Volunteers inspect Severn River rain gardens

By PAMELA WOOD Staff Writer
The Capital-Gazette, May 6, 2012

Pamela Wood Photo. Rain garden evaluations. Consultant Richard Klein, left, trains volunteers on how to evaluate rain gardens, using a parking lot rain garden at the West County Library in Odenton as an example. Volunteers with the Severn River Association evaluated more than 50 rain gardens on Saturday.

Hundreds of rain gardens have been planted across Anne Arundel County to soak up stormwater and reduce pollution.

But does anyone ever check to see if they’re working?

That’s just what more than two dozen volunteers did Saturday, fanning out across the Severn River’s watershed to evaluate 55 rain gardens.

They’ll report their findings to property owners and county inspectors, in hope of getting subpar rain gardens spruced up and maybe giving a pat on the back to owners of high-quality rain gardens.

“This is innovative,” said Duane Wilding, president of the Severn River Association, a nonprofit group that organized the rain garden audit with the help of consultant Richard Klein of Community and Environmental Defense Services.

Volunteers met up at the West County Library in Odenton for a quick training session on rain gardens and how to evaluate them.

Rain gardens are shallow depressions covered in mulch and sometimes planted with small plants or shrubs. Beneath the mulch is soil.

Rainwater collects on the surface and gradually percolates through the soil. As the rainwater moves from the surface and into the groundwater, pollutants — especially the harmful nutrient nitrogen — are filtered out.

In Anne Arundel County, stormwater runoff is the top source of nitrogen pollution that reaches rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, outpacing septic tanks and sewage plants.

Volunteers didn’t have to go far to start their audit, first checking out the parking lot rain gardens at the library. They found that the rain garden was lacking the mulch and had too many unwanted plants growing in it.

From there, teams fanned out across the Severn River watershed, an area from Severn to Annapolis that drains into creeks that feed the river.

Wilding checked out three rain gardens at a Catholic Charities senior housing complex in Odenton. He was pleasantly surprised to see them in excellent shape, with plenty of fresh mulch, an appropriate depth of the collection area and little trash or soil erosion.

“I wonder if they knew we were coming,” he joked.

Al Todd and Kelly Fieldhouse, who work for the nonprofit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, also found good conditions at the rain gardens they evaluated at an office building off Veterans Highway. The alliance’s programs include efforts to build rain gardens, so the pair wanted to join the volunteer inspection effort. Todd said it’s important to remember that rain gardens can’t just be planted and then forgotten.

“They look natural ... but the reality is it’s still built for a function and needs to be maintained,” he said.

Charlotte Lubbert, a member and volunteer with the Severn River Association, said she felt empowered by the effort. She checked out rain gardens in a commercial area in Parole.

“This is the most positive thing I’ve seen for improving the watershed in years,” she said.

The survey results will be compiled and volunteers will send letters to property owners with suggestions on improving their rain gardens so they look nice and reduce pollution as much as possible. The information also will be shared with county inspectors.

The rain garden audit is part of an ongoing effort by the Severn River Association to find and correct environmental problems. In March, volunteers checked out construction sites to see if they were following all the rules for containing dirt and preventing erosion.

Pamela Wood Photo. Severn River Associaton President Duane Wilding checks the depth of mulch in a rain garden at a Catholic Charities senior housing complex in Odenton.


Pamela Wood Photo. A rain garden at a Catholic Charities senior housing center in Odenton is in excellent shape, with plenty of mulch, no trash and no overgrown plants. Not all rain gardens are in such good shape, and volunteers with the Severn River Association inspected more than 50 rain gardens on Saturday.


Pamela Wood Photo. Consultant Richard Klein trains volunteers in how to evaluate rain gardens, using a parking lot rain garden at the West County Library in Odenton as an example.




(Revised April 2012)