One such resident is Gretchen Snider-Bassett. Snider-Bassett and her husband Scott Bassett won a free rain garden design and installation after participating in a Pierce Conservation District workshop in late March.
“When Scott won it I still wasn’t sure. But there’s a big book from WSU that’s put out by the cooperative extension,” said Snider-Bassett. She also drew on communications from Pierce County Surface Water Management and EarthCorps in Seattle to learn more.
A rain garden is a simple concept. “It’s a landscape feature that people can put into their yard, and essentially it will look like a garden,” said Melissa Buckingham of the Pierce Conservation District. “But the functionality is that we divert a bunch of runoff water that normally would cause a problem on your property into this garden area that then holds that water while it rains. That water then soaks into the ground when it stops raining.” The system prevents runoff from picking up pollutants from roadways or elsewhere and draining into open water.
The completed garden serves a dual purpose for its owner: “You get this really pretty landscaped garden in your yard, and the benefit for water quality is that you’re not letting that water get polluted and go into the local body of water,” Buckingham said.
Despite the uncomplicated premise of a rain garden, installation comes at a fairly significant cost and time expenditure. First, tests must be performed on the installation site to ensure that runoff can be directed to the location and the surrounding soil can absorb water well. After the site is approved, responsibility for the project is divided; organizations like Pierce Conservation District handle the design process, while the homeowner is responsible for hiring contractors and paying for plant materials.
“A homeowner would be looking at about $2,000 to $2,500 out of pocket for a project that costs about $5,000 overall,” Buckingham said. In Snider-Bassett’s case, the other half of the project funding came from an unexpected source.
“Without any asking, EarthCorps in Seattle just volunteered, out of nowhere, and they’re going to pay for the other half, labor and material donation,” Snider-Bassett said. EarthCorps, a Seattle-based conservation and habitat restoration nonprofit, is one of many organizations partnered with PCD to prevent water-borne pollution.
Snider-Bassett’s rain garden installation comes at a particularly important time for quality in local bodies of water. Several nearby shellfish harvesting beds were recently reclassified to a less favorable category by the Washington State Department of Health, and pollutant-laden runoff is suspected to be a key component in the degrading water quality. Area conservation organizations are attempting to combat these issues both through larger efforts and appeals to state health organizations, as well as smaller projects like filtration systems and rain gardens.
“A couple of rain gardens really can start to make the difference,” Buckingham said. “The analogy of death by a thousand cuts…that’s really where we’re at right now with Puget Sound. It’s been a lot of little things, and Vaughn Bay and Puget Sound are sick. So, conversely, it’s not going to be one big project that makes it better. It’s going to be a lot of small projects that convert into a really large positive impact.”