Rain Gardens and Stormwater Management

Finished Rain Garden at Fort Adams. Photo: ACEA/Gilles Martin-Raget

Sailors for the Sea worked with RI DEM, America's Cup sailors and staff this morning to build a rain garden here at Fort Adams in Newport. We hope that this conservation activity will provide a demonstration project for proper stormwater management and leave a legacy of ocean conservation here after the event is over. But what exactly is a rain garden?

Rain gardens are a natural, energy efficient way of reducing the impacts of storm water runoff. Heavy rains over paved areas result in water rushing in torrents to the nearest storm drains, carrying with it pollutants and causing erosion, flooding, and other infrastructure problems. Nonpoint source pollution (as from parking lots) is one of the leading sources of coastal pollution (for more info check out our Ocean Watch Essay on nonpoint source pollution). Rain gardens combat this problem naturally. Rain gardens are landscaped depressions, located in areas where rainwater tends to pool or flood, planted with native species resilient to heavy rain. They collect intense runoff and slow its movement, allowing rain to infiltrate deeper into the soil. As it travels through the ground, rain water is filtered by plants and the soil. The combination of filtering, biological activity, plant uptake, and adsorption of pollutants onto soil grains dramatically improves local water quality.

Here at Fort Adams, parking spaces and portions of a median planted with invasive species were cleared to make way for the rain garden. A 4' deep hole was dug and filled in with gradated, permeable soil materials to allow for better drainage. This rain garden will not only improve the water quality of runoff in nearby Brenton Cove, but with it's colorful, native plantings is an attractive addition to the area.

Rain gardens are easy to build at home, and can help improve the water quality in your area and reduce flooding around your house. For more information, check out these easy to follow steps for constructing your own backyard rain garden.