Stormwater runoff is a statewide issue, including in Hamilton County. However, the uncertainty of local homeowners and municipalities on the applicability and effectiveness of green infrastructure (GI) practices has resulted in the lack of their use throughout the county. To address this issue, the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District (District) implemented several Green Infrastructure Demonstration Projects at their office building to offer the public and municipalities the chance to see the installation and use of GI stormwater practices, while capturing and reusing the stormwater runoff from their facilities. These demonstration projects provide an excellent educational tool to illustrate and promote the numerous benefits of rain gardens, bioswales, and rain barrel systems.
Rain gardens are landscaped depressions that capture and absorb stormwater from impermeable surfaces. Water is diverted from the District roof through an underground pipe into the rain garden. The rain garden infiltrates stormwater, and native plants and soil remove pollutants. This prevents stormwater pollution from flowing into a storm drain that eventually empties into a water body. Only native Adirondack plants were utilized in this rain garden. Invasive plants like purple loosestrife and yellow iris may be beautiful but reproduce rapidly to cause economic, ecologic, and societal harm. Additional benefits include preventing soil erosion, and providing superb habitat for butterflies, birds, and other animals. Rain gardens can easily be installed on a homeowner's property or at a municipal office to prevent stormwater pollution.
Bioswales are installed in new or existing drainage courses in an effort to reduce stormwater velocity and remove sediment and debris before the water is discharged into a surface water. At the District, an existing dirt drainage swale was remediated to include vegetation to illustrate their use and effectiveness to local municipalities and homeowners. This will also decrease the amount of sediment discharged into the nearest storm drain. Flowering plants are a good option to plant in a bioswale on a homeowner's property because they help to soak up water and dry the area out. Municipalities will need to install check dams, or piles of angular rocks placed in a ditch at certain intervals to slow water velocity and allow sediment to settle. This helps to clean water before it enters a storm drain. A bit of maintenance is needed to periodically clean out the ditches with an excavator. A design plan is needed for correct check dam installation
Rain barrels harvest rainwater from roofs and prevent stormwater pollution. This project demonstrates 2 ways to distribute water collected from the District roof via rain barrels. One rain barrel system harvests and stores water from the District roof and re-uses it to water the pollinator garden. An external electric pump sucks water from the rain barrel and pushes it through the garden hose. The pollinator garden is home to specific native flowers that attract butterflies, birds, flies, and bees. These pollinators make it possible for crops to grow and plants and flowers to flourish. The other rain barrel system harvests and stores water from the District roof and re-uses it to water the vegetable garden. The spigot is turned on and water is gravity fed from the rain barrel to the soaker hose. A soaker hose is used to prevent water that may be contaminated with wildlife feces from splashing onto the vegetables. Homeowners can install rain barrels on their property to fill pools, water gardens, and wash cars, while municipalities can install larger cisterns to harvest greater volumes of water at their facilities.
Environmental issues addressed by this project:
a. Stormwater pollution: In Hamilton County, stormwater pollution occurs when rainwater or snowmelt runs over impervious surfaces, picks up pollution such as salt, pet waste, automotive fluids, and fertilizer, and flows into storm drains that dump into rivers and lakes. Stormwater pollution prevention practices such as rain gardens, bioswales and rain barrels can be efficiently and inexpensively implemented to protect water quality and quantity, essential aspects of public health, a vibrant local economy, and a blooming ecosystem.
b. Invasive plants: Only native Adirondack plants will be utilized in the rain gardens, highlighting the importance of planting native, not invasive. Invasive plants like purple loosestrife, yellow iris, and yellow floating heart may be beautiful, but outcompete native vegetation for light, growing space, and soil nutrients. As invasive plants spread, wildlife loose habitat, nesting grounds, and food sources. Utilizing only native plants in the rain gardens will benefit the ecosystem and teach the public the importance of going native, not invasive. The economy will also benefit as invasive plants are expensive to manage and control.
c. Water quantity: The concept of water conservation and reuse will be addressed by the rain barrel demonstration project. Even though water is classified as a renewable resource, we should all be conscious on how to reduce our water usage so that periods of drought are not as severe. During the summer, garden and lawn watering account for 40% of total household water usage, and a rain barrel can save a homeowner approximately 1,300 gallons of water throughout the summer months. The rain barrel installed at the District office will provide a reliable source of clean water for free. Water that is harvested in the rain barrel will be used to wash District vehicles, the motor boat, and water gardens. Instead of turning on the hose, water stored in the rain barrel will be used, demonstrating an efficient conservation practice.
d. Water quality: Water quality will be impacted by the rain gardens and bioswale. Water quality may improve in this localized area. Compared to a lawn, rain gardens can absorb 30% more water because they slow water velocity and allow for greater infiltration rates. Plants and soil trap sediment and filter out stormwater pollutants, helping to purify the water that flows into Lake Pleasant. By decreasing stormwater runoff, streambank and shoreline erosion are reduced, aquatic communities maintain their health, and groundwater is recharged. The rain barrel will also impact water quality. Water collected in a rain barrel never hits soil and helps prevent erosion and pollution runoff. In addition, rainwater does not contain salts, fluorides, and other additives found in tap water, giving garden plants and soil a healthy drink.
• This project was made possible by funding provided by the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute through a grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
• The Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District provided in kind and financial support to make this project possible.
• Hamilton County Highway Department provided installation assistance.
• Fiddlehead Creek Farm and Native Plant Nursery gave a generous discount on native Adirondack plants for the rain garden, bioswale, and pollinator garden.