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Rain gardens an added prospect

February 28, 2008
Megan Feddersen — Staff Writer
FAIRMONT — As the city prepares for street construction, a new topic has entered the discussion: rain gardens.

“I’m sure as we go through and get ready for construction we’ll be looking at how the city might be able to participate in projects of that nature,” said City Administrator Jim Zarling. “Anything we can do to clean up our storm water is of benefit.”

Employees from the Martin Soil and Water Conservation District talked to the City Council about the benefit of rain gardens and the current plans to add two to the foliage at Lincoln Park this summer. A 4,500-squarefoot garden will be located north of the shelter house; another 2,500-squarefoot garden will be by the north end of the road leading through Lincoln Park.

The conservation district also wants to work with citizens who would like rain gardens in their yards. Staff members work on-site with residents, examining the soil quality and helping select appropriate native plants — plus they can cost-share 75 percent of the project.

“They’re very easy to put in,” said Kathy Thiesse from the conservation district. “There is work involved, but it’s worth it.”

Native plants are used in rain gardens because of their long root systems, which help filter the water and reduce erosion. Otherwise, no two rain gardens need look alike. Using the right vegetation, the gardens can be planted in the shade or sun, in a wide variety of colors to attract butterflies and other wildlife.

“The most ideal rain gardens are small in size,” Thiesse said. “The idea is just to catch the water, especially the first run-off after the rain because that’s the most polluted and carrying the most sedimentation and oil that’s been left on the street. ... The overflow from the rain garden is pretty clean and will then run into the storm system.”

Rain gardens are usually designed with a depression in the center and a berm on one side to catch rain water and allow it to slowly seep into the soil. The gardens are only intended to hold water less than two days, avoiding any problems with mosquitoes.

Rain gardens are becoming increasingly popular ways to avoid erosion, water pollution and even wet basements when water is directed from a roof to the garden. In communities like Burnsville and Maplewood, cities have changed the way they do construction to make the most use out of rain gardens and minimize infrastructure costs and run-off damage. Some cities have done away with curbs, while others have chosen to cut away portions of the curb where property owners have agreed to maintain rain gardens. Cities that adopted the concept often implement the changes with their road construction projects.

“We want to work with the citizens on doing this and then work with the city if they’d work on cutting the curb as they’re putting it in,” Thiesse said.

The project requires education, with residents and the City Council, to promote the benefits of the natural filter systems.

Zarling said he is “certainly supportive of the concept. ... At the current time, we have nothing set aside toward those types of projects, but I’m sure we’ll be having that discussion at some point this year.”

The city and conservation district are looking for volunteers, from individuals to organizations, that are willing to help maintain rain gardens, which may need frequent weeding for their first three years. In Jackson County, a group of volunteers, called Watch, Weed and Water, have committed to this purpose.


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