Have you ever wondered where the rainwater goes once it goes down the storm drain? Kyle Cunningham, Environmental Specialist with the Municipality of Anchorage Watershed Management Services, thinks about it all of the time. He spoke to the Anchorage Science Pub at the Taproot on Sunday about the benefits of building a rain garden and how they can help local salmon. With an added incentive of financial reimbursement from the municipality, this summer may be the best time for residents to do it.
While the rain in Anchorage has thus far been absent, it will, in all likelihood, rain again. What happens when it rains, says Cunningham, is that rainwater carries pollutants and sediment into storm drains, where it generally gets washed out right into local streams.
Most people don’t understand that the drains that we see in our streets, in our city storm system, go directly to all of our creeks and the inlet. There’s not really much in the way of water treatment. A lot of people think that the water goes down the storm drains, goes to the sewage treatment plant, the same place as the drains in your toilets and and your property go, and that’s just not true.
Cunningham says that, at most, some storm drain systems will separate out the oil and grit before water enters the local creeks. This concoction of pollutants and silt (and whatever else may be lying on the street) can cause problems for the salmon using Anchorage streams to travel to spawning grounds. To combat the problem, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided funding to the Municipality of Anchorage’s Salmon in the City program. This funding provides reimbursement to Anchorage residents and commercial property owners for building rain gardens.Image courtesy of anchorageraingardens.com
According to the Rain Gardens: Anchorage website (and a few other places on the internet, too), “A rain garden is a depression in the landscape designed to catch and filter the water that runs off your roof, driveway, sidewalk, and other hard surfaces. Rain gardens often contain native plants that help absorb and filter runoff, leading to cleaner waterways.” Cleaner waterways lead to a better environment for salmon and salmon eggs, says Cunningham. As an added incentive, residents who invest in building a rain garden on their property can have 50 percent of the costs reimbursed by the municipality, up to a cap of $750. That money can even go toward paying professional landscapers. Schools that have participated in the program include Central Middle School, Dimond High School, Gruening Middle School, Mears Middle School, and Steller Secondary School (click on the link to see pictures of the garden). Cunningham added that commercial property owners that create a rain garden of at least 2,000 square feet can qualify for reimbursment of $.50 per square foot, up to a cap of $5,000.
The funding for Anchorage’s rain garden program ends at the close of 2014, leaving residents the remainder of an already short planting season to take advantage of help from the municipality. Cunningham emphasized his willingness to help if people are interested in building a rain garden. “We won’t design it for you,” he laughed, “but we’ll help where we can. Come to me with your questions and ideas.”
- Anchorage Rain Garden Information Brochure (PDF)