Flooding, Pollution, and Rain Gardens

By Travis Dominguez for SUST 240

Upon first hearing of it, we might feel the concept of a garden specifically for rain collection seems a bit odd. However, in recent years, Schaumburg has been making efforts to plant the concept of rain gardens amongst its residents in light of their ecological benefits, which include flood control and protection of both ground and surface water sources by acting as pollution filters.

With urbanization, once-green landscapes have become increasingly painted with the hues of asphalt and concrete, the foundations for modern structures that serve as homes, offices, and Walmarts.  The green still sported by this urbanized environment includes aesthetically pleasing but non-native plant species that require extra care. For example, the long grasses that once characterized native Illinois have been supplanted by turf grass, a rather high-maintenance relative that needs water, the application of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and frequent mowing (adding fossil fuels for power to the list) in order to uphold its pleasantly green appearance.

The consequences for having thus reshaped our environment have become increasingly apparent during times of heavy rain. Flooding has become an annual occurrence where it once was not. The impermeability of paved surfaces rendered those areas incapable of absorbing storm waters as they once did. Areas laden with turf grass, with its shallow root systems, are similarly impaired in their ability to absorb precipitation, contributing further to the volume of rain water runoff that overwhelms drainage systems.  The excess water results in flooding while the sewer system struggles to keep up by dumping it into various waterways, such as Salt Creek. Unfortunately, by this time, rain water has picked up a number of pollutants, including sediments, fertilizers, petroleum, and other chemical residues which are then deposited into these bodies of water – causing degradation of downstream ecosystems.

Rain garden (photo: SUNY-ESF, Stormwater Mangement)

Rain garden (photo: SUNY-ESF, Stormwater Management)

Spreading the concept of backyard rain gardens represents an effort to provide measures of flood and pollution control. A rain garden is essentially a shallow impression in the landscape that has been planted with native grasses and wildflowers. These species require little maintenance because they have evolved to fit the environment. Furthermore, the root systems of native plant species are better suited for water uptake and transpiration than ordinary turf grass. Additionally, they act as natural water filters. Pollution and sediments swept up by storm waters are absorbed into plant tissues, reducing contamination of ground and surface water.

Several organizations, such as the Rain Garden Network, exist to provide information on the value of rain gardens as well as information on cultivation. Ultimately, community wide-involvement is needed to further extend impact of local rain gardens, but each addition nonetheless provides substantial benefits.

Each week during the Fall 2013 semester, students in the SUST 240 Waste Schaumburg class at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

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About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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