What is Rainscaping?
Rainscaping reclaims stormwater naturally using simple techniques to manage and filter rainwater where it falls – the way nature intended. This can be done through any combination of plantings, water features, catch basins, and permeable pavement, among other activities.
Stormwater runoff is created by hard surfaces that cannot absorb water, like concrete, the footprint of a house, and compacted soils. Every time it rains, stormwater flows down roofs, driveways, and other impervious surfaces, sometimes flooding basements or collecting in low spots. Other runoff continues toward the street, picking up soil, pesticides, oils, and other contaminants before it enters the sewer system that transports it to streams and lakes, often without treatment.
By lowering the amount of stomwater runoff entering the sewer system, rainscaping within the Grant Program Area specifically helps to alleviate basement backups and sewer overflows, which can sometimes occur during periods of heavy rain. It also addresses water quality in the Mississippi River when overflows do occur.
Rainscaping is part of MSD Project Clear, a program by the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) as part of an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and Missouri Coalition for the Environment to improve water quality in our community.
What are the benefits?
Reduce Water Problems – A rain garden gives water runoff a beneficial and safe place to go, helping to keep it away from your foundation where water problems can occur. It can also help reduce or eliminate water ponding on your property. Since rain gardens reduce the amount of stormwater entering the sewer system, they can help prevent basement backups and sewer overflows.
Lower Maintenance – A rain garden essentially “waters itself,” requiring little or no additional irrigation once plantings are established. In fact, rain gardens are more likely than other gardens to survive droughts. Periodic weeding, mulching, and pruning, are all the maintenance they need. Because you don’t need to fertilize or spray them, they make your yard a healthier place for your children and pets as well. Native plants are more tolerant of the climate, soil, and water conditions in our region, which is why they are recommended for rain gardens, and also easier to care for.
Beautify Your Property – Rain gardens can provide interesting planting opportunities, and are an attractive and creative alternative to traditional lawn landscapes.
Support Biodiversity – Not only are rain gardens pleasing to look at, they are an ideal habitat for birds, butterflies, pollinators, and other wildlife. Have fun spotting the colorful species that call your rain garden “home.”
Reduce Mosquitoes – In a properly designed rain garden, water will soak into the ground within a day or two, long before mosquitoes have the opportunity to breed. They can be designed to attract the kinds of insects and wildlife that feed off mosquitoes, reducing their numbers around your property. Rain gardens can also help eliminate yard ponding, in which water can pool long enough for mosquitoes to multiply.
Improve Water Quality for Everyone – Your rain garden is a solution to stormwater pollution. Polluted stormwater that enters waterways untreated can hurt both water quality and the wildlife that inhabit them. Because rainscaping reclaims stormwater where it falls, runoff is naturally filtered from contaminants and chemicals that might otherwise reach our creeks and streams. By limiting the amount of stormwater entering the sewer system, rain gardens help reduce combined sewer overflows. Excessive runoff can also erode banks and increase downstream flooding as well.
Rainscaping Pilot Program: Old North Rain Garden
The Old North Rain Garden was part of a five-year, $3 million rainscaping pilot program for MSD Project Clear that ran from 2010-2015. MSD built six neighborhood rain gardens such as this one, as well as smaller rain gardens and amended soils. The pilot program was designed to understand how these rainscaping components impact combined sewer overflows that can happen as a result of heavy rain events. It also included an agreement with the City of St. Louis to fund demolitions in exchange for space for rainscaping, monitoring, education and outreach. The results of the pilot program provided direction for full-implementation of Project Clear’s $100 million rainscaping effort.
Located near the intersection of Clinton and 14th Streets in St. Louis’ Old North neighborhood, the Old North Rain Garden can divert approximately 31,000 gallons of stormwater in a one-inch rain event from this area’s combined sewer system, reducing the likelihood of basement backups and sewer overflows. It manages almost all the stormwater runoff that falls on this block, 1.72 acres, by holding back the stormwater so it can soak into the ground, be used by plants, or slowly drain out after the storm has passed.
Click on photos to enlarge.