Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Somewhere Over the Rain Garden……Dreams Really Do Come True

By Sage Passi

Liz and Thomas Biagi’s new rain garden in North St. Paul

A big pink frog stares into Liz and Thomas Biagi’s newly created rain garden in North St. Paul. I guess it should not come as a total surprise. Liz is a kindergarten teacher at American Indian Magnet. Looking at things from a youthful, fresh angle certainly goes with the territory. She and her husband have a three year old daughter which might explain the appearance of several toy frogs in their yard. But I venture to speculate another theory. Frogs are symbols of transformation and the permanent presence of several of these characters in the Biagi front yard points to the efforts they have taken to alter the lay of the land in front of their house…..and where the water ends up after a rain storm.

Liz Biagi (in pink) hosts the Stopping Water Where it Drops  rain garden class
in the spring of 2013.  Here participants are assessing the soil in her yard with the
assistance of Joe Lochner and Ryan Johnson from Ramsey Soil and Water
Conservation District.
It didn’t all happen at once. Liz signed up for a series of rain garden workshops in the spring of 2012. Her home is in a high priority sub-watershed – Kohlman Creek so it made a lot of sense to her since the project expenses could be covered under the District's cost share program. I called her in the fall after her classes to check in and to ask her if she would consider letting the Watershed District use her yard as a demonstration site for our next spring series. I was glad she hadn’t installed anything yet. A blank slate makes for a good teaching opportunity. When I drove up to her house in May, after the long drawn out winter, I could tell that the wheels had been turning in her mind. She was getting ready to spring into action. By the time I got back to her house in mid-July everything in her front yard looked completely different.

Liz and Thomas could have hired a contractor to install their rain garden but they are a family with a creative bent, resourcefulness and a sense of adventure when they take on a project. When it came time for them to figure out how to excavate under their sidewalk to get their roof run-off to the rain gardens they relied upon a You Tube video created by a high school teacher and his class to provide the basic advice for how to do it. But then they resorted to their own ingenuity to create the tools to get the job done.

Liz points out where they redirected their rooftop run-off into a catchment
basin and then underneath their sidewalk.

“What started out as a difficult and tedious digging job evolved into something a lot more fun.” We were very surprised at how quickly we were able to get a channel for the drain tile dug under the sidewalk using PVC pipe, a special nozzle, a connector and the force of water. “ 

The Biagi's spent $4.77 on materials that streamlined the process
of creating a channel under the sidewalk for the drain tile that
conveys rainwater into their garden.
It’s a couple months later and now dry creek beds meander throughout their yard, conveying water from the rooftop of her home into the rain gardens. They also serve as pathways to travel around the yard. Small wooden bridges over the creek paths have become focal points that invite you to explore how water travels between downspouts into the rain gardens. Watching the movement of water during a rain storm has become a fascination for Liz.

“ I was told that you’ll get to the point where you’ll be out there in a raincoat watching your rain garden. Sure enough one morning there I was at about 4:30 AM putting on my raincoat and going out onto the bridge to watch how the rain was moving along the creek beds and filling up the rain gardens.”

Dry creek beds made of different sizes of river rock help water move into the rain gardens.
Note the addition of turtles as well as frogs.  Does this signify the "slowing down" of the
water so it can infiltrate into the ground instead of running off?

And as for the frogs…..They may be serving as lawn ornaments in Biagi’s gardens but they also carry a deeper message. 
I think this quote parallels the Biagi’s take on challenging the status quo.  When it comes to stewardship about stormwater we’d all benefit from changing our perspective.


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