Saving the Bay: One River at a Time

By Kathryn Marchi

Have you ever watched water gushing out of your roof gutters or streaming down your street during a rainstorm?  These familiar scenes are played out in developed areas everywhere. In a time when conservation matters, one wonders how that water could be “contained” and used for better purposes.

Centreville, a town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore,  is the focus of a conservation group called the “Corsica River Conservancy.”   One of its solutions for containing and filtering water runoff was to establish “rain gardens” in the various communities of the town.  Since Centreville sits in a strategic area in the watershed of the Corsica River, anything that could be done to improve the condition of this river would ultimately aide the nearby Chesapeake Bay.

A watershed is an area of land near a body of water that absorbs rain and snow and subsequently drains into marshes, streams, rivers, lakes and ponds.  Watersheds can contain farms, ranches, large cities, small towns, forests and more, so much of the water runoff going into the watershed is polluted, as you can imagine. Besides pollutants, some of this runoff, especially from developed areas, can cause flooding. It is important then that water and pollutants be contained or filtered before they cause erosion and enter the various waters nearby.

Since 2007, the Corsica River Conservancy began sponsoring the planting of “rain gardens” in Centreville wherever water was causing erosion or carrying pollutants to other bodies of water, large or small. One such garden was planted behind the Centreville Library and soon homeowners in the various communities became interested in planting these rain gardens on their own property.  Indeed, this idea is now being utilized by many watershed communities all over Maryland and the United States.

A rain garden is really a simple solution when you think about it. Not only does it help improve local water quality by allowing rain water and melting snow from house gutters and street runoff to seep naturally into the ground, it provides lovely plants and flowers for the birds, butterflies and bees. Its visual effects also make any yard a more beautiful place for the homeowner to enjoy.

So what makes a rain garden different from any other garden? For the most part, it’s the location and plant selection. Rain gardens are planted anywhere there is flowing water runoff that causes erosion, or where it simply “stands” on the ground.  These locations can be at the end of a roof gutter, sloping sidewalk, driveway or yard.  Basically one of these areas is cleared and designed with a dip at the center to collect the water runoff.  Native plants, shrubs, grasses and perennials that are hardy and that thrive without fertilizer or pesticides are planted.  These plants will hold the soil and beautify the area.  Rain gardens can be any size and there are many ways to design them so that they look “well kept.”  Homeowners have come up with all sorts of edging and garden accents such as bird feeders and baths to make their gardens even more attractive.

During the first two years, while the plants get established, there is some weeding and watering. In later years, you may have to thin out some of the mature plants.  But it’s not all about easy maintenance. Mosquitoes are not a problem because rain gardens don’t hold water for more than a few hours. They are not expensive. The main cost is buying plants, but using native plants and perennials from other flower beds helps minimize the expense. Rain gardens also provide habitat for helpful insects such as dragonflies that eat mosquitoes!

If gardening is not your preference, there is another way you can help with water runoff on your property. A popular solution is to place rain barrels at the end of your roof guttering. There are several styles to choose from: some have “overflow” valves, just in case, and others have flower containers on the top for a pretty display of your favorite plants. The water you collect can then be used on your lawn, potted plants and bird baths or even to wash your car! In any case, you’ll be helping to improve the quality of your watershed environment.

Rain gardens have really caught on in thousands of watershed communities. Homeowners have taken a personal interest in contributing to cleaner water. Any rain garden, no matter what the size, has a positive impact on water quality and besides, they can be very attractive.  According to Steve Sharkey, a member of the Corsica River Conservancy, there are some 273 rain gardens in the Centreville area alone.

The next time you see water gushing out of a roof gutter, think about the plants and shrubs you could plant there to soak up that deluge. This autumn, plant a rain garden that not only will improve water quality in your community, but will also provide a beautiful spot in the yard for your enjoyment.

For more information, Google “Rain Gardens in Maryland”

or go to

Kathryn Marchi lives in Centreville, Maryland and is enjoying her rain garden that was planted last autumn. The garden was designed to complement the existing landscape in her back yard. She can be reached at [email protected]



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