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WA Fights Water Pollution with Rain Gardens

April 20, 2011

SEATTLE - One of history's wettest springs in many parts of Washington underscores the purpose of a new campaign to create 12,000 Rain Gardens in the dozen counties that surround Puget Sound.

A rain garden can work in any urban area to filter pollution from rainwater and prevent flooding. It involves making a slight depression in the land, planted with greenery to catch and hold rainwater runoff from roofs and driveways. A rain garden has to be positioned "just so" to do the job, but Stacey Gianis, Stewardship Partners project manager, says it can be attractive as well as functional.

"We generally install a lot of natives, but also some hardy cultivars to add color and interest. There's plants that bloom at all different seasons, and so there's always something new and colorful in the garden."

A proper rain garden needs from 150 to 400 square feet, and the soil has to be tested first to see if it has good enough drainage to do the job. Kurt Moulton, director of Washington State University's Snohomish County Extension Service, says the project doesn't have to be expensive.

"Part of it is on your own ability, because you can hand-dig these or, if you like to use equipment, you can rent a backhoe and create your depressions. And also, it's what plants you want to have in there."

If there's not enough room in an individual yard, Gianis says, it could be a neighborhood project.

"We've installed several rain gardens as community projects, where all the neighbors get to know each other and it's pretty exciting to see everybody working together. They can also increase home value."

Campaign creators say 12,000 rain gardens would be able to filter 160 million gallons of polluted runoff each year. It's an ambitious goal, Gianis says, but Kansas City and San Francisco have set goals of 10,000 - and the state of Washington gets enough rain to do better than that.

A new website,, has links to county Conservation Districts, WSU and other sources for creating rain gardens - or for registering an existing site so it can be counted toward the 12,000 goal.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA