Waterwise Wednesday: The Water’s On

It’s nearly July and the gardens are green and full of early summer blossoms – using just rainwater.

Late last week the City of Scottsbluff finally turned the water on the downtown gardens, about three months after lawn watering began around the city. Native and well adapted plants use much less water than traditional turf once established.  They’re also drought hardy, provide needed habitat for pollinators and create a distinct sense of place with a plant palate tailored for the Nebraska Panhandle.

The Garden Coffeebreak 2016

· Mapping Out the Garden with Anita Gall , Anita’s Greenscaping*

             Date: March 18, 2016                                                        Time:  11:00 AM—Noon

            Location: Café de Paris, 15 West 16th Street               Phone:  308-633-2529

Menu – Cafe de Paris 2016

                    Garden:   Lots 1  & 10,  Avenue A between 16th and 17th Streets

 

· Arbor Day with Amy Seiler, Nebraska Forest Service*

               Date:  April 15,  2016                                                               Time:  11:00 AM—Noon

Location: Cappuccino & Company, 1703 Broadway           Phone:  308-635-9997

Menu – Cappuccino & Company 2016

Garden: Lots 8 & 16, Avenue A and 17th Street

 

·  Phytoremediation with Leann Sato, Scottsbluff Stormwater Program Specialist* 

               Date:  May 20,  2016                                                                  Time:  11:00 AM—Noon

Location: The Emporium                                                            Phone: 632-6222

Menu – The Emporium

Garden: Lot 3, 18th Street & 1st Avenue and Lot 4, 17th Street & 1st Avenue

 

· Great Plants Showcase with Bob Henrickson, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

               Date:  June 3,  2016                                                                        Time:  11:00 AM—Noon

Location: Godfather’s Pizza, 2207 Broadway,                          Phone: 308-632-3644

Garden: Wellhouse #3,  Broadway and 23rd Street

 

· Beneficial Insect Environments with Jeff Bradshaw, UNL Extension*

Date:  July 29 , 2016                                                                      Time:  11:00 AM—Noon

Location: Cappuccino & Company, 1703 Broadway              Phone:  308-635-9997

Garden: Midwest, PSB,  East Overland Entryway (Diverse flowers – new and established)

 

· Watering a Low-Water Use  Landscape  with Jim Schild, Associate Director, UNL Extension 

Date: August 19, 2016                                                                    Time:  11:00 AM—Noon

Location: The Shed, 18 East 16th Street                                    Phone:  635-6555

Garden: Library Bioswale, 1908 3rd Avenue

 

· Landscaping LID Style with Al Herbel, LEED AP and Lois Herbel,  Nebraska Department of Education

               Date: September 16, 2016                                                               Time:  11:00 AM—Noon

Location:  Runza, 1823 Broadway                                                Phone: 631-0397

Garden: Library Bioswale, 1809 3rd Avenue

  · Gardens Through the Lens with Gary Stone, UNL Extension*

               Date: October 21, 2016                                                                   Time:  11:00 AM—Noon

               Location:  Sam & Louie’s, 1522 Broadway                                Phone: 308-633-2345

Garden:  Library Bioswale,  via  West Nebraska Art Center , Lot 12

Continue reading The Garden Coffeebreak 2016

Greening Up the Urban Environment- Part III

The following is Part III of a three part series focusing on the City of Scottsbluff’s 319 grant projects.  These projects are designed to reduce impervious cover in parking lots, filtering and infiltrating stormwater runoff.  This article will go over project successes.  For an overview of the projects, see Part I.  For project challenges and lessons learned, see Part II.

