VALPARAISO | Central Elementary School students will learn first-hand about the benefits of rain gardens next fall.
Valparaiso's Utilities Board approved plans for two rain gardens next to Erie Street along the school's parking lot and playground.
City stormwater engineer Adam McAlpine said he planned to install the gardens this summer but couldn't get all the details of a Lake Michigan Coastal Program grant worked out in time.
The $21,000 grant will cover half the estimated cost of the project, which McAlpine said will provide some benefits for filtering stormwater runoff from the parking lot but will be more important as an educational tool for the school's students.
He plans to ask for an extension of the grant to enable him to install the gardens next summer rather than try to do it while students are in school. He said the rain gardens will provide an example of the kind of thing residents can install in their yards to clear up nuisance puddles.
"I hope to have a residential rain garden program in the stormwater budget next year," McAlpine said. "If the residents are willing to do the excavating, the city would provide the plants. It sure beats putting in hundreds of feet of storm sewers."
The Central Elementary rain gardens are being done in cooperation with the Valparaiso University engineering department, which will test the water quality periodically.
"I like the idea," board member Kurt Minko said. "It's the wave of the future. It is green, and it gets rid of pollutants. It helps everybody."
A rain garden is a planted low area that collects runoff from hard surfaces and allows it to filter into the ground. The plants help remove pollutants to prevent it from reaching the aquifer or area streams and add beauty.
One of the new rain gardens will be made with an iron enhanced sand filter, and the university will use the two to study the effectiveness of capturing dissolved phosphorous.