Using the rain

Using the rain

If you have a lemon, make lemonade. In Oregon, if you have excess rainwater, make a rain garden.

The "Oregon Rain Garden Guide," produced by Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University, is the state's first storm-water management resource for both novices and expert landscapers. An increasing number of Oregonians are disconnecting downspouts, building rain-collection barrels and planting rain gardens to harvest water from their businesses, schools and front yards, according to co-author Robert Emanuel, an Oregon Sea Grant Extension specialist.

Rain gardens are sunken beds that absorb and treat storm-water runoff from rooftops, driveways and other paved surfaces. Runoff does not soak into the ground; instead it flows directly into sewers and surface waterways, such as streams or lakes. Landscaped rain gardens intercept runoff to reduce floods, recharge drinking water — and filter oil, garden chemicals and other pollutants. Rain gardens also provide wildlife habitat.

The need for an uncomplicated, step-by-step guide for storm-water management motivated Emanuel and a team of experts.

"We needed a book, something polished, that our workshop participants could take into the field," said Emanuel.

In the past year, Emanuel and Sea Grant Extension colleague Derek Goodwin have helped coordinate about 20 "Storm-water Solutions" workshops around Oregon. The techniques and plants described by the guide are showcased in demonstration sites at churches, parks, private homes, businesses and even a day-care center.

"Rain gardens are the workhorses of low-impact development," Emanuel said.

"Moving water around your property can be intimidating; it can be a scary project for some people," said Gaylen Beatty, manager of the Backyard Habitat Certification Program at Columbia Land Trust. "The Oregon Sea Grant guide is one of the best publications for rain gardens. I've bought several other manuals that are too complicated, and I become more confused after reading them."

Beatty, in partnership with Audubon Society of Portland, visits about 500 Portland residents each year to assist in urban storm-water management, through the Columbia Land Trust's Backyard Habitat Program. The illustrated publication has become "an integral, user-friendly part of the homeowner packets we provide," said Beatty.

It also has found avid supporters in other parts of the state, including Southern Oregon, where Vicki Simpson, the urban and community conservationist for the Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District sings its praises.

"Now I have a guide that takes rural and urban workshop participants from the theoretical to hands-on solutions," Simpson said. "Everything from understanding your own soil's properties to simple garden design is in one book. It's a starter."

The 44-page publication is available for free online at http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/sgpubs/onlinepubs.html.

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