Once upon a time, there was a small settlement on the banks of a beautiful river. It was a lovely site, with many trees, open meadows of wildflowers and grasses, and a marsh where water plants grew and many different kinds of insects, birds, butterflies, and small animals lived. When it rained, the water seeped into the ground where tree roots could reach it, and it replenished the marsh.
Soon more people discovered the settlement, and roads were needed so they could travel to the town to the north. Time went by and cars were invented; they needed smooth hard surfaces to drive on. People bought cars for themselves and made a smooth hard place on their own land for their car.
Now, when rain fell, some of it slid off the smooth surfaces and ran down to the river. As more houses appeared, pipes were installed to direct the water away from them. Now the soil was not so damp. Because it contained a lot of clay, it shrank as it dried, sometimes causing problems in basement walls. People thought the tree roots were causing the problems, so they chopped some down. They didn’t know that the trees were holding a lot of water and allowing it to evaporate from their leaves, back up to the sky.
In summer, when there was very little rain, people had to water their gardens and some of the remaining trees died because their roots couldn’t reach water, which was very deep in the soil. When rain did fall, most of it flowed over the smooth surfaces, through the pipes, and into the river. In spring, when snow melted, too much water flowed into the river and it flooded over its banks. The people had to build a dike to keep the water from coming into their houses.
The City of Ottawa is working on rainwater management and part of that is asking us to keep rain on our own land instead of letting it slide away to the river. A web page has information on how to create a rain garden – plants that will use the water, while keeping it away from your foundation.
A rain garden project on Sunnyside is showing us which native plants do best in during both heavy rain and dry spells. The city is also monitoring water levels in the plots to see how well they capture, slow down, and absorb runoff from the road.
A pilot project in the Pinecrest area includes information sessions, workshops, signs, demonstration rain gardens, and de-paving.
In Morgan’s Grant, a huge expanse of hydro corridor has been planted with native wildflowers, grasses, and sedges. It’s so successful at holding water that the city has incorporated it into its stormwater management system and hopes to replicate this approach in other parts of the region.
What can we do?
The following tips are based on the Pinecrest Creek project’s educational material:
Slow it down
- Redirect your downspout to permeable surfaces on your own property, such as grass or gardens
- Use rain barrels to collect rainfall for later use – make sure to use the water before the next rain
- Plant trees and shrubs – trees slow the volume of rain by 30%
Soak it up
- Build a rain garden to encourage infiltration into the ground (see link below)
- Use paving stones or permeable paving in place of asphalt
- De-pave – replace unused asphalt with grass or gardens
Keep it clean
- Never pour anything down a storm sewer – they drain to local waterways
- Pick up after your pets and flush feces (not bags) down the toilet
- Wash your car at a car wash instead of your driveway
- Use compost instead of chemical fertilizer
- Use non-toxic alternatives to salt
- Use public ash trays
- Facts and figures , check out the city’s web page Stormwater and Drainage - www.ottawa.ca/en/living-ottawa/water/stormwater-and-drainage
- Animated graphic showing water flow through city ottawa.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=ba1269c787c443f6b3b358c3c1067aca
- Build a rain garden - documents.ottawa.ca/sites/documents/files/raingarden_infosheet_en.pdf
- Accidental wilderness – Nature of Things documentary on a wetland wilderness in downtown Toronto – available online www.cbc.ca/natureofthings
- How to sow a wildflower mini-meadow - www.discoverwildlife.com/how-to/wildlife-gardening/how-to-sow-a-wildflower-mini-meadow
A new book by nature guru, Doug Tallamy: Nature’s Best Hope: a new approach to conservation that starts in your yard
City of Ottawa’s latest Wildlife Speaker event – Living with Coyotes – was recorded. This is an excellent talk with insights based on a 20-year study of coyotes in and around Chicago. Zip to minute 13, where the presentation begins. www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICwCGlfYBA4
We’ll be doing a Jane’s Walk at Brewer Pond this year:
Saturday, May 2, 2020. Postponed to September 2020. Over the last 45-50 years, various groups have reclaimed this swimming pool, opened it back up to the river, and planted a tiny forest on the dike. The environment group hopes to take it further by planting a butterfly meadow, flowering trees for early bees, and wetland wildflowers at the boggy west end.
What steps is your family taking to reduce waste? Lower your carbon footprint? Restore ecosystems? You can inspire your neighbours and multiply the impact!