August 4, 2008

Hartman Rain Garden an Attempt at Cleaner Water

By Emily Christensen, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa

Aug. 4--CEDAR FALLS -- A vegetative island in the middle of the Hartman Reserve Nature Center parking lot is getting a makeover that will improve the look of the land and protect the forest surrounding it.

County Conservation Board staff began building a rain garden in the area this spring, but their work was cut short by the wild weather events in May and June. Work has resumed, and Ed Gruenwald, director of the nature center, said the rain garden should be complete by the end of August.

"That island was left in a wooded, vegetative state for the sole idea of water infiltration and, now that rain gardens are becoming more popular, this is something we can do because of that foresight," Gruenwald said. The project also includes another rain garden that spans the north end of the parking lot.

A rain garden is a man-made depression in the ground that is becoming a popular tool for improving water quality. The garden collects water runoff and stores it, which allows the water to be filtered and slowly absorbed by the soil. The filtering process takes place as the water comes in contact with the soil and roots and accounts for the improved water quality aspect.

Though the Hartman garden is a step in the right direction, Gruenwald said, he added that it will take the cooperation of the neighborhood to make a true impact on the area. Last year, University of Northern Iowa graduate students spoke with homeowners in the neighborhood about the erosion problems to gauge their interest in creating smaller gardens on their property.

Candace Naaktgeboren's backyard is adjacent to the nature center property. She wasn't contacted by the graduate students but did express interest in the project during a recent maple syrup festival.

"We want to help preserve this area as much as possible," she said. "This is a special place, and by living in it, you don't want there to be any damage. I think people in our neighborhood are very supportive of Hartman and will do whatever it takes to help."

Much of the Hartman project was funded by a $7,500 storm water management grant doled out by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. However, personal rain gardens are much cheaper and quite easy to maintain, Gruenwald said.

The most important thing, he said, is doing the research to determine the proper location and plant life to include.

"The difficulty of this is, these are plants that have to withstand extremes," he said. "Because this is acting like a sponge, there are a lot of air pockets in the soil, so the idea is that it dries out quickly. There will be times when the plants are super-saturated and then, if there are no rain events, they will dry out quickly."

Gruenwald also says he has his eyes on a much larger project that will take even more cooperation among the reserve, neighbors and city. The White Oak Savannah portion of Hartman's preserve is facing serious erosion issues because of runoff from the River Hills School parking lot. Since the school was built in the late 1960s, Gruenwald said runoff from the parking lot has eroded away soil in the preserve, causing two deep gullies to form. At their connecting points, the gully drops nearly 12 feet, Gruenwald said.

However, it will take a lot of work, done mostly by large machines, to rectify the problem. Because of the area's preserve status, Gruenwald said they are working on collaborative measures to use a small strip of land about 6 to 8 feet wide that belongs to River Hills.

"This is a project that will take at least a couple of years and will require a lot of people at the table to even get it started," he said. "If nothing can be done that gully will just keep eroding and washing away soil. I've seen the amount of water that comes out of the pipe in that area, and it is an incredible amount of energy and power. It shoots about 4 feet before it hits the ground. It's definitely had an effect."

Contact Emily Christensen

at (319) 291-1570 or

[email protected]


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