A garden that works – for homeowners and clean water

September 26, 2013

The traditional water pollution prevention story goes something like this: industrial operator, either nefariously or ignorantly, dumps nasty stuff into the water. Someone cries foul – often an intrepid group of scrappy environmentalists – and regulators step in. The polluter gets a big fine, agrees to change their ways and the pollution stops. The scrappy enviros pick up their binoculars and go back to scouring the shoreline for bad guys.

But that isn’t how it works anymore in many places around the U.S.

As our communities have grown, more and more land has been paved over, replacing native vegetation and its ability to filter rainwater. When rain hits impervious surfaces like roads and driveways, it picks up oil, heavy metals and other pollutants. Development pressure has forced our wastewater and stormwater systems to take on more and more volume – and they just can’t keep up. They end up dumping huge amounts of this toxic runoff into lakes, rivers and streams.

This toxic runoff is the biggest source of Puget Sound pollution – and we’re all a part of the problem. Which means we’ll all need to be part of the solution!

Cities, towns, communities and even individual neighborhoods around the Sound are trying to treat rainfall where it lands, keeping runoff out of the sewer system and pollution out of Puget Sound. Not only do rain gardens and other green infrastructure look great and filter pollution, they also often end up being cheaper and more effective than traditional “grey” infrastructure, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But in order to handle enough runoff to protect Puget Sound, we will need a lot of it, all over the place. Yet getting green infrastructure in the ground requires communications planning. If done wrong, you risk a community backlash against unwanted change. If done right, it can bring a community together and build civic engagement.

With the help of the green infrastructure community of Puget Sound, Resource Media put together this communications and outreach guide. It includes best outreach practices, effective messaging and troubleshooting for anyone promoting rain gardens: in individual yards, at schools or parks, or collaborating with a government partner on a public project.

Similar communities around the country are using green infrastructure to solve the challenge of polluted runoff. Beautifying yards, fighting pollution, and bringing communities together: these are the hardest working gardens you’ve ever seen!

Brendan McLaughlin