“To empower students of all ages through authentic hands-on outdoor experiences with the environmental knowledge, skills, and motivation to make and act upon responsible environmental decisions.”
Partnership with Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works
Arlington Echo shares a unique partnership with the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works (DPW) by engaging students in environmental action in their communities by planting native plants in state-of-the-art Regenerative Stormwater Conveyance (formerly Coastal Plain Outfall) Projects.
These innovative ecosystem restoration and stream retrofit projects utilize a series of step pools, cobble weirs, native stone, and native plants to slow and infiltrate stormwater rather than the ineffective “collect and convey” methods that use stabilization – not restoration – to control stormwater. Stormwater outflow from parking lots, roadways, roofs, and other impervious surfaces has been identified as the primary source of non-point pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The student’s role in this restoration effort begins in the classroom, where Arlington Echo staff initiates an investigation of issues related to stormwater affecting the County’s 12 watersheds. Students learn their “watershed address” and use GIS technology to identify storm drains, outfalls (pipes emptying into streams), and impervious surfaces near the project – often in the communities where they live. Students learn basic engineering and ecological principles associated with restoration and understand the role native plants play in these projects.
The “action phase” takes place when students visit the newly-restored site to plant native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees as the final part of the construction project. Students know the vital role that these plants play in habitat restoration, nutrient uptake, and soil stabilization. Although the work is difficult, students take pride in knowing that their efforts will have an immediate positive impact on water quality, habitat, and the health of their communities and the Chesapeake Bay.
To date, Arlington Echo and A.A. County DPW have partnered on the following projects:
What is a Rain Garden?
The term rain garden defies precise definition. Basically, a rain garden is a strategically located low area planted with native vegetation that intercepts runoff. Other terms include mini-wetland, storm water garden, water quality garden, stormwater marsh, backyard wetland, low swale, wetland biofilter, or bioretention pond. The variables include dimensions, design, engineering components, and plant selection.
Rain gardens are designed to direct polluted runoff into a low, vegetated area, where the pollutants can be captured and filtered. The features of a rain garden aid in this biofiltration process: a shallow basin depth, gentle side slopes, soil that allows infiltration, and vegetation that traps sediment and sediment-polluting runoff. Vegetation shields the soil surface from raindrop impact while the root mass holds the soil particles in place. Improved water quality results from the nutrient removal process as the water and pollutants come into contact with roots and microbes in the soil. Plants, trees, and groundcover absorb up to 14 times more rainwater than a grass lawn.
The design of a rain garden can be varied to accommodate soils, watershed hydrology, existing drainage patterns, aesthetics, microclimate, and purpose.
A rain garden should be placed near impervious surfaces so that rainwater and snowmelt will drain into the dip or depression. Locate the garden strategically near impervious surfaces, such as alleys, sidewalks, driveways, and under downspouts or gutters, to capture the rain as close as possible to the point where it falls. Rain gardens planted between two residential properties can channel runoff to front or back yard gardens, while simultaneously acting as a living fence between neighbors. In one instance, a rain garden located under a downspout to capture roof runoff captured approximately 14,000 gallons of water per year. Gardens should not be located over gas or water services.
Rain gardens and planted infiltration trenches have also been incorporated into parking lot designs. Look for areas where there is no curb and the drainage goes into a planted area!
By removing curbs and creating swales, water can be controlled and directed to lesson erosion and also encourage infiltration.
A swale is a slight depression that runs along the contour of the land. It can be deep or shallow, or even hidden (a ditch filled with gravel and capped with topsoil), and the dirt from digging the swale is usually used to make a berm on the downhill side. An important distinction is that a swale is not a drain. It is a water collection device. The cheapest way to store water is in the soil. And of course, by stopping the run-off, it prevents erosion as well.
Rain falls on your property, and instead of running straight down the slope, it runs to the swale and gathers, where it soaks in slowly.
Stones in our swales slow down the water to help reduce erosion. Plants such and moss and ferns help to absorb nutrients and water.
Our roads at Arlington Echo were once lined with wooden curbs. Rain water would then run down the hill and go directly into a storm drain that emptied into the Severn River. All the pollutants from the road would also go directly into the Severn River.
By removing curbing from our roads, the water can now sheet directly into the forest. This disperses the water and allows for the water to soak in. The forest floor is a great big sponge that can easily help infiltrate the water.
Throughout Arlington Echo we have Rain Barrels attached to the downspout of every building—adding up to 96 Barrels throughout campus. Rain Barrels gather the water that falls on the roofs and slow it down. The water from a 30 minute storm is released over 2 days.
Did You Know?
So what does this have to do with rain barrels? Some people might think that rain barrels are only used for water conservation during drought periods, when in fact they are just as useful during rainy periods.
Lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer. For every 1000 square feet of roofline, one inch of rain equates to 632+ gallons of water. This is a large amount of free “soft water” that can be stored and used later to wash cars and windows, water plants, fill ponds, or feed a rain garden during periods of drought.
The water that falls carries pollutants that are usually directed into groundwater or allowed to flow directly into waterways around the Bay. Water that runs off the land can be loaded with nutrients, bacteria, heavy metals, and toxic chemicals. By placing a barrel at every downspout, rainwater can be collected from the roof and redistributed into a filtration area such as a rain garden or a bog that filters nitrates, phosphates, and other pollutants. The barrels collect the first flush, the most critical rain that is loaded with pollutants, and then slowly releases the water to a garden or shallow dry well area. By diverting water from storm drains, the impact of runoff into streams and the Chesapeake Bay is greatly decreased.