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Rain garden completed at IU for Earth Day

Apr. 22, 2016

The weather today may not be ideal for planting a rain garden, but it is certainly the kind of weather that makes a rain garden necessary.

The installation of a rain garden outside the IU Student Recreational Sports Center began April 15 and was finished today in honor of Earth Day. It was initiated, funded and implemented by IU students.

students planting

Student volunteers help install the channel liner and mark placements for plants. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE IU OFFICE OF SUSTAINABILITY

“This area has had a problem with drainage for years,” said IU Landscape Services manager Mike Girvin. “We had 3-foot crevices from soil eroding away that were becoming a safety concern for our staff mowing.”

Makayla Bonney, project coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, explained the garden and its coming to fruition.

Conceptually, think of a rain garden as a tool to better disperse rain back into the ground during inclement weather. Instead of allowing water runoff to create stagnant pools or erode the ground by running off all at once, a rain garden collects the water and releases it slowly.

“This particular type of installation is a mix between a traditional rain garden and a bio-swale, which uses gravity to pool or direct the flow of water,” said Melissa Laney Clark, a senior lecturer in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Along with preventing erosion, a rain garden has the added benefits of creating habitat for creatures and pollinator corridors to encourage the proliferation of certain plant species.

The idea for the garden came from a proposal by a student in Clark’s spring 2015 Best Management Practices for Healthy Urban Watersheds class.

The proposal was shared with the Restorative Adaptations for Infrastructure initiative, or RAIN, a student group on campus, and then reformatted as an application to the Student Sustainability Council. Once approved, it was funded by a grant from the Student Sustainability Fund.

“It’s very exciting,” Clark said. “This location had so many erosion issues. Now it’s benefiting Landscape Services and it’s student-initiated. So it’s a win-win-win. These types of features are the best catchment for runoff from our non-permeable surfaces.”

The implementation of the garden has been led by Girvin with the help of IU Architect’s Office and the Office of Sustainability’s Environmental Quality and Land Use Working Group.

“This site will prove that we can have a beautiful aesthetic with green infrastructure,” Girvin said. “We’re going to have big sitting rocks so that students can hang out here or relax on their way to or from the recreation center.”

Several other rain gardens have been installed on campus, including one near Cedar Hall that an Office of Sustainability intern planned and supervised in 2014. Girvin said he hopes there will be more.

“Hopefully this leads to more rain gardens on campus in the future,” he said. 

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