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Rain Gardens Reign

Kansas City sets an ambitious goal, and communities around the country follow.
Source: Stormwater Magazine, May 2008
By Margaret Buranen

Rain gardens may have started in Maryland and been developed in Maplewood and Burnsville, MN, but it was Kansas City, MO, that put them on the map of public awareness. If, as Rodgers and Hammerstein told us in their musical Oklahoma!, “Everything’s up to date in Kansas City,” the 10,000 Rain Gardens project there is on the cutting edge of stormwater management.

Rodgers and Hammerstein aside, one thing in Kansas City is very out of date: its water and wastewater infrastructure. Some pipes have been in the ground for more than 100 years. So in August 2005, voters approved a $500 million bond issue that will fund new and improved water infrastructure for Kansas City.

The bond issue is part of KC-ONE, a comprehensive plan for the management of stormwater throughout the city and its suburbs. It will be years until all of the necessary work is completed. To help manage stormwater now, Kansas City officials started the 10,000 Rain Gardens project.

The idea came from a Stormwater Coordinating Committee meeting in May 2005.

Six months later, Kansas City’s former mayor, Kay Barnes, together with Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields and Johnson County Commission Chairman Annabeth Surbaugh, launched the program at a regional rally.

The project’s Web site (www.rainkc.com) is listed as a resource in the handouts of rain garden programs all around the country. Scott Cahail, manager for the Water Services Department of Kansas City, said in the summer of 2007 that the Web site had received more than 100,000 hits.

Barnes installed a rain garden at her home, as did Dan McCarthy, president of Black & Veatch, a global engineering company that works in the water and energy fields. Black & Veatch employees planted the first corporate rain garden in Kansas City. McCarthy wrote an editorial for the local paper, urging other corporations to install their own rain gardens.

One by one, the number of rain gardens in Kansas City grows. There are two at City Hall. The local ReHabitat store has a small rain garden. Hallmark has one at its corporate headquarters. One of the most interesting is shaped as a boomerang and measures almost 5,500 square feet. It was installed in Theis Park by students at the Kansas City Art Institute. For good measure, they added messages on taking care of the environment.

Mt. Airy Rain Catchers
Influenced by the efforts in Kansas City and other cities, community rain garden programs are starting in many locations. One such program is in Ohio.

Until the post–World War II expansion of suburbs, the Mt. Airy section of Cincinnati, OH, was a small community of farms and country homes surrounded by woodlands. Now more than 9,500 residents live in the 3-square-mile area. As in other suburban areas, the growth of population and corresponding paved surfaces has increased stormwater runoff in Mt. Airy and pollution in its Shepherd Creek watershed.

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