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RI couple installs 4 rain gardens to catch storm water
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RI couple installs 4 rain gardens to catch storm water

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Mark and Suzanne Tanner love their 1925 brick bungalow in Rock Island's Broadway Historic District, but they'd had some "wet basement issues" during heavy rains.

Tanner happened to mention this to his minister, who told him about a landscape technique that could help — the installation of a rain garden. The latter is a depression, or small dry pond, dug into the ground that collects storm water, then infiltrates it into the ground without contributing to flooding and keeping it out of basements.

The minister also informed Tanner that the city has a program in which it will reimburse residents part of the cost as a way of reducing flooding and water pollution.

That sounded good to the Tanners, so they contacted Mik Holgersson, owner of Vildmark Inc., a Rock Island company that does ecological consulting, planning, design and project installation, to design a rain garden plan for their backyard.

Part of the project was to extend the home's downspouts, burying them underground and having them come out in the rain garden about 30 feet from their home.

In this way, water from their roof was directed far away from the foundation where it could seep into the basement.

Holgersson did the design and engineering as well as dig the depression. Because the back yard is a tight fit, Holgersson couldn't get mechanical  equipment into the yard so he had to dig by hand, with a shovel.

He also installed stones within the garden and around the perimeter.

One of the factors in designing the garden is to make sure the soil is the type that will absorb water. If it is all clay, which is virtually impermeable to water, then it has to be amended or replaced with soil that will be able to infiltrate whatever quantity of rain the homeowner decides upon. 

But in the Tanner's case, the soil was good as-was.

After the space was dug, Tanner put mulch over the bare ground and planted perennial flowers such as black-eyed Susans and Siberian iris.

"This will fill up pretty good (in a rain)," Tanner said. "But it all leaches into the soil within 24 hours."

In addition to dealing with stormwater, another benefit in Tanner's eyes is the garden reduces the amount of yard he has to mow.

The city program

Plus, he was reimbursed by the program that grants up to $4 per square foot of rain garden, not to exceed $3,000 per project. The maximum reimbursement is based on the amount of water collected. The $4 figure is the amount the city figures would just about cover a homeowner's costs if he did the work himself.

The program also gives participants a flat-rate break of 50%, or up to $2.46 per month, on their stormwater fee.

The rain garden program started in 2005 after employees in the public works department recommended them as one way to comply with new federal pollution control requirements.

That's because when the water is infiltrated into the ground — rather than letting it run off, carrying pollutants — it is naturally cleansed and the pollutants are absorbed.

Since the program began, 193 rain gardens have been installed through the program, with a total of $343,667 contributed by the city, Andy Parer, stormwater technician, said.

Added together, the rain gardens amount to 95,124 square feet scattered in little pieces all over the city that are absorbing and cleansing stormwater and reducing flooding, Parer said,

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The Tanners liked their rain garden so much they have since had Holgersson install three more, two in the front on either side of the sidewalk to the front door and one in the sloped backyard that is long and narrow, looking something like a dry creek bed.

A yard's topography determines the configuration of the rain garden, Holgersson said. The garden that looks like a dry creek bed is about 40 feet long and stair-stepped down so that when water hits, there will be a cascading effect.

"It will capture some of that (storm water) instead of sending it to the storm sewers," Holgersson said.

Now, every one of the Tanners' downspouts channels into a rain garden, and his total reimbursement has been around $8,000.

"Everything that comes off the roof comes down off the roof and into the ground," Tanner said. 

The Tanners' lot is not huge — about 100 feet wide and 120 feet deep — but even with the four rain gardens they still have room for raised planting beds in which to grow produce such as tomatoes, peppers, basil and sweet potatoes.

There's also space for a hot tub, two fruit trees (peach and apple), a shed for tools and equipment and a large garage for in which Tanner keeps inventory for his antiques business, called Olde Barn Vintage Antiques and Things.

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