project director.

Storm water often is a source of "nonpoint pollution," a phrase used for contaminants that enter streams from multiple sources instead of a single-point source, such as a discharge pipe.

"It's one of our top priorities for improving watershed quality throughout the state," Huntsinger says.

The council created the grants to help municipalities and developers design storm-water programs that curb non-point pollution. The grants usually are sought by communities larger than Rogue River, Huntsinger says.

"It's one of the first times a city this small has undertaken an effort like this," Huntsinger says.

With the current economy triggering a development lull, now is the perfect time for Rogue River to look into changes and revamp storm-water codes before the next wave of development hits this town of 2,155 residents, Huntsinger says.

Richard Coffan, the Medford hydrologist who will do the study, says crafting the demonstration projects without altering Rogue River's own style will go a long way toward improving storm-water programs here. And visitors to the town's annual Rooster Crow might accidentally discover a new way to grapple with their own rain runoff the next time they resurface their driveway, Coffan says.

"It's like any other town in Southern Oregon," Coffan says. "It's just that Rogue River is getting after it.

"We want to keep the town Rogue River and find solutions that work here."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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