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Re-visioning the Gift of Rain


Re-visioning the Gift of Rain

By Kellen Watson and Brianna Schaefer, Daily Acts

Water-wise isn’t just about using less water, it’s about being really smart with the water we do have, especially the free kind that comes right from the sky. As evidenced by the memorable storms of this winter, rain events are predicted to become more severe and less frequent in our area, meaning that we’ll receive occasional surges of valuable but potentially destructive water. How can we re-vision our developed landscapes to more effectively utilize the gift of rain?

Traditionally, urban and suburban development has sought to move water off the landscape and away from infrastructure as quickly as possible, with most surfaces being impervious or mounded to shed water. When it does rain, runoff water is quickly conveyed by driveways, streets, and storm drains to creeks and rivers, where it contributes to flooding, road damage, stream erosion, and landslides. Furthermore, runoff picks up contaminants like excess lawn fertilizers, pet waste, soap from car washing, oil and grease from leaking engines, zinc from tires, and copper from brakes as it flows over the landscape, carrying them all to streams, rivers, and eventually the ocean. It is important to note that nearly ALL storm drains in Sonoma County empty into local waterways UNTREATED.

So what can we do about it? How can we savor the rain we do have? When it comes to water it is time to start thinking about how we can “Slow It, Spread It, and Sink It” rather than “Pipe it, Pave It, Pollute It, and Send it Away.” Here are three methods for DIY rainwater catchment that can make you a water-wise warrior and a model to your friends and neighbors.


Petaluma City Hall rain garden with barrels

‘Slow it’ with rain catchment systems

The simple installation of rain barrels, tanks or cisterns off of your home’s rain gutters is becoming a relatively mainstream concept, with information and materials readily available in your local hardware store.  There are many ways to go about designing your system so that is can effectively store a whole season worth of rain, or just individual rain events. Depending on your storage capacity this free water source can be used for irrigating your landscape during dry months, reducing both your water bill and perhaps your guilty conscience at the same time. To give you a sense of how much rain you can collect: a 1000 square foot roof will shed 600 gallons for every inch of rain that falls!  


‘Spread it’ with mulch applications

The unsung hero in the garden landscape; mulch provides numerous benefits besides the aesthetically pleasing ‘finished look’. Adding a layer of mulch to your garden can help cut down on erosion, minimize compaction of soil during heavy rain events, maintain soil temperature, replenish organic content of soil as it breaks down and prevent weed growth. In the case of organic mulches like woodchips, having a high water-holding capacity creates an additional storage space for excess water until it can be taken up through soil and plants. Generally applied to lawns, sheet mulching is a process by which compost, cardboard and woodchips are added to the landscape in thin layers creating more surface area to spread and capture rainwater on-site, while reducing weeds and increasing soil fertility as it decomposes.


‘Sink it’ through rain gardens and bio-swales

The addition of rain gardens and swales in your landscape offers two, simple ways to increase stormwater capture and recharge our aquifers. These designed, low depressions and channels create a holding place for water to collect and sink rather than runoff over heavily saturated soils or impermeable surfaces. While both of these features can function well with a dry, riverbed look, incorporating water-wise plantings will increase both the aesthetics and the benefits. The use of native plants in particular can provide much needed habitat, slowing the water and acting as bio-filters for harmful pollutants all at the same time. Be sure to place plants best suited to wet conditions in the center, moving from seasonally wet preferences into dry conditions towards the edges for best results.


So you’ve read the article and you’re ready to become the water-wise warrior you’ve always aspired to be! Now what?? Where do you find the resources to make all your conservation dreams come true? Many of our local municipalities in Sonoma County have incentive programs to help residents reduce water use both inside and outside the home. Programs like Petaluma’s ‘Mulch Madness’, (which delivers cardboard, mulch and compost to your door for free!), Cotati’s ‘Cash for Grass’ and Windsor’s ‘Efficiency PAYS’ program all provide incentives to reduce outdoor water use. The City of Santa Rosa’s ‘Green Exchange’ program also offers similar programs along with a rebate for installing a residential rain catchment system.

If you’re looking to grow your skills and gain some hands-on experience or guidance before taking the plunge, Daily Acts offers workshops throughout the year on rain catchment system design and installation, rain gardens, bio-swales and sheet mulching. Please see the event page on our website for details.


Check out the links below and get signed up today to make a difference in your own yard!

Petaluma ‘Mulch Madness’ 

Cotati ‘Cash for Grass’          

Windsor ‘Efficiency PAYS’ 

Santa Rosa ‘Green Exchange’