City looking to grow rain gardens in other neighborhoods

The City of Seattle spent nearly $2 million on rain gardens aimed at keeping runoff and sewage out of the Puget Sound. But despite some failures and costly repairs - Seattle Public Utilities says it’s ready to try again.

Grant Davenport spent Friday morning testing ground water pressure in a rain garden on 28th Avenue in Ballard.

“This is a data logger which is effectively measuring the depth of the groundwater,” he said.

Through testing, Davenport, a geotechnical engineer intern with Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), says they will be able to see how much storm water this particular rain garden will be able to handle this winter.

“This is really useful,” he said.

Last year, the city installed 10 blocks of rain gardens throughout Ballard as part of a pilot project.
The idea behind the gardens was to keep runoff and sewage from flowing into local streams, lakes and the Puget Sound. But several months later SPU ended up tearing out one third of the gardens because neighbors either didn't like them or they were creating nasty floods. Another third had to be fixed which cost SPU an additional $500,000.

SPU says they have now fixed the problems and worked out the kinks found during the first phase of the Ballard Roadside Raingardens project and recent testing is helping make sure everything is working properly.

“Pilot projects are designed to learn how technology is going to function. Although we have used rain gardens in other projects around the city this is the first time we have used the technology to help control sewer overflows,” said Andy Ryan, spokesman with SPU.

As SPU gets ready for phase two of its pilot project, neighbor Ashlee Norris, who moved to Ballard last year, is interested to see how it goes.

“We're curious to see how it will play out this fall because it will be our first year having the fall season here,” said Norris.

The city says it's learned from its mistakes during the first phase of the project, especially when it comes to communicating with neighbors.

“As we move forward we're really going to try to be more involved with the community, try to get more of their engagement,” said Shanti Colwell, project manager with SPU.

SPU says it’s currently looking to expand the rain garden project to other neighborhoods. One of the areas the utility is considering is Delridge. SPU says it plans to hold a series of community meetings, starting next month, with neighbors in both Ballard and Delridge to better communicate the goals and the purpose behind the gardens.

More information about the city's roadside rain garden program can be found online. Resident can also learn about SPU's 'RainWise' residential program.