Want to build a rain garden? Love Creek Watershed Stewards can help.

Posted 3/24/21

SILER CITY — Loves Creek Watershed Stewards, in partnership with environmentalists from N.C. State University, will host the first in a series of workshops on Saturday to help Siler City residents …

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Want to build a rain garden? Love Creek Watershed Stewards can help.

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SILER CITY — Loves Creek Watershed Stewards, in partnership with environmentalists from N.C. State University, will host the first in a series of workshops on Saturday to help Siler City residents mitigate stormwater drainage issues and beautify their properties.

Sarah Waickowski — a member of LCWS and a professional engineer and extension associate at N.C. State’s dept. of biological and agricultural engineering — along with N.C. State Area Specialized Agent Mitch Woodward, an expert on watersheds and water quality, will teach up to 30 attendees how to construct and maintain rain gardens.

“Basically, a rain garden is an infiltration area with native plants in it that works better than a patch of turf grass or a lawn,” Woodward said.

The point is to introduce a section of land more capable of stormwater absorption than regular ground, thereby minimizing flood propensity.

“We talk about the ‘Three S’s,’” Woodward said. “The key to stormwater is slow it down, spread it out and soak it in.”

Whenever buildings are constructed, accompanying drainage systems are necessary to accommodate rain waters that can no longer soak into the ground beneath the structure’s footprint. In neighborhoods, Waickowski and Woodward said, that often means grading the land to direct excess water toward a retention pond. But rain gardens offer a more effective solution by slowing the water’s spread, affording it time to disperse organically.

The value of rain garden installation is hard to quantify, Waickowski says. On a single piece of land, it’s unlikely a rain garden will make an obvious and measurable difference in stormwater runoff, although it may prevent sediment displacement on properties especially prone to flooding.

Taken cumulatively, though — if many Siler City residents were to install rain gardens — the town could see flooding decrease.

“There’s a lot of flooding issues in Siler City,” Waickowski said. “These residential rain gardens will not stop the flooding into, say, Piggly Wiggly, but they will help. They’re a step in the right direction helping that flooding that’s occurring.”

Siler City is especially susceptible to flooding compared to most Chatham locations. Most of the town, including all of downtown, lies within Loves Creek Watershed, an 8-square-mile, 400-acre water system that drains into the Rocky River. Under heavy rains, it often induces floods across town.

The problem is exacerbated by the watershed’s impairment. Much of the water’s natural flow is obstructed and widespread pollution worsens the issue.

But Woodward admits most people will not go through the effort of rain garden construction and maintenance just to imperceptibly assist with the town’s flooding issues. For most, the incentive is beauty.

“People care less about stormwater and more about plants,” he said. “So if you have a plant lover, like I think we’ll have on Saturday for the workshop, they’re very excited about this because instead of having this monoculture of grasses, right now we can have some plants there that like wet feet, and flower and look like a native landscape.”

If that sounds like you, what can you expect at the rain garden workshop?

“Because of COVID, we’re going to abbreviate this,” Woodward said.

Normally, workshops last four to six hours, but the program will be compressed into two hours with supplementary instruction offered online.

“But what we’re going to focus on is the part that people really enjoy, which is plant installation,” Woodward said. “And also mulching.”

The “hard part,” Waickowski said — excavating a plot to create a necessary “depression” in the land — was completed in advance on Monday. But she and Woodward will still teach how to identify the best rain garden site on a property, and how large it should be for an effective stormwater cushion.

“We’ll also talk about maintenance,” she said. “So, what you should expect in terms of how much time you’ll need to spend, and associated costs.”

On average, rain gardens will be about 10 feet by 10 feet in size and cost between $1 and $2 per square foot to install, Woodward says, if one doesn’t hire out the labor. Later expenses include new plant life, fresh mulch and the time it takes to keep a rain garden healthy and functional.

“So, it’s not for everyone,” Waickowski said. “But it can make a real difference, and they make for real neighborhood amenities.”

If you’re interested in attending LCWS’ rain garden workshop, visit https://cvent.me/qMrzOL to reserve your spot. The event will run from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday. Event location will be shared after registration.

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.


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