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City of Bellingham launches innovative stormwater project to install rain gardens in Columbia Neighborhood

posted Aug 24, 2016, 12:58 PM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated Aug 29, 2016, 3:10 PM ]
By Lee First, North Sound Baykeeper

Columbia Neighborhood residents have a chance to make a big difference to water quality. The City of Bellingham is embarking on an innovative new stormwater project with a three part goal: to replace and repair existing underground drainage pipes, facilitate drainage at intersections, and improve water quality by providing polluted runoff treatment using rain gardens along the public right-of-ways. This project will occur in a portion of the Columbia neighborhood around Columbia Elementary School, on the north/sound streets between Williams and Park Streets.

Rain gardens are bowl-shaped gardens that are designed to collect and absorb polluted runoff using well-drained soil, plants, and mulch. The job of rain gardens is to reduce pollution by increasing infiltration – but these hard working little gardens also help to reduce flooding, recharge groundwater, offer habitat, and they’re pretty. What could be better?

Polluted runoff from the Columbia neighborhood drains to Bellingham Bay and Squalicum Creek. Everything on our streets, sidewalks, roofs, and other impervious surfaces gets delivered via the “stormwater superhighway” directly to Bellingham Bay and Squalicum Creek with no treatment except for two treatment vaults along Monroe and Utter Streets. The unsavory water is out of sight, but don’t let that fool you – polluted runoff is the #1 source of water pollution in urban areas of Western Washington. It’s created by us, it’s everywhere, and all of us need to take steps to help clean it up.

Columbia Elementary School students help mark storm drains

The kids at the Columbia Elementary School know all about polluted runoff – they’ve marked hundreds of storm drains with “only rain down the drain - don’t pollute” markers. A couple of these kids will blow your mind! They know about rain gardens, they know that only clean water should go down a storm drain, and they insist that their parents and neighbors wash their cars at the car wash. They’re our best ambassadors for clean water. They want more rain gardens!

If you know some kids or their parents who would like to host a rain garden in the Columbia neighborhood, this is a great opportunity. The best locations for these are on Williams, Utter, Walnut and Parks streets near existing storm drains. Areas near existing mature trees aren’t suitable. The gardens will be placed within the existing right-of-way areas.

Homeowners who volunteer to host a rain garden will be given the opportunity to work out the details (such as size and plant palette) with City staff. Now is your chance to learn more!

Find out more about rain gardens in our area: 12,000 rain gardens. Find out if your property is within the proposed project areaRead the details about this project or contact Larry Scholten, Project Engineer