Rain gardens are saucer-shaped gardens in which water from inclines can flow where grasses, flowers, and bushes are planted. The pool will collect the water for a short bit of time before absorbing back into the surrounding soil. They are designed to reduce stormwater runoff from an individual’s property. This polluted runoff can carry trash, chemicals, excess nutrients, and sediment into local waters and the Chesapeake Bay.
Rain gardens promote a greener home, as well as other environmental benefits. The garden is able to filter the water before it reaches the groundwater system. This allows for more vegetation in the area and can attract native wildlife like birds.
The county started installing rain gardens six years ago and will continue to do so. Over 300 have been built in neighborhoods, which are several feet deep. RainScapes is the program being utilized in Montgomery County; it can be installed on any kind of property, and Montgomery County will provide technical and financial support, as well as maintenance. Each stormwater addition costs about $25,000-35,000 for construction and design; however, this will vary based on the property. Maintenance costs that will be covered by the county are about $2,000. A rebate program is also offered as an incentive for properties and residents outside the areas of Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Takoma Park.
Montgomery County has recently been encouraging homeowners to install the RainScapes program, in the hopes of reducing fertilizer runoff in the Chesapeake Bay. The Environmental Protection Agency had released a new report on the conditions of the Chesapeake Bay, indicating that three mid-Atlantic states had not met their goals to protect rivers. Since Maryland did not meet its goals to lower nitrogen and phosphorous runoff levels in 2015, Montgomery County has been pushing the landscape reconstruction with funding from the County’s Water Quality Protection Charge.
However, some residents in Wheaton Woods are opposed to the idea. The county is trying to convince them that 20 to 40 rain gardens are the way to go. The biggest complaint being that it is dangerous; they are large holes that people can fall in. One resident described how “It was full of leaves and they didn’t see it. They fell down. They fell in.” Another said, “We refuse to call these gardens. They are pits.”
Residents in Kensington Estates have voiced their concern over how “[…] the pollutants that were filtering off into the bay are now sitting in [their] side yard.” And if not done properly, property values can drop. Rain gardens can also attract pests and rodents because ones that do not drain correctly will create pools of water that could serve as undesirable breeding grounds. With the depth of the gardens and the amount of water that can collect, a drowning hazard is also presented.
In Sligo Creek, one homeowner mentioned that, “Overall I would say there is tremendous support for [the rain gardens] in the neighborhood.” And the Director of Montgomery County’s Department of Environment Protection said to WJLA, “It’s not a hazard […] I think you heard from some residents who say how happy they are with the facilities here.”
It is too early to observe any real changes, and studies of whether the rain gardens have really made an impact will be released in the near future.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Shane Querubin of Richard Montgomery High School