Friday, November 23, 2012

Missed Opportunities to Work with Nature

     A couple of created storm water features near my home and office have grabbed my attention lately.  Both are related in that they are associated with a nature preserve and in that they are not functioning as they were intended.  Both seem to have suffered from a lack of understanding concerning many of the natural systems involved in the cleaning and release of storm water.
     The first one was actually completed about a month ago and just recently a sign proudly proclaiming that it is a raingarden was added.  The sign has a pretty photo of a real raingarden that looks like the photo from the state storm water web site.  Unfortunately, the project is most definitely not a raingarden.  In fact, the only thing that it has in common with a raingarden is the use of a couple of plants that would survive in one.  The garden is located at the exit end of a pipe that drains water from a series of roof drains off a park building; so it will be the recipient of a good deal of water.  Unlike a raingarden, though, no effort was made to dig out the area and replace the existing soil with a media that would function to hold water and no effort was made to create the grade of a rain garden that would allow water to actually collect and infiltrate into the soil.  This garden is simply an area below a pipe that has been cleared of leaf litter, surrounded by a row of stones and planted with a group of plants (some of which would actually never survive in a raingarden).  The entire garden slopes away from the pipe so virtually no water will ever be slowed down enough to enter the soil and will most likely be more prone to eroding now that it has been disturbed.  What a missed opportunity.
     The second feature is actually a storm water detention device that was built by the Dept. of Transportation (NCDOT) a couple of years ago.  When it was constructed, it was planted with a combination of cattails and willow.  By good fortune and plenty of naturally available seed, a mass of pine seedlings had taken hold along the entire street-side bank.  A sizable number of green frogs had taken up residence and the device was well on its way to becoming a functioning temporary wetland.  It also functioned as an occasional stopping place for a number of waterfowl.  It had in a couple of years gone from an ugly device that held algae filled water and grew mosquitos into a pretty little wetland that actually functioned to clean the storm water and release it slowly into the drain provided.  The cattails, the willows and the pines all worked to clean water in the pond area and to remove it slowly through transpiration.  Because they were working in this way, the mosquito population had gone down noticeably.  In other words, it was actually functioning in the way that a good storm water detention device should function.
     Unfortunately, this week a private contractor came to this detention basin and cleared it out.  Every living thing within the basin was dug out with a backhoe and all of the pine seedlings - which had reached a height of approximately four feet - were cut down to the ground.  The frogs and other wildlife that had been using this pond area are nowhere to be seen.  I predict that this device will once again be filled with smelly, algae filled, mosquito infested water.  Several years of good productive growth was lost.
     What a shame it is when well-intentioned people make terrible decisions because they do not know how water and nature function. 

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