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How rainscaping can solve storm runoff problems

| Sunday, March 3, 2013, 2:15 p.m.

Stormwater runoff can quickly drain a homeowner's wallet. The flooding erodes yards, soaks basements, pollutes streams and wastes a precious resource.

But rainscaping — an integrated system of directed water flow and settling basins — can convert those losses into gains by providing new wildlife habitat, beautifying properties and, in some cases, providing food for the dinner table.

“It's becoming a pattern of capture and reuse rather than simply moving the water off,” said Pat Sauer, Rainscaping Iowa Program administrator. “There are more options out there than just rain gardens. We're looking more comprehensively at what can be done on the landscape.”

Yards vary, and rainscaping designs must be site specific. Suggestions:

• Perk. Conduct a soil test to see whether your yard will percolate (drain) rainwater. If it doesn't perk, then all you'll be left with is standing water. If your yard is hard, like concrete, you'll have to improve the soil.

• Plant native. Prairie plants and woodland seedlings with deep roots help soak up stormwater, filter pollutants and recharge groundwater levels. Using native plants also helps ensure they'll survive their new setting.

• Installing a residential rain garden, which is a saucer-like depression in the ground that captures rain from a downspout, driveway or patio, is the simplest and least-expensive way to retain stormwater.

• Use permeable materials like bricks, paving blocks or gravel on driveways and walkways, with spacing that allows water to seep into the soil.

• Edibles. Berries, asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, fruit trees, winter squash, Brussels sprouts, and culinary and tea herbs can be creative additions in the right rain0garden sites, but use them with care. Be aware of from where the water is flowing into your rain garden. Rain gardens serving to intersect runoff from potentially polluted surfaces are not ideal for edibles unless soil and water nutrients are tested and monitored.

• Rain gardens and related rainscaping features give homeowners a chance to be part of the stormwater and pollution solution, while serving aesthetic and functional purposes, says Bob Spencer, RainWise program manager for the City of Seattle. “Not only are the gardens attractive landscaping, they are protecting our water bodies and the creatures that live there,” he says.

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