Spread the Purple Love Grass

[All photos by Arianna Rich — pictured:  purple love grass plugs awaiting planting]

Spread the Purple Love Grass

Few things provide as much meaning in life as working in service to something you love.   It’s no secret that I love working in support of bettering the environment, particularly as it relates to water.

This past weekend, the Jr. League of Lancaster (JLL), an all-women’s organization committed to training and voluntarism, planted the first of what we hope will be many rain gardens in the City of Lancaster.  Our first project was at the North Museum on the F&M College Campus in downtown Lancaster, redesigning, expanding, and rebuilding an existing, underperforming rain garden.

Lancaster has a combined sewer system, a CSS, which means that sewage and stormwater all flow through the same pipes. Lancaster’s system, like many city systems built in the 1800’s, is old and undersized for the City’s growing population.

When it rains, particularly when there is a big storm event, the stormwater rushes into the sewage system at a rate that overloads the bacteria that treat (eat) the incoming sewage. The waste water treatment plant simply cannot handle the extra volume of water passing through its pipes so rather than sacrifice the bugs that live off the waste, the City opens the outfalls and allows the combined sewer and stormwater to pass through untreated which is called a combined sewer overflow (CSOs). Before wastewater treatment plants were built, dilution was the solution for “treating” waste. That practice was long ago abandoned do to health hazards.

Lancaster City needs to remove 750,000,000 gallons of rain water annually from its combined sewer system.  In order to do so, Lancaster has initiated one of the most innovative and ambitious green infrastructure programs in the country.

The JLL wants to help.  JLL contracted with LandStudies, a landscape architecture and stormwater management company to handle the redesign and plant acquisition portions of this project. In addition, project support was provided by the City of Lancaster and the Lancaster County Conservancy. F&M graciously agreed to house the project on F&M property and provided guidance and assistance from their Office of Sustainability from ground preparation to planting recommendations.

Rain gardens are an urban answer to the loss of natural wetlands caused by modern development, a critical piece of the stormwater management puzzle necessary to return our world to balance. Before asphalt, before concrete, before roadways and superhighways, before commercial and residential housing developments, before “impervious surfaces” — areas covered by impenetrable materials that thwart water absorption — before all of that we had wetlands. In the short-term, a rain garden mimics a wetland.

Think of the footprint of your house particularly after a heavy rain. The impervious surfaces — the roof, the driveway, the sidewalk — all block rainwater from being absorbed back into the ground. This can lead to flooding as all the water rushes off to the stormwater drains. The rain garden redirects that water and allows it to temporarily pond on the surface, like a little holding tank where the water can slowly seep back into the ground, helping to reduce flood risks.

When the rain garden is planted with a good mix of native plants they can act like sponges, filtering out pollutants, absorbing nutrients, trapping sediments, purifying the water, and assisting in groundwater recharge. These plants also provide habitat for birds who like to eat insects so there is less need for insecticides. The economic benefits — fishing, forestry, and recreational tourist activities — to downstream water bodies are important (think Chesapeake Bay). In addition, there is the social benefit of a rain garden to the community which comes together to create and care for it. So many sustainable benefits from one little garden!

JLL is in the process of creating a curriculum that will include all that’s needed to build a rain garden in your own backyard. What if you’re a school that wants to build a rain garden on school property or next to the playground? We can help with that, too. We’ll design the educational curriculum, focusing on STEM elements that can logically be incorporated into a rain garden. The package will include the science and technology as well as timelines, budget and permit information, and everything else needed to support the design and build process.

For each project, we would like to have a high school-aged group involved in the design and build stage. Our goal is to increase the interest of students, particularly girls, in STEM fields. Research shows that as early as 6th grade, girls lose interest in STEM subjects resulting in about 12 out of 100 female bachelor students graduating with a STEM major. By providing this hands on educational component, JLL hopes to not only stimulate, but retain these girls’ love of science, technology, engineering and math.

The JLL wants to be part of Lancaster’s new era of sustainability.  Want to join us?

We just need a few good women!  And yes, men are welcome, too.

pjlazos 6.18.17

 

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About pjlazos

writer, blogger, environmentally hopeful
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25 Responses to Spread the Purple Love Grass

  1. Erika Beebe says:

    What an excellent cause. Young people need to be involved with the environment 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is AWESOME! On a selfish note, I’m surprised the hippies of Madison aren’t pushing this. 🙂 Seriously, though, the logic of this practice is so simple and sound that I don’t understand why more cities aren’t doing this. Milwaukee has a horrible, horrible reputation for dumping sewer water into Lake Michigan to prevent flooding. Milwaukee also has a decent park system and balance of green space, so there’s no reason in Hades they couldn’t implement a rain garden system to offset the wet season here. Marvelous info, thank you!

    Like

    • pjlazos says:

      I think what stops people, especially city officials, is that they already have so many other things on their plates that they can’t take on another task, especially ones that think outside the parameters of where they’ve been working. I happen to live in a city that takes green infrastructure seriously. A lot of that is because we have a mayor who really believes in it, but also because it’s either green infrastructure or penalties paid to EPA under a Consent Decree. The green infrastructure is much more palatable and as well as the right (and smart) thing to do. :0)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is an ingenious idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful, the economy, industry, community.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ken Dowell says:

    I have to admit I had never heard of a rain garden. Thanks for the sustainability lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. pjlazos says:

    –ooops, hit send too soon — doesn’t understand the jargon. I think I will do more posts on this in the future, Robyn. Thanks for your interest.🙏

    Like

  7. Robyn Haynes says:

    What a great project! If this is a combined waste water treatment, how hazardous is it for people working in the gardens after a deluge? I’m not sure I’ve understood quite clearly.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Look at you out there my beautiful sister when you are one busy lady as it is xxxxxxxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. hilarymb says:

    Hi PJ – these clean systems are essential to helping stop flooding … we’re doing similar here in the UK … and are looking to clean up our sewers in the big cities too …it seems to be working, but we need lots of ‘wetland’ areas … and they’re letting the rivers go back to their natural winding courses, rather than straight sections. Excellent you’re encouraging science and giving youngsters something to get their brains and bodies working towards … wonderful and I’m sure you’ll inspire others … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • pjlazos says:

      Thanks, Hillary! Every bit of re-greening helps! Hey, have you ever been to the Fens? I read a book called “Waterland” (I think that’s the name) and it talked about this area that was allowed to ebb and flood but still had people living there. It was fiction, but the place was real. It sounded divine.😘

      Like

  10. Lucky Lancaster! I love a bunch of dedicated and determined women and this is such an informative and inspiring post that I hope the locals are queuing up to join in. I’ll tweet it out too and hope it helps get the word out for you!

    Liked by 1 person

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