In the last article, we went over the challenges of landscaping a hot, harsh urban environment.  Now that we have gone over the difficulties of these projects, we are going to outline some of the practices we used that worked well.  The following is a list of some of the techniques that were effective and that we will be using in the future:

A mixture of native and well-adapted plants do well with minimal inputs of water, fertilizer, and pesticides.
A mixture of native and well-adapted plants do well with minimal inputs of water, fertilizer, and pesticides.
  • Plant Selection- Thanks to the help of the Nebraska Forest Service and the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, we were able to use a very carefully chosen plant list.  This plant list included several tried and true plants for our area, such as catmint, yarrow, jupiter’s beard, butterfly milkweed, and asters, as well as some lesser-known selections, such as thelosperma and plumbago.  We will be monitoring these landscapes to see which of these plants do well over time, helping to expand our palette of plants we know to be successful in this area.
Native sedges are a great choice for areas with poor soil drainage
Native sedges are a great choice for areas with poor soil drainage
  • Sedges- While this also refers to plant selection, the unique functionality of our sedges merits them their own bullet point.  Because the projects are designed to capture stormwater, and because the soils were in such poor condition when we started our projects, we had several areas that were poorly drained.  These were the areas where we planted sedges, some of them which were literally planted in standing water.  These sedges have thrived, looking very attractive while serving the very important function of cleaning and filtering stormwater before it reaches the storm drain or is infiltrated into the ground.  There are very few plants that do well when exposed to extended periods of standing water; we have had great success with using sedges in these difficult areas.
The existing storm grate before we installed the landscaping would have been easily plugged by floating mulch
The existing storm grate before we installed the landscaping would have been easily plugged by floating mulch
  • Beehive Storm Grate- The previous storm drain was a typical rectangle grate that was flush with the ground.  We talked about some of the challenges of mulch in our previous article; one of the other challenges is that it can plug a storm drain.  The storm drain we chose for the overflow of our retention area, shown below, is designed to keep from plugging when the water gets deeper and mulch starts floating.  After experiencing a few strong thunderstorms, it appears that this design has been very effective at keeping the storm drain open to receive overflowing stormwater runoff.
The beehive storm grate we installed is great for carrying stormwater overflow without plugging
The beehive storm grate we installed is great for carrying stormwater overflow without plugging
  • Strategic Placement of Hardscape- We allowed several areas throughout the landscape for people to pass through as they were leaving their vehicles.  This seems to have cut down on the amount of foot traffic we receive in the landscape itself.  Additionally, in an area that was constantly being driven over, we strategically placed a boulder.  This not only has aesthetic value, it has completely stopped vehicles from driving over this part of the landscape.
Strategically placed hardscape helps keep traffic out of landscape beds
Strategically placed hardscape helps keep traffic out of landscape beds

At this time, those are the most noticeable successes that we have seen.  We are hoping that over time, using large landscape beds with adequate soil rooting volume for trees will help the trees to be more successful long-term; however, it will be several years before we know for sure if it is a success.  We are also hoping to turn off the drip irrigation systems in the future.  During their first summer, though, we will be leaving the irrigation on to help the plants establish their root systems.  We may have to continue irrigating during extended dry periods.  We will also be observing our plants over time to see how they do- watch for future articles outlining specific plant selections that have done well.  All in all, perhaps the greatest success has been being able to remove over 9,500 square feet of concrete from our parking lots and replace it with a beautiful, functional landscape that will have great environmental benefits for years to come.

downtown landscaping

Where the Water Flows by Leann Sato

Ahh, the smell of Spring after an April rain shower.  Clean and fresh.    The rain washes away the dry and dirty leaving the beauty of a refreshed landscape. 

 

And then I wonder. Where did the rain go that carried away the dry and dirty? And what was so dirty that needed to be cleaned?

 

The rain runs down the gutter to the storm drain, the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) to be exact.   The storm sewer takes rain, snowmelt, and anything that floats down the gutter to the North Platte River. This is often confused with the Sanitary Sewer which takes our home’s wastewater from the shower, laundry, dishwasher, and toilets to the wastewater treatment plant.

The two sewer systems are separate and function differently. The Sanitary Sewer takes water to be cleaned and treated at the wastewater treatment plant.  A constant flow and steady volume of wastewater runs through the plant.  First, trash and non-organic materials are screened out and taken to the landfill. In the next step, the raw sewage flows to an aeration basin where organisms are introduced to help decompose the organic material.  Then the wastewater flows into a clarifier, where those organisms are settled out of the water, producing a sludge which can be composted and reused.  The water is then disinfected using ultraviolet radiation and returned in clean condition to the North Platte River.

