In 2003, the City of Burnsville commenced a landmark study to determine how effectively raingardens could reduce stormwater runoff in a residential neighborhood. Working in partnership with the Metropolitan Council, Dakota Soil and Water Conservation District, and Barr Engineering, the city developed a paired watershed study to compare the amount of stormwater runoff traveling to Crystal Lake from two nearby streets – one with raingardens and one without. During the first year of the study before the raingardens were built, monitoring equipment recorded similar conditions for both streets. Each time it rained, there was a flush of stormwater flowing off of rooftops, driveways, roads and other impervious surfaces. The stormwater flowed through pipes to Crystal Lake, carrying with it a nasty assortment of litter, sediment, yard waste, engine oil and other pollutants.
Later that fall, the city worked with willing homeowners to install 17 raingardens along one of the roadways to collect runoff that would otherwise flow into street’s storm drains. The gardens were designed to help the water soak in quickly, within 24-48 hours, and also add a touch of color to the otherwise austere landscape. The next summer, water monitoring data showed a major change; there was 90% less stormwater coming from the street with the new raingardens!
Now, more than ten years later, raingardens continue to be one of the best tools for reducing stormwater pollution in urban and suburban settings. In Washington County alone, local government partners have completed more than 750 raingarden projects on public and private land, including several neighborhood road retrofit projects in Stillwater, Lake Elmo, Woodbury, Oak Park Heights, and St. Paul Park.
In addition to larger-scale raingarden projects, watershed management organizations in Washington County offer incentive grants to homeowners to complete planting projects in their yards that help to improve habitat and reduce runoff pollution. Grants can be used for raingardens, shoreline planting projects, and sometimes converting lawn or agricultural fields to prairie.
Tim and Gayla Trooien of Stillwater were among the first people in the county to build raingarden at their home in 2006. With help from the Washington Conservation District (WCD), the Trooiens built a raingarden in their backyard to capture runoff from their rooftop that would otherwise flow to Long Lake. Ten years later, Tim says the garden is still working great.
Incentive grant programs help watershed districts to stretch their funding for lake and river improvement projects. “More than 75% of the land in Minnesota is privately owned, so these public-private partnerships are really essential to meeting our water quality goals,” says Jay Riggs, WCD District Manager. For homeowners, the grants and design assistance help to turn water-friendly landscaping from dreams into reality. Interested homeowners can request free site visits to discuss raingarden and shoreline planting projects, work with WCD landscape designers to develop customized plans for their yards, and use watershed grants to help pay for plants, materials, and rental equipment such as tillers and sod cutters.
Though garden grants are available throughout Washington County, there have been fewer applications this year in Brown’s Creek and Valley Branch Watershed Districts. Those two districts cover western Stillwater, eastern Grant, Lake Elmo, Afton, and the western halves of Baytown and West Lakeland Twps. “There is still funding available for 2017,” says landscape designer Tara Kline, “so we want to make sure people know about the grants.” Build a raingarden. Beautify your yard. Plant for clean water.
To request a free site in Washington County and learn about garden grants, go to www.mnwcd.org/planting-for-clean-water or contact Jenn Radtke at 651-330-8220 x.44 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also sign-up on-line for a site visit here. Learn more about raingardens and shoreline plantings at www.BlueThumb.org.