New Report Examines Low Impact Development Benefits & Costs

Creative rain garden downspout in SE Portland. Photo by Candace Stoughton, EMSWCD.

Clean water and vibrant communities go hand in hand. Urban areas are increasingly using green infrastructure to create multiple benefits for their communities. However, there have been questions whether strong stormwater standards could unintentionally deter urban redevelopment and shift development to environmentally damaging sprawl. Working together, Smart Growth America, American Rivers, River Network, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and NRDC commissioned a report by ECONorthwest, Managing Stormwater in Redevelopment and Greenfield Development Projects Using Green Infrastructure. Highlighting several communities that are protecting clean water and fostering redevelopment, the findings show that clean water and urban redevelopment are compatible.

To read the report:

To read the executive summary:

To learn more, River Network will host a webinar on this work by ECONorthwest lead researchers on August 17th, 1:00 EST/10:00 PST – to reserve a spot:


Rain Garden Training Opportunity for North Coast

New rain garden at work in front of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park Visitor Center. Photo by Will George, NPS.

The rain brings many benefits for North Coast watersheds, business owners, cities and residents. But it can also be a bane if–as stormwater runoff–it carries pollutants or causes floods in local streams. Capturing, controlling and filtering some of this stormwater runoff in rain gardens is one way to help beautify landscapes while improving the health of watersheds.

The purpose of the training is to help residential gardeners, landscape contractors, planners, public works employees and others learn the skills needed to design, build and maintain rain gardens and serve as local resources to other community members interested in building them.

Trainers: Robert Emanuel, Oregon State University Extension Service and Oregon Sea Grant, and Colby Weathers, Native Landscape Design, LLC.

How to prepare: This is a hands-on train-the-trainers course. Dress for both indoor and outdoor training components.

When: Saturday, April 23rd, 8:30AM – 5:00 PM Please register on-line by Monday, April 18th*

Where: Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, Ft. Clatsop Visitor Center, Netul Room 92343 Fort Clatsop Road, Astoria, Oregon 97103

Cost: $30.00; cost includes lunch, Oregon Rain Garden Guide and additional materials. Oregon State Landscape Contractors Board Certification of Continuing Education Hours available.

To register:

For more information, call me at: 503-842-5708 x 210.

Stormwater: not out of sight nor out of mind…

Oregon does not have the same level of interest in diving as the calmer “inside coast” or Puget Sound region of Washington. But on both coasts, stormwater outfalls are common features off of communities.

So it is no surprise that a Seattle-based diver named Laura James and a couple of buddies took video cameras down to where one West Seattle storm drain empties into Elliot Bay. With that camera, they captured some sobering footage that was highlighted on the local NPR station’s (KPLU) blog.

Even as a somewhat jaded watershed professional–I found this a sobering reminder of why it’s important to move away from the typical approach of “piping and dumping” the stormwater somewhere else. Instead, we need to move towards techniques that emphasize infiltration and processing of stormwater by natural systems such as those embodied by the phrase Low Impact Development.

Braking copper.

Coho salmon swimming through a stream.

Coho swim to their spawning grounds in a N. Coast stream. Photo by Beth Lambert, OSU.

If like most Americans, you drive a car, then copper is dead-stop important.  It keeps your brakes from squealing and overheating.  Every time you tap your brakes or come to a (non-) screeching halt, you can thank copper for making the stop.

But if you’re fish–particularly a salmon or trout–copper is a deadly additive to your water.  Copper suppresses your ability to smell and react to predators, or navigate your natal streams to spawning grounds.

As millions of drivers start, slow and stop along roadways, copper dust from each stop accumulates on the road surface. When the rains come, the copper then is flushed into ditches, storm sewers or directly into adjacent waterbodies. All of that copper is leading to some serious sensory problems for salmon fisheries.  Copper is one of the most problematic pollutants in stormwater runoff.

