Raining in a new era of greenery

CORVALLIS — It doesn't look like an engineering marvel; the graceful front-yard arrangement of rock formations in Trish Daniels' front yard in the 300 block of Southwest Eighth Street instead looks like a collection of well-placed river rocks and strawberry plants, grasses, native flowers and a graceful old lilac bush. It's on two gently sloping tiers of ground that, in the summer, are appealing but not unusual.

In the winter, the garden becomes a water feature that looks like an expensive landscaping addition.

Actually, it's a rain garden, and it is the hottest landscaping trend to satisfy a long list of homeowner, environmental and landscaping issues.

It all started when the Danielses realized a few years ago that the stormwater line that ran from the gutters and under their lawn was cracked. The result?

"Our basement kept getting flooded," said Daniels, who is the Corvallis city councilor from Ward 2 near Oregon State University.

Under the direction of local landscaper David Sandrock, they established the rain garden.

Now they are enjoying status as pioneers in a growing trend.

And now Oregon State University is offering a guide that will help both novice gardeners and experts with instructions on how to save rainwater and redirect it for use (and reuse) to reduce water use and waste.

The Oregon Rain Garden Guide is produced by Oregon Sea Grant at OSU. An increasing number of Oregonians are disconnecting downspouts, building rain collection barrels and planting rain gardens to harvest water from their businesses, schools and front yards, according to co-author Robert Emanuel, an Oregon Sea Grant Extension specialist.

Rain gardens are sunken beds that absorb and treat stormwater runoff from rooftops, driveways and other paved surfaces. Runoff does not soak into the ground; instead it flows directly into sewers and surface waterways, such as streams or lakes.

Landscaped rain gardens intercept runoff to reduce floods, recharge drinking water — and filter oil, garden chemicals and other pollutants. Rain gardens also provide wildlife habitat.

The need for an uncomplicated, step-by-step guide for stormwater management motivated Emanuel and a team of experts. "We needed a book, something polished, that our workshop participants could take into the field," said Emanuel.

In the past year, Emanuel and Sea Grant Extension colleague Derek Godwin have helped coordinate about 20 "Stormwater Solutions" workshops around Oregon, from the southern coast to Portland. Builders, developers, civil engineers, city planners and other land development professionals learn from case studies about permits, site design and costs.

It's been a few years since the Danielses put in their garden, and vegetation now covers the thick black pipe that transports and collects rainwater from the roof and gutter for use in the garden

The mute testimony to saving water for a non-rainy day? At the end of a long, dry summer, the rain garden is green.

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