The storm drainage system in Scottsbluff and Gering runs straight to the North Platte River; it is not cleaned or treated.  Unlike wastewater, stormwater runoff is unpredictable and varies in volume, making it infeasible to treat with the same process as waste water.  When rain, snowmelt, or the occasional sprinkler causes water to run down the gutter, it can pick up pollutants such as bacteria from pet waste, leaking oil and other fluids from our vehicles, heavy metals from brake pads, and phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizers. The stormwater and its pollutants deposits directly into our waterways.  This type of pollution is called non-point source (NPS) pollution, since there’s no specific source, and it is the largest cause of impaired waterways in the United States.

As an example of this, the nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer are good for plants, in proper amounts. But consider what happens when the “little bit” that runs off the lawn to join the other “little bits” already in the storm sewer, North Platte River, Missouri River, and Mississippi River.  The excess nitrogen, phosphorus and other fertilizer nutrients in the water lead to large blooms of algae. When the algae die and decompose, this dramatically reduces the amount of oxygen in the water creating hypoxic zones, more commonly called “dead zones,” in which organisms cannot survive.[1] The Gulf of Mexico dead zone, where “little bits” of fertilizer run-off from across the country end up, was estimated to be 5,840 square miles in 2013[2], roughly the land size of Nebraska’s largest county, Cherry County. [3]

Stormwater pollution is difficult to treat, but there are many easy to help prevent it.  The main goal is to let only rain go down the drain. Pick up pet waste, throw litter in the trash can, keep the car in good condition by checking for leaks and regular maintenance, fertilize according to the directions and sweep any extra back onto the yard. The list of suggestions is long the list of benefits even longer.

It all begins by being aware of stormwater – where it goes, what it picks up, and the simple ways to help keep it clean.   So savor the scent of Spring after an April shower and the knowledge of how to help keep our waterways just as clean and fresh.

 

 

Sidebar: 

Only Rain Down the Drain:  Simple Ways to Help Prevent Stormwater Pollution

Trash:

Put litter in the garbage

Pick up pet waste and put it in the trash or flush it.

Recycle

 

Vehicles:

Wash your car on the lawn or in a commercial car wash

Monitor, fix Leaks, and clean spills properly

Maintain vehicle regularly

Recycle used motor oil

 

Home:

Properly dispose of hazardous household chemicals

Use non-toxic household products

Sweep the driveway or sidewalk instead of hosing it down

Redirect downspouts to run onto the yard instead of a sidewalk or driveway

Harvest rain water

 

Yards:

Fertilizer and pesticides

Apply according to directions

Store indoors

Sweep any extra back onto the lawn

Use natural fertilizers and pesticides

Keep your grass clippings on the lawn

Compost yard waste

Sweep up leaves and dispose in yard waste containers

Don’t overwater

Water the lawn, not the sidewalk

Vegetate Bare Spots

Use de-icers sparingly

 

Landscape:

Plant “the right plant in the right place”

Plant a rain garden

Use native or well-adapted plants



[1] http://www.epa.gov/msbasin/ hypoxia101.htm

[2] http://www.gulfhypoxia.net/Research/Shelfwide%20Cruises/2013/PressRelease2013.pdf

[3] http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/nebraska/land-area#table

Sustainable Landscaping Reduces Stormwater Pollution

The City of Scottsbluff, working with the Nebraska Forest Service and Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, has recently completed a project that will help reduce stormwater runoff and pollution.  We started with a parking lot that had over 16,000 square feet of impervious surface and no landscaping.  We broke out over 4,000 square feet of concrete and replaced it will trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennials.  Not only did we reduce the impervious surface area of the parking lot by about 1/4, we also designed the project so that runoff from the impervious areas that were left would run into the landscaped areas, where much of it can be filtered into the soil and utilized by the plants.  Keep reading for a step by step explanation of what went into this project. Continue reading Sustainable Landscaping Reduces Stormwater Pollution