Students pose in the newly planted rain garden.
This is the site where the Green Valley Rain Garden was installed before construction began.
Heavy equipment was used to build the Green Valley Rain Garden, but many are built on a smaller scale!
Students helped construct the rain garden by planting plants.
The completed rain garden will help manage runoff from the school's paved surfaces.
Students and teachers unveil a new educational sign.
For years, Green Valley Elementary School teachers in Frederick County, Md. were forced to park in a muddy puddle after every storm. Stormwater would rush down from an upslope dirt ball field and combine with water washing off buildings and blacktop to collect in the lowest corner of the lot. This puddle was not only a nuisance, but it highlighted the need to better manage stormwater runoff and erosion at the school.
Stormwater runoff is one of the greatest causes of stream and water quality degradation in our region. After every storm event, rain water washes off impervious surfaces such as parking lots, sidewalks and lawns and rushes into our local rivers and streams. This pollutant-laden runoff contains pesticides, fertilizers, toxic chemicals, sediments and more, wreaking havoc on water quality and wildlife habitat. Thankfully, through simple measures taken by regular citizens, it is possible to slow and absorb polluted water before it reaches our streams. Converting lawn areas to natural cover, planting trees, collecting water in rain barrels or installing rain gardens are just a few of the many steps schools can take to help improve water quality.
Green Valley Rain Garden Project
Green Valley Elementary School wanted to find an environmentally healthy way to correct their stormwater problem. They teamed up with the Potomac Conservancy, who secured a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust to carry out a plan that would prevent the muddy puddle from forming in the parking lot while creating an important educational opportunity for their students. The plan included three elements:
- The eroding ball field, which once funneled stormwater straight down to the parking lot, was re-graded to redirect runoff into the surrounding woodlands where it could be absorbed naturally;
- Eroding slopes were terraced and a grassy ‘swale’ was installed to direct excess stormwater away from the parking area; and
- Stormwater was ultimately funneled into a 1,100 square foot rain garden that was constructed in front of the school.
Rain gardens are specially designed gardens that capture stormwater and use it to nourish a beautiful community of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. They also make great hands-on learning opportunities for students. Green Valley’s ‘Earthology’ Club, a group of more than 30 ambitious 4th and 5th graders, proudly adopted the garden and have planted more than 150 native plants. They will continue to get their hands dirty as they weed, water and mulch the garden to ensure that the young plants thrive.
Perhaps more importantly, the club is now spreading its new environmental expertise by educating other students at Green Valley on the value of rain gardens. The students will be providing an all-school presentation and they recently installed a colorful interpretive sign in front of the garden. Because the garden is located directly in front of the school entrance, all visitors to the school will see it and the signage, impacting thousands of current and future students, teachers, parents and other visitors.
Creating Your Own Rain Garden
Due to the complex stormwater problems at the school, the Green Valley project was more ambitious than many schoolyard rain garden projects need to be. Heavy equipment was used to re-grade the slopes and excavate the garden. Thankfully, most rain garden projects are much smaller and can be done more simply using basic tools like shovels, garden tillers and volunteers! You will want to ensure that your garden is placed where it can adequately capture runoff (e.g. not on top of a hill or in the wettest part of your yard) and is of sufficient size to absorb the volume of stormwater going into it. There are lots of good resources that will take you through the planning, construction and planting steps to help you create a functional and beautiful garden for your school. Try the following two resources to start:
But most importantly, have fun!