What rain can do for you

Being outside is good for you. Exposure to sunlight can help combat depression, regulate your internal clock and supplement your vitamin D intake. Gardening, once seen as a pastime for the elderly, has become trendy amongst America’s younger demographics. This is unsurprising given gardening’s universal appeal: It’s aesthetically pleasing, it’s good exercise and it’s a form of self-reliance.

It’s also good for the environment. Anyone living in southeast Michigan knows exactly how destructive storm water runoff can be. Without pointing fingers or assigning blame, storm water runoff has been a continuing issue for Macomb County. Having said this, gardening enthusiasts should be excited to hear that they can play a huge part in reducing storm water runoff, which positively impacts water quality and could even help mitigate flood damage. How? By doing what gardeners do best: planting things.

A rain garden is a manmade garden that absorbs rainwater. Go outside and look for the long piece of pipe that connects your gutter to the ground: It’s called a downspout. If you redirect the water coming from that downspout into a valley-type area, you have prevented that much water from entering our drains and streams. This is enormously beneficial for everybody because a vast majority of our drains and streams in southeastern Michigan find their way into Lake St. Clair, the Clinton River, the Detroit River, the Great Lakes and, eventually, our bodies.

A potential area of concern with respect to the construction of a rain garden is: Is it really a great idea to have a depository of organic and inorganic solids typically found in roads, sewers and chemically-treated lawns in your backyard? This is a perfectly reasonable question and the answer is: You bet it’s still a good idea. The most damaging things present in runoff with respect to our lakes and streams are nitrogen-rich compounds and phosphorus – two things which actually are beneficial to vegetation. In terms of toxic chemicals, petroleum by-products and other harmful components of runoff, these things are filtered and broken down by microbes created by decaying plant particles. This is the beauty of a rain garden; it’s a natural method of breaking down undesirable chemicals.

Alternatively, you can also purchase a rain barrel from this website. This will save you the trouble of funneling water from your downspout to your garden. You’ll still have to water the garden yourself.

Sierra Club’s Great Lakes Program has a PDF of the entire process of creating a rain garden, which you can access here. It shows you the price, the process and the best vegetation to plant in your garden.

Although rain gardens are hugely beneficial, I would only recommend rain gardens for true gardening enthusiasts. The creation and perpetuation of a healthy rain garden is no small task. For those of you who are less interested in gardening, but may have a passing interest in environmentally-friendly activities (and saving money!!), I would direct your attention to my other post: An Off Shade of Green.

Andres Villafane works as an intern in the Macomb County Executive Office.

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