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Buffalo Township prepares first municipal rain garden

Supervisor Dan Przybylek contends that the upcoming installation of a "rain garden" behind the township building could position Buffalo Township as a local leader in environmentally friendly methods for controlling stormwater runoff.

While he admitted the plan "only scratches the surface" of efforts to control flooding and pollution, Przybylek characterized the work as "avant-garde" and said: "It will pay off as we move forward into a new era of dealing with water quality."

Erin Brown, a Chatham University graduate student, has designed a rain garden — technically, a bioretention area — to sit behind the township building. In a presentation she delivered Wednesday, she outlined how the man-made ecosystem will capture and store excess runoff.

The intention is to prevent the runoff from polluting streams and the Allegheny River. It also should help thwart flooding and stream-bank erosion.

"It basically amounts to innovative stormwater management, which has become a big thing with everybody going green," she said.

Brown said the technique can be applied by residents on their properties. While installing a rain garden involves more than planting a flower bed, homeowners can do the work with minimal effort and cost, she said.

Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, said residents could install a rain garden at a cost ranging from $200 to $1,000, depending on its size and design.

Bonner is involved with Three Rivers Rain Garden Alliance, which promotes the use of rain gardens for controlling runoff.

Brown, 26, of Cheswick, said plants used in a rain garden need to be able to survive in wet soil, and that the soil itself can't be compacted. Larger rain gardens require a drainage system, she said.

"The goal is basically to get water back into the ground," she said.

Przybylek said he supports the idea of residents and businesses using rain gardens to control runoff, especially as the township grows.

"We have to grow sensibly," he said. "This is a practical application."

Przybylek said the area "is blessed with the clean water in the upper Allegheny River," which he argues should attract business and industries to the township.

"We should be thriving," he said. "(Clean) water could be the catalyst. It's something other places don't have."

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