H2bid Blog

Rain Catchers

Runoff from rainfall can cause significant problems for local communities. Runoff carries with it soil, pet waste, pesticides, oil & other pollutants. This polluted storm water often flows directly into creeks and streams contaminating them and the larger rivers that they feed, fouling the water for humans, plants and animals. There are easy ways to minimize runoff and allow more water to gradually soak into the local aquifers namely rain gardens, rain barrels and cisterns. While easy to implement when initially developing land implementing these solutions in already-developed areas can be a challenge. Recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked with one community in Ohio to address the problem in a novel manner.

Mt. Airy Rain Catchers is an EPA project that enlisted the help of Mt. Airy (Ohio) neighborhood partners to install rain gardens and rain barrels in their yards. The EPA’s goal is to evaluate how these individual, household actions can improve local water quality. To quantify the impact of these measures, the EPA is monitoring the health of the local watershed, Shepherd Creek. Data was gathered before the installation of rain barrels and rain gardens; this will be compared to the data collected in the years following the installation, allowing a complete understanding of the project’s impact. The EPA chose this community because rainwater runoff was impairing the health of Shepherd Creek.

A rain garden is essentially the opposite of a raised-bed garden. A bowl-shaped depression is dug into the ground and native plants that develop large root systems are planted in the ‘bowl’. The plants are covered with loose mulch and left to nature. By siting the rain gardens in areas that see rainfall run-off streams and puddles, much more of the rainfall can be captured. In fact, up to 30% more rainfall is captured by a lawns with rain gardens versus a traditional lawns. Rain barrels are exactly what the name implies. By placing these barrels under gutter downspouts, the roof runoff is collected; a valve at the base of the barrel allows the rainwater to be dispensed and used for gardening and household plants.

What is most interesting however is the novel approach that the EPA took in implementing these solutions within the community. The project began with the installation of a rain barrel and two demonstration rain gardens at the community arboretum. In the spring if 2007, the EPA mailed informational packets to property owners in the community. Each home was eligible to receive up to four rain barrels and a rain garden; homeowners could chose to receive either or both. Installation, planting and hardware costs were borne by the EPA. Homeowners bid the amount they wished to be paid for installation and maintenance of rain gardens and rain barrels. Lower payments (lower bids) were more likely to be selected. After the auction-winners were selected, US EPA’s contractors installed 50 rain gardens and 101 rain barrels at the selected homes in the summer of 2007. Each rain catcher owner received an owner’s manual.
This is the largest project of its kind in the country, to date. It also is a pilot program to test the auction-based method of encouraging the public to participate in reducing storm water runoff and pollution at the household level. By taking such a proactive approach to the problem, the EPA was able to engage the individual property owners and make them ‘stakeholders’ in their community’s watershed. In addition to viewing their rain gardens as points of neighborhood pride, the citizens in the community are now more educated about their own watershed resources.