Minimizing floods, reducing pollution: UT celebrates new rain garden

October 5, 2009 | Events, UToday
By Jon Strunk

A recent nine-figure estimate by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent future flooding that has in recent years plagued the city of Findlay included a series of expensive water diversion pathways and a Herculean effort to remake the Hancock County landscape.

The University of Toledo Lake Erie Center will be visited by Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur to help highlight an alternative that can store floodwater, prevent storm sewers from being overwhelmed, all while improving water quality. UT will unveil a new rain garden Monday, Oct. 5, at 3:30 p.m. at the Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bayshore Road in Oregon.

The rain garden was designed by a local junior high school robotics team.

“Rain gardens provide green opportunities for storm water treatment and storage and water resource protection,” said Dr. Hans Gottgens, UT professor of environmental sciences. “At the same time, the gardens serve as natural laboratories for students and researchers and help preserve natural habitats for a diverse array of species.”

A rain garden is installed in a depression where floodwater might normally gather, Gottgens explained. Deep-rooted vegetation that tolerates wet soil is planted and when combined with imbedded irrigation drains, storm water is absorbed and slowly released into the surrounding soil, helping to prevent surface flooding.

The garden also serves as a natural filter as pollutants in the water are retained and broken down by microbes in the soil, leaving clean water to re-enter lakes, streams and the evaporation cycle, he added. A rain garden can be any size, formally landscaped or filled left to grow naturally.

“We anticipate that our Lake Erie rain garden demonstration project will not only purify our building and parking lot runoff water, but inspire the public and commercial sites to construct their own,” said Dr. Carol Stepien, UT director of the Lake Erie Center.

In fact, the University already has installed rain gardens on its Main Campus for educational, environmental and flood control purposes.

While no one is suggesting rain gardens alone can solve flooding problems as massive as those that occurred in Findlay, when faced with a price tag of more than $100 million, the city also might consider rain gardens to mitigate flooding in some of the city’s most sensitive areas.

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