Development can be a good thing for the economy and the environment. When things with impervious surfaces — such as rooftops, sidewalks and highways — replace natural terrain, stormwater runoff is altered before it reaches waterways, picking up pollutants that can pose harm to the environment and jeopardize water quality. As part of an overall stormwater management plan, rain gardens and bioretention cells can provide a sustainable solution.
Rain gardens and bioretention cells are very similar. They essentially do the same thing with a few minor differences. But the benefits of both are abundant. They not only collect and retain runoff, they help clean pollutants from rainwater — so any water that isn’t absorbed into the ground is released into our waterways with fewer contaminants. Here are just few reasons why we love rain gardens and bioretention cells.
They are made to mimic nature; the right combination of native plants, soils and microbes naturally remove contaminants from stormwater. And because the plant selections are native, rain gardens can tolerate extreme conditions — from large amounts of rainfall to drought-like conditions — without excess maintenance or fertilizer.
Rain gardens and bioretention cells can enhance any landscape — residential or corporate — and can be breathtakingly beautiful. Aside from the aesthetics of native vegetation, they attract wildlife and provide a thriving habitat for birds, frogs and butterflies.
A study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that rain gardens and bioretention cells are effective at capturing and treating stormwater, improving the quality of water by as much as 90 percent. Both are part of the EPA-defined best management practices (BMPs), which were adopted to provide guidance in managing the quantity and improving the quality of stormwater runoff.
Burns & McDonnell and landscape architects Bowman Bowman Novick turned part of the Johnson County Community College campus into a stormwater management learning center that includes bioretention cells. Students take a hands-on role with stormwater management, conducting their own water testing and performing maintenance such as replacing the soil and harvesting old plants and turning them to compost to ensure longevity and continued functionality. The JCCC stormwater management system was recognized as a 2010 Sustainable Success Story from the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), and won the American Public Works Association’s Project of the Year award and the silver Edison Green Award.