rain garden

Rain garden in the Allen Centennial Gardens on the campus of the University of Wisconsin Madison. 

Hurricane Irma’s torrential downpour showed the denizens of the University of Georgia just how much water this campus can hold. Athens was not prepared for the amount of water it would receive in Irma’s flash flooding, and this problem will only get worse as climate-change-related natural disasters increase in severity.

We need a new system to manage our rain runoff that doesn’t involve constructing more sewage systems and treatment facilities. The natural route is more logical, since plants have been managing water runoff for eons. UGA should use ecologically significant vegetation in the form of rain gardens to manage excess storm water.

Traditional stormwater management is, to put it plainly, flawed. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, impervious surfaces like concrete cause large amount of accumulated water to rush downhill, collecting any debris or contaminants it encounters. The water then enters a storm drain, where it's often untreated, polluted form enters natural water bodies. With a majority of campus covered in impervious surfaces, there is little opportunity for storm water to dissipate or purify during its journey from city to stream.

Rain gardens are natural, low cost alternative to storm drains. They consist of native plants held in a depression in the ground that is designed to hold rainwater runoff for short periods of time. Rain gardens can remove up to 90 percent of nutrients and chemicals and up to 80% of sediments from the rainwater runoff. They’re good for much more than their looks.

The best part is that rain gardens are cheap to construct, costing a maximum of $10-15 per square foot. Depending on the the use of native plants or not, upkeep is minimal since native plants adjust well to native climates and can contain themselves well. The permeable soil allows water to seep into the subterranean watersheds, eliminating the need for more water drainage lines and sewer pipes he. Not only that, but the water is immediately treated and purified by the plants in the garden, so it reduces cost in stormwater treatment. UGA already pays staff to manage the ornamental plants around campus, so why not the ecologically purposeful ones too?

We’re already starting to see few rain gardens pop up around campus. There’s a rain garden in front of the biological sciences building, an aesthetically pleasing addition to this campus rather than the copious water run-off openings off the sides of streets.

Rain gardens can’t and shouldn’t replace all sewage opening systems, but they should be able to edify the treatment systems we already have. As global temperatures heat up and weather patterns become more severe, we’ll need inexpensive ways to manage the amount of flooding on campus so that we may upkeep safety and stave off damage-related costs. Rain gardens do that.

UGA already invests money, time and labor into landscape upkeep. Why not use those same resources to sculpt rain gardens that control water runoff and help improve the beauty of campus?

Rainstorms can be dangerous for UGA’s students and other passersby on campus. When it comes to flooding, rain gardens provide the rain check we desperately need.

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