March 14, 2008

The University of Kentucky Tracy Farmer Center for the Environment, Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance and Bluegrass Personal Responsibility In a Desirable Environment (PRIDE) are partnering to make the Bluegrass a more environmentally friendly place by encouraging the public to install rain gardens in their landscapes. The goal is to have 2,010 rain gardens by the year 2010 when tourists will pour into the region for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

“The mission of the Farmer Center is three-fold: education, outreach and faculty support; so it is common for us to support this kind of project,” said Carol Hanley, director of education and communications for the Tracy Farmer Center for the Environment.

Rain gardens are depressions planted with a variety of grasses or native plants. They help improve the quality of water by reducing the volume of rainwater runoff. The gardens allow the rainwater to filter out pollutants as it seeps through the soil. The filtration process can take anywhere from 24 hours to four days.

“A rain garden is not going to handle 100 percent of water produced by storms, but it can handle the first inch of rain. And 90 percent of all our storms produce an inch of rain or less,” said Russ Turpin, environmental specialist for EcoGro and organizer of the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance.

The project is funded by a grant the Tracy Farmer Center for the Environment received from the state’s Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet.

“The grant will allow us to put in three small demonstration gardens, hire a project coordinator and gather information on rain gardens that can be used in educating students in grades K-12,” said Amy Sohner, executive director of Bluegrass PRIDE. She added the grant will also pay for the creation of a Web site and plaques for the gardens.

Rain gardens are ideally installed during spring or fall, Turpin said. Before installing a rain garden, homeowners should pinpoint the location of their water runoff, determine the runoff’s volume and how much surface area it covers. Homeowners should also have a soil percolation test performed to determine the soil’s ability to filter the water effectively. To prevent flooding, rain gardens should be installed away from building foundations. Turpin said rain garden installation typically costs a homeowner between $8 to $12 per square foot.

Rain gardens can not only help reduce runoff volume in neighborhoods but also around businesses. Businesses are welcome to take part in the initiative.

“By installing a rain garden, businesses will not only be doing the right thing, but will be able to use it to promote their other environmental initiatives,” Sohner said. “Businesses can get a lot of good PR from this.”

Those interested in learning more about rain gardens, participating in the initiative or sharing their rain garden stories should visit the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance Web site.

Participants interested in registering their garden and obtaining a numbered plaque can do so on the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance Web site or by contacting the Tracy Farmer Center for the Environment at 859-257-3780 any time during the garden’s construction. However, plaques will not be distributed until the rain garden is completed. The plaques are numbered from one to 2,010, depending on when a rain garden was completed and registered with the initiative.