At least four states (RI, WA, NY, now CA)  have attempted or are attempting to legislatively put the brakes on copper in brake pads by asking manufacturers to reduce copper.  California is next to join this effort.  Check out what they’re doing at

Cycle of Insanity: The Water Cycle by Surfrider Foundation

Members of the Surfrider Foundation have put together a rather entertaining, but largely acurate cartoon on the water cycle and its mis-management. While I have problems with the way a couple of the items are presented, I found the video largely entertaining and well done. I think it’s good enough to explain some of the concepts that I like to spend time on: Low Impact Development, water conservation, and wetlands preservation. I appreciate the video’s global perspective and the producers’ explicit strategy to entertain while informing us.

My only substantial critique for this video is that seems to spend much of its 20 minutes dwelling on the urban side of coastal water management–and by that, I mean that large mass of urbanity to our south: California. In their defense, the producers are working out of the confines of the very urban San Diego and Los Angeles areas and are aiming this squarely at people living in these kinds of coastal cities.   All that said, I have embedded it here for your enjoyment.

The Cycle of Insanity: The Real Story of Water from Surfrider Foundation on Vimeo.

LID for Green Industry Professionals

Some Resources for Green Industry Professionals to learn more about Low Impact Development:

Ways to for Green Industry Professionals to help make Low Impact Development happen locally

  1. Support stormwater management regulation
  2. Re-examine local land use controls
  3. Encourage open-space developments
  4. Create demonstration projects
  5. Collaborate
  6. Experiment within your industry and partner with others (like universities)

Roles for Green Industry Professionals in Low Impact Development

  1. Arboricultural roles—tree preservation, maintenance and replanting
  2. Bioretention—providing stock and expertise
  3. Hardscapes—learn about pervious pavements and use them in designs and/or stock them
  4. Get involved—planning commissions are  often sorely lacking in professional help

Stormwater in the PNW Blogosphere

Slightline Institute–a Seattle-based environmental organization with an investigative bent is doing some nifty blogging lately on stormwater. They’ve put out a whole series of good posts on Low Impact Development, non-point source pollution, rain gardens, and ecoroofs. I’m pretty impressed and will be prodding them to let Oregon Sea Grant and our Stormwater Solutions partnership send some items their way.

In the meantime, check ’em out at

Low Impact Development: Two Introductions

A trench drain leads to rain garden. Photo by R. Emanuel, OSU.

A trench drain leads to rain garden. Photo by R. Emanuel, OSU.

I have blogged a lot about Low Impact Development (LID) on H2ONCoast.  LID is a stormwater management strategy that emphasizes conservation and use of existing natural features along with a network of small-scale stormwater controls (e.g. rain gardens, roadside swales, pervious pavers) to more closely mimic natural hydrologic patterns in residential, commercial and industrial settings.  When it comes to curbing pollutants from the urbanized portions of watersheds, LID applications have been shown to be very effective in the long run–and cheaper! These techniques also slow down the pulses of stormwater that cause flooding and damage to receiving streams.  As one county professional in rural Boardman, OR puts it, the practices conform to “cowboy logic” by letting nature take over what is normally a very expensive, very engineered set of solutions (to pipe stormwater and send it “away”).

Last week, I spoke to the Association of Oregon Counties “County College” for new and returning elected county commissioners on the subject and wanted to share the slide presentation on the subject.  Download Introduction To Low Impact Development for AOC 9.17.09

Directly related to this, the Pacific Northwest Water Program, partnered with WSU Extension’s video department, and brought us a glimpse of what private citizens, local governments, and agencies are doing to prevent polluted runoff from rushing to water resources.  The video tour traveled to two high desert communities and a Puget Sound island to document strategies used in those diverse climates to manage rain and snow melt runoff.Three PNW experts then discussed the case studies and fielded questions from the audience.

Ten Tillamook County residents participated from our offices here on the North coast. You can still check out the tour by going to the WSU Conference Services website (though I confess I don’t know how long the video will be archived at the site–so if you are interested, don’t wait too long).

Bay City Rain Garden

During the last week of June and the first of July, eight Tillamook County OSU Master Gardeners and other volunteers pitched in to complete the last of three demonstration rain gardens in Tillamook County. This last rain garden was installed in Bay City near the intersection of 7th and Main.  Other gardens have been installed in Pacific City and downtown Tillamook at Hoquarton Slough Park.

Mick Dressler and Gary Albright dig into the Bay City rain garden site, June 29th. Photo by R. Emanuel.

