The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 7, 2012

Volunteers dig rain gardens for better water quality

By Josh Letner

JOPLIN, Mo. — Volunteers, including some from Kansas City and Springfield, got to work Saturday afternoon building rain gardens for several nonprofit organizations throughout Joplin.

The project was part of Operation Backyard Recovery, an initiative sponsored by the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center. Kerstin Landwer, the center’s development and volunteer coordinator, said the program is intended to help restore and rebuild habitats throughout Joplin in the wake of the May 22 tornado.

The office of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce was selected to receive a new rain garden. As several volunteers worked to clear Bermuda grass from the site of the future garden, Val Frankoski, of Joplin, paused to reflect on the opportunities the tornado left behind.

“One of the things the tornado did was provide opportunities for maybe doing things a little greener,” she said. “We have a big stormwater issue. People building their houses back may not think that a rain garden can do much, but every little bit we do accomplishes a great deal.

“We want some way to contain the water, slow it down and let it soak in. We don’t want it going straight into storm drains that go into our creeks.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nearly 70 percent of the pollution in surface water gets there through stormwater runoff. The agency also notes that 50 percent of that pollution is chemicals from lawn care products and yard waste.

Landwer said one way to prevent harmful chemicals and yard waste from reaching streams is to install a rain garden. A rain garden captures water that runs off your roof, driveway and other hard surfaces.

Landwer said most rain gardens are planted with native plants whose roots filter chemicals and impurities out of the water.

“Right now, the water doesn’t have anything to filter through before it runs into Shoal Creek, and that’s where we get most of our drinking water in Joplin. So, not only are rain gardens beautiful, they help to protect our drinking water,” she said.

Matthew Boehner, a landscape architect from Springfield, said the project is intended to be a demonstration of how simple it is to install a rain garden.

“When rebuilding after the tornado, it’s going to be important to help with the rainwater runoff and water-quality issues that plague our streams and urban waterways,” he said. “This project is intended to educate people as to how easy it is to build rain gardens.”

Volunteers planted Tussock sedge, columbine, golden Alexander and copper iris, which are all native to the region. For those who are new to gardening, Landwer said planting native-plant species can take a lot of the pressure off.

“These plants are used to our weather and used to our soil, so it’s really hard to fail,” she said. “For folks who are worried about not having a green thumb, it’s hard to go wrong with these sorts of plants. They look beautiful. They grow throughout the summer and they don’t die in the droughts, so it’s easy to succeed with native plants.”

Landwer said rain gardens were installed at the chamber office, Lafayette House at 1809 S. Connor Ave., and at the Head Start location at 1200 North Main St. She said volunteers spent the morning listening to presentations on preserving water quality given by representatives of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Another round

The rain garden program will be presented again on Saturday, May 5. Those interested in attending are encouraged to contact the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center at 417-782-6287.