A Rain Garden in Albany Park Works to Alleviate Backyard Flooding
Evan Crutcher gets to the point quickly. “Water comes in from the alley,” he said.
Crutcher’s home in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood backs up to an alley that in heavy rain can overflow into his back yard, a common problem throughout the city. The alley has a non-permeable surface, meaning the water cannot simply infiltrate the earth–it must go somewhere.
So Crutcher, with the help of CNT, decided to install a rain garden to transform this nuisance into an asset.
Besides Albany Park, CNT is working to help the Chicago neighborhood Rogers Park and the Village of Wilmette with a “Wetrofit” program to alleviate flooding and protect the environment. In its pilot stage now, the Wetrofit program is designed to scale up to serve all of Cook County and, eventually, communities throughout the Great Lakes states.
Rain gardens, a do-it-yourself form of green infrastructure, are simplicity in action. Dig a shallow depression into the earth where rainwater will collect, stock it with attractive native plants, then weed as needed. Rain gardens capture water that, at best, burden a wastewater treatment plant, and, at worst, flood a basement or an entire neighborhood. Rain gardens also remove pollutants, allowing water to percolate into the earth and safely recharge groundwater or return to the atmosphere through plant transpiration.
Crutcher installed his 100-square-foot garden in a part of his backyard adjacent to the flood-prone alley. He began by removing several inches of soil, placing it between the garden and his next door neighbor, a church, creating a gradation in the yard that will simultaneously keep water away from the church and guide the water into the garden.
Then it was time to plant. With CNT’s assistance, Crutcher obtained a colorful assortment of native plants. Some bloom as early as March, others retain their color as late as October. A grass, Palm Sedge, was reserved for a shady part of the yard, while Prairie Dropseed, Ozark Bluestar, Sky Blue Aster, New Jersey Tea, and Blue Stem Goldenrod were destined for a section of the rain garden that is partly shady. The Black-eyed Susans–a durable plant that loves sun and can tolerate the heat given off by pavement–were reserved for a sunny spot adjacent to the alley.
Although he is hoping to avert a problem with runoff from the alley—he has already installed rain barrels to capture runoff from his home’s roof—Crutcher concedes he has another, more personal, reason for installing a rain garden.
“I’ve always had an interest in environmental education,” he said.