Mick Dressler and Gary Albright dig into the Bay City rain garden site, June 29th. Photo by R. Emanuel.

A rain garden is a sunken garden bed that collects and treats stormwater runoff from rooftops, driveways, sidewalks, parking lots and streets.  Rain gardens work like a native forest, meadow or prairie by capturing and infiltrating stormwater from rooftops, driveways, and other hard surfaces.  They can be planted with attractive native and horticultural varieties of perennials, grasses, sedges, shrubs and trees.

Rain gardens are a great way to add beautiful landscaping to your yard as well as protect our overloaded urban stormwater system and precious water resources!  Why are rain gardens so important?  When the Pacific Northwest was covered with forests and prairies, rainfall dripped through branches and vegetation, seeped through duff, and sank into underground aquifers as it slowly flowed to nearby water bodies. As our landscapes become developed, the rainfall that lands on hard surfaces drains to pipes, ditches, and storm drains and is routed directly to streams or into the sewer system.  Water that once took days, weeks or months to reach a stream now gets there in a matter of minutes. The result is too much water all at once. As a large pulse of fast-moving water flows down the stream system, it scours and erodes the stream bed, moves gravel downstream and degrades habitat for life in the stream.  In addition, the runoff picks up pollutants like chemicals, fertilizers, and oil from parking lots, and in some places, carries it straight to streams without being treated. Too much water arriving in a short amount of time and carrying pollutants negatively affects the health of our streams, lakes and estuaries. Rain gardens help restore the natural flow and treatment of water in the landscape which is critical to ensure healthy streams, even in towns.

A backhoe makes easy work of the site, digging out our ponding basin. Photo: R. Emanuel, OSU.

A backhoe makes easy work of the site, digging out our ponding basin. Photo: R. Emanuel, OSU.

Tillamook County OSU Master Gardeners Andrea and Larry Goss, Chris Bolger, Phyllis Holmes, Carla Albright, Kathie Reames, and Evelyn VonFeldt, plus Gary Albright and Mick Dressler pitched in for three days of hard work. The volunteers began by installing silt fence to keep sediment out of nearby Patterson Creek, and then watched as a skillful backhoe operator from Bay City let his machine do most of the digging.

Volunteers Gary and Carla Albright, Chris Bolger, and Kathie Reames plant in the rain garden. Photo: R. Emanuel, OSU.

Volunteers Gary and Carla Albright, Chris Bolger, and Kathie Reames plant in the rain garden. Photo: R. Emanuel, OSU.

Once the main basin of the rain garden was dug, volunteers set to work grading the ponding surface, constructing berms, placing rocks and mulching.  Together, they planted more than 100 native and non-invasive grasses, sedges and sedums around the garden.  While the weather was unusually warm, everything has survived their initial transplant into the new garden. On the final day of work, several volunteers drove down to Tillamook Bay where they selected a spectacular piece of driftwood to finish the garden.

Proud volunteers (Chris Bolger, Larry Goss, Andrea Goss and Mick Dressler) standing behind their newly constructed rain garden in Bay City, OR on July 1, 2009. Photo by R. Emanuel, OSU.

Proud volunteers (Chris Bolger, Larry Goss, Andrea Goss and Mick Dressler) standing behind their newly constructed rain garden in Bay City, OR on July 1, 2009. Photo by R. Emanuel, OSU.

The Bay City rain garden represents the culmination of three years of research and development around North coast appropriate stormwater management by local water resources and community development faculty Robert Emanuel. It also marks the last of three major demonstration projects funded by Oregon Sea Grant.  Now it’s up to community members around Tillamook County to try out these attractive options on their own residential and commercial properties. This winter, OSU will publish the Oregon Rain Gardens Guide to help coastal residents and others around the state to assess, design and install the gardens themselves.  Contact the OSU Extension Service Tillamook County for more information.

If you would like more information on rain gardens, Ecoroofs, pervious pavers and other green stormwater management techniques, be sure to attend the free video tour “Stormwater Management: One Back Yard at a Time” hosted at the OSU Extension Service office on September 15 from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM.  I will be on hand afterwards to answer questions and talk about how rain gardens and other stormwater solutions work on in Tillamook County.