Color them scarlet and green: How plantings like this can keep Olentangy clean

cardinal flower image

Stormwater runoff carries oil, grease, trash, sediment, and other pollutants into water bodies. This is a main cause of pollution in the Olentangy River, which flows through Ohio State’s campus in Columbus. Although the university is currently involved in the Olentangy River restoration project, a stormwater management plan will be necessary to ensure that the river’s water quality remains healthy after the restoration project is completed. We suggest the use of rain gardens as tools to stop polluted runoff from reaching the river.

How rain gardens work

Rain gardens are landscaped areas that absorb stormwater runoff and filter pollutants. They may look like your average garden, but beneath the surface they contain multiple layers of gravel, soil, and sand. These layers help with quick infiltration. Rain gardens are most effective when placed as buffers near impermeable surfaces, such as roads, parking lots, or rooftops. This is why we propose building a rain garden along the reconstructed Cannon Drive between Woody Hayes Drive and Lane Avenue. If located along Cannon Drive, the rain garden would absorb runoff from the road and from neighboring buildings in the campus’s proposed new science and technology gateway.

Economic, environmental benefits

Rain gardens would have many benefits, including decreasing the runoff and pollutants that reach the Olentangy River. But they would also help the university save money. For example, an interesting application of rain gardens is to use them to collect and store rainwater. The rainwater is collected after it filters though the garden, then is stored in tanks until needed. Generally, this stored rainwater is used for irrigation in times of drought. Rain gardens are landscapes that are both economically and environmentally friendly.

How to learn more

For details on using rain gardens in cities, watch this video featuring scientists with CFAES’s research arm, OARDC.

For a bulletin by CFAES’s outreach arm, OSU Extension, about rain garden design and other green stormwater management systems, click here (link to pdf, 73 pages).

Read a press release about a new rain garden design developed by OARDC scientists here.

(Photo of cardinal flower by Linnaeus via Wikimedia Commons.)

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