Water, water everywhere: No problem for a rain garden

Feb 22nd, 2019 | By | Category: Spotlight

When Deb Dennison and her sister Sue Dennison moved to their home in Tacoma in 2017, they were in for a big surprise when the spring rains flooded their basement.

“Even though everyone told us that basements flood,” said Deb, she immediately began looking for a solution to the water problem.

The search to solve the problem led Deb and Sue to the City of Tacoma Environmental Services Department, where they were lucky enough to meet up with Tony Miller in the Science and Engineering Division, who investigated their flooding complaint.

“They sent environmental engineers, and through their                                  

excellent advice, they told us about the Make a Splash grant,” said Deb.

Project applications for a Make a Splash grant should focus on preventing stormwater pollution and protecting or restoring clean surface water. Shauna Hansen, environmental engineer for the City of Tacoma, and Aaron Copado, grant administrator for Make a Splash, were extremely helpful during this process, according to Deb and Sue.

“The Make a Splash program is a yearly program funded by Environmental Services in Tacoma. Through a reimbursement program, we offer up to $4,000 to fund a project proposal. The grant applicant pays up front and submits receipts for reimbursement,” said Copado.

For the Dennison sisters, everything slowed down a bit when Sue, who volunteered to write the grant proposal for installing a rain garden in the sisters’ yard, fell and broke her arm and had to have surgery. Even so, with the assistance of the Pierce Conservation District to provide free rain garden design drawings and a maintenance plan through the Rain Garden Cost Share Program, the sisters got the grant application in on time.

After qualifying for the grant, they got to work on completing the project.

The grant proposal required a contractor to do the job, but Deb and Sue had no luck in finding one.

“We contacted several, and none of them agreed to do the work, so I called the city and said we wouldn’t be able to complete the project because we couldn’t find a contractor,” said Sue. Officials with Make a Splash and the Environmental Services Department replied that if the sisters could get it done themselves, they would be willing to extend the deadline for finishing the project.

The first order of business was to hire someone to help. As luck would have it, the sisters met Ray Vielle-Kelly at a local Home Depot store, hired him on the spot, and the threesome dug in.

“We just tore through the jungle,” said Deb.

Vielle-Kelly worked like a champ every day for three weeks. Sue acted as project manager, drew up the plans for the rain garden and ordered supplies. Deb was the crew boss, and their nephew helped out, as well.

To meet the requirements of the Make a Splash program, the job had to be completed by Aug. 31, 2018. “We completed the job the last week of August, under the wire and two days early,” said Deb. “We moved soil and managed water runoff to make it something useful and beautiful. Now the garden is sending out clean water.”

Two 865-gallon cisterns on the site collect excess rainwater. This reuses the water on the property and keeps it from going into the city stormwater system.

The permaculture rain garden is covered with wood chips that absorb and clean the water, reduce weeds and add nutrients to the garden as they break down. In addition, wood chips add a clean look to the garden.

Vielle-Kelly said the job was rewarding in so many different ways.

“I got to meet good people and did a good thing for the environment and earned some money,” he said.

Deb and Sue are grateful for the work Vielle-Kelly did and said they couldn’t have completed the project without him.

For more information on the Make a Splash grant program, go to https://www.cityoftacoma.org/makeasplash. The next application cycle will be May 1–May 31, 2019.

This is the first in a series of articles in Senior Scene sponsored by the City of Tacoma, its Environmental Services Department, and the Make a Splash grant program.