Everett rain gardens offer solutions to pollution

EVERETT, Wash.-- "Both of them are funneled then into the pipe that discharges into the rain garden," says Sharyn Gerhardt. She's pointing towards the downspout off the roof that disappears underground. Gerhardt loves to show off the newest landscape features at her Everett home.

"It absorbs that water, so that water isn't going to overload our storm drains. That's one of the reasons to have a rain garden. Most people think there's going to be a pond there -- there isn't," Gerhardt explains.

Improving water quality in Puget Sound is one of the three pillars of helping our salmon and southern resident killer whales recover. Everett is one of many communities getting on board with getting homeowners personally involved in keeping potentially toxic runoff out of our waterways. And while you think one little rain garden can't make all that much of an impact, the math shows otherwise.

Lawns are as American as apple pie, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that runoff from lawns, sidewalks and pavement accounts for 70% of all water pollution. And the numbers from one house really does add up. For a 1,000-square-foot home, one inch of rain equals 500 gallons. Everett sees about 37 inches of rain annually. So, that multiplies out to 18,500 gallons of storm water that don't end up in Puget Sound.

"I couldn't believe you could get this wonderful rebate for putting in something that would prevent the runoff from going into our streams and into the Sound," says Gerhardt.

The City of Everett tries to add several dozen rain gardens every year -- planting financial and resource seeds -- to help get rain gardens going. The city offers 2,500 rebates that come from storm water fees. Most projects price out between $3,000 and $4,000. Homeowners still decide where they go on the property, what they'll look like and committing to maintain them for 10 years.

"Some people just want to do their part," says Apryl Hynes with the City of Everett.

The city rebates money from water fees because the city considers the rain gardens part of city storm water infrastructure. And they could save taxpayers money in the long run because the city hopefully wont have to tear up streets to install bigger sewers to to accommodate our rapid population growth.

"It's slowing down, it's soaking it in," says Hynes. "It's allowing that storm water runoff to be filtered of pollutants and it can actually recharge the groundwater. "

These are all important things with Northwest summers, which have been hotter, drier and smokier. The rains have been more intense, but sporadic.

"Water is going to get more and more expensive," says Sharyn Gerhardt.

That's the reason why she's ditched almost all of her lawn. There's still a big chunk of green in her backyard so her grand kids have a place to play. And she invested in more water conservation techniques by adding rain barrels to the sides of her house that don't flow into the rain garden.

She speaks highly of her rain garden -- but wont preach it to others unless you ask her.

"I am not a public speaker," says Sharyn, "but I am passionate about rain gardens. I have had such a wonderful experience."  And while she's gotten praise from passerby, the one that mattered most was from folks who lived at this house before.

"He stopped in his car about a week ago, and said I love what you've done to the lawn."