Rain garden flows out of effort to reduce stormwater runoff

By Kim Howard

A new rain garden behind Dorothy Alling Library in Williston will serve as a community model for reducing pollution.

The garden is a “demonstration of what individual homeowners can do to reduce the volume of stormwater runoff into their local streams,” said Carrie Deegan, coordinator of the project through the Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one of the leading causes of water quality impairment in the United States is stormwater runoff — water that flows from roofs, streets, parking lots and other surfaces into storm drains, carrying with it pollution from those areas into lakes, streams, rivers and oceans.

Rain gardens, planted with native perennial plants, are bowl-shaped. They catch and absorb rainwater that either falls onto it or is directed there through a roof gutter downspout extension. This reduces the amount of runoff into storm drains, which in turn diminishes pollution carried into local waterways.

In Williston, that local waterway is Allen Brook, which begins in town and 10 miles later feeds into the Winooski River. The state considers the Allen Brook watershed — an area comprising 6,900 acres — stormwater impaired. So it is considered a priority to reduce the runoff in the area.

Williston’s library was chosen because it is “a good educational demonstration site,” said Abbey Willard, Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District manager. School groups and families tend to frequent the library more than Town Hall, another site that had been under consideration, Deegan indicated.

“We plan to include the rain garden into some of our youth programming,” said Debbie Roderer, the library’s assistant director. Education will come in “showing it to the kids, explaining how it will benefit the watershed.”

The project was funded through an Environmental Protection Agency grant earmarked through Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office, according to Willard. Willard and Deegan’s district created four rain gardens in South Burlington earlier this summer. Next spring, rain gardens are planned for Butler Farms and Oak Creek developments in South Burlington.

Native perennials are the plant of choice for rain gardens because they do not need to be treated with fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides in order to thrive. In the library’s new garden, those perennials include bee balm, cinnamon ferns, lady ferns, blue cardinal lobelia and black-eyed Susans. Hostas also were planted, though they are not native, because a smaller selection of plants was available late season, Deegan said.

The 200-square-foot garden required the labor of seven people to level the soil, add compost, plant about 50 plants and attach a pipe to the end of the rain gutter that goes to the garden.

For homeowners who either do not have that kind of space in their yards, or who do not have that many willing volunteers, “you make a smaller one and put it in with your family over the weekend,” Deegan said.

For more details on building rain gardens, call Carrie Deegan at 865-7895, ext. 14.