Present Day Problem
The City of St. Albans, Vermont has just changed the way they look at their town park. Rather than just simply growing grass, they have installed a technology that makes an impact right away in the management and resiliency of its town center. While the Taylor Town Park has been established since 1799, St. Albans makes a great case for why it shouldn't just be business as usual.
When St. Albans developed, and became more paved with impermeable surfaces, the town began experiencing flooding and run off all too often. This would disrupt the cities basic functioning and even wreak havoc on infrastructure and bridges, as seen with the flooding from Hurricane Irene. Their basic infrastructure works properly, but when there are floods, and mass rain events like we will continue to have into Vermont’s future, new strategies need to be implemented. Their solution was to rebuild their city park as a rain garden.
Solutions and Use of Technologies
In 2006, there was a regional planning committee which started to assess the problem. They first put in permeable concrete sidewalks as an experiment, which worked well but also offered little impact. Jeff Young, a city council representative, and teacher for Master Gardener training, then started to introduce the idea of a rain garden which would absorb much more runoff in the city park (Young, 2013).
As a member also sitting on the regional planning commission, and chairman of the park commission, Jeff eventually got his way to take innovative green technologies forward in his city. His awareness of large city flooding as well as his background in natural landscaping made a rain garden proposal the most natural option (Young, 2013). to further the case, rain gardens were also being researched heavily. Over the last several years, research and on the ground observation show that rain gardens provide some of the most effective means of removing nutrient pollution in city water, specifically fertilizer runoff of phosphate and nitrate (Yang, 2013). In Vermont this issue is of importance, so this helped move the project forward as well.
His aims were right in line with national trends of the rain garden movement in cities as well. With the Federal Street Enhancement program, for downtown revival but also for green space incorporation, St. Albans was a natural fit. After getting this type of support, this made it possible to turn the the Taylor City Park into a rain garden and sink for excess runoff water (Young, 2013). This plan included capturing water from the higher watershed, large residential buildings nearby, the courthouse, lincoln house and Church Street.
Luckily, as they began to develop the rain garden they found that the park had a sand gravel bottom, whereas everything nearby was clay (Young, 2013). This could be remnants from the first settlers in this area noticing that higher absorption occurred here, and recognizing it as a good space for a town park. This really furthered the success of this rain garden project, with its location having great strata for drainage.
As part of the installation process, they dug down this permeable base and begin to infill with 1 foot crushed stone and gravel, and cobblestone on top for a filter. Gutters along the outside go six by six inches deep, and were first created by digging trenches near the end of the curbs (Young, 2013). These are used to help funnel water from the downtown to the new rain garden.
After completion of the rain garden in August 2013, there has been noticeable success during rain events. There are 8 pods, and 77 sections of the park within the 3.5 acres of the original town park. Each section contains 1-3 shrubs, 3-8 perennials, and have been composted and mulched. This translates to over 700 feet of rain garden including over 1,000 plants. They have estimated that it can take an estimated 2 million gallons of water per year out of the storm water system, preventing general flooding issues in the city of St. Albans (Young, 2013).
Public Acceptance of Project
Through the project manager’s eyes, Jeff sees this project as a major success. The park has become more useful for people, making it nicer as well as providing an environmental and city service. In the first year as a rain garden, it is already performing well, but will absorb even more as plants continue to gain strength and grow more in the second and third season. The city also plans to post educations materials, and run courses for local citizens to learn what should be planted, for what purpose, and how to take care of plants in their backyards. This has the potential to be a great learning center as well because there are 68 different genera, 80% native plants, 200 genera of perennials, and 850 individual perennials (Young, 2013).
It took a $12,000 budget, 1,400 volunteer hours including the use of the criminal justice diversion program, city gardeners, and local landscapers laying cobblestone. This was definitely a community effort, making it a very affordable project!
Is it replicable in different places where the same underlying problem exists?
Yes, this project was funded by the Federal Street Enhancement Grant Program, and other towns in the country have started to implement this same strategy in fighting storm water surges. As communities begin to realize that management of their water in urban areas is important, these types of projects will likely be more widespread.
St. Albans has even received another transportation enhancement grant recently, securing permeable pavement on the east side of the park. They are now eager to see how the park filters water and breaks down contaminants. A water quality testing grant is pending.
The Main Learning Objectives?
With the proper government funding and incentives for cities to manage their water systems, some cities will always take initiative like St. Albans did. This is an exciting story to learn about because this type of development with likely be more common in the future. It has been met with much success and effectiveness for the city’s problems.
Yang, Hanbae, et al. "Field evaluation of a new biphasic rain garden for storm water flow management and pollutant removal." Ecological Engineering 54 (2013): 22-31.
Young, Jeff. Interview, St. Albans Rain Garden. November 8, 2013.