ST. LOUIS COUNTY • Never mind that the first crocus won’t likely sprout until at least March, Rein Zeidler is already considering some major changes on the grounds of his Webster Groves home.
The options include replacing a portion of the turf grass with permeable vegetation, adding a berm or stone landscaping and digging. Lots of digging.
Should he proceed as planned, Zeidler could wind up with up a handsomely redone yard and extra money in his bank account.
Monday marks the opportunity for Zeidler and homeowners in 13 other St. Louis County municipalities to take the first step toward securing that incentive — up to $2,000 per household — in exchange for participation in a RainScape Rebate Program officials say will stem the flow of residential run-off into Deer Creek watershed tributaries.
“Rainscaping is landscaping with a function and a purpose,” says Stacy Arnold, outreach coordinator for the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance, the public/nonprofit environmental partnership sponsoring the program.
Composed of the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, Region 7 of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation, the consortium has budgeted $200,000 to fund the incentives.
Come planting season, residents of Brentwood, Clayton, Creve Coeur, Des Peres, Frontenac, Kirkwood, Ladue, Maplewood, Olivette, Richmond Heights, Rock Hill, University City, Warson Woods and Webster Groves will be eligible for payouts ranging from $500 to $2,000 by installing native vegetation and other modifications to limit rainwater seepage into nearby waterways.
The participating communities will begin distributing applications to interested homeowners on Monday. Applications can also be downloaded online.
Zeidler said he’d considered a rain garden in the past. The money sealed the deal.
“I think I’ll give it a shot,” said Zeidler. “Why not?”
Robert Broz, the director of the Water Quality Program at the University of Missouri, offers one reason:
“People need to be aware that a rain garden does require maintenance,” he said. “The upfront money figure might sound good. But you need to invest time and money to make sure it functions for a long time.”
A commitment to see the project through is among the criteria alliance officials will weigh in granting the incentives on a case-by-case basis.
The alliance estimates an average award will be $500.
Deborah Chollet Frank of the Missouri Botanical Garden believes it’s a worthwhile investment.
“When water runs into a stream, it carries fertilizer, dog poop and everything else with it,” said Frank, vice president for sustainability with the Botanical Garden.
Precipitation flowing from lawns can also cause major flooding – as has occurred five times in the last 55 years along “highly eroded” Deer Creek watershed streams, according to the alliance.
The short-rooted turf grass cultivating most lawns unfortunately does little or nothing to prevent or slow drainage, notes Karla Wilson, the Deer Creek Alliance project manager.
Better, environmentalists say, to plant vegetation with roots that can extend 10 to 15 feet such as Queen of the Prairie or Culver’s Root or Blue lobelia.
The roots of native grasses such as Big Bluestem and Switch grass also run deep.
The move toward a public and private response to property drainage was introduced two years ago with the installation of pilot rain gardens on six county properties.
Shared responsibility for storm run-off is becoming more common, said Broz.
An incentive program that ended three years ago brought rain gardens to nearly 100 homes, schools and parks in Columbia, Mo.
A similar initiative to reduce the nutrients and pesticides emptying into tributaries feeding the Lake of the Ozarks is gaining traction in south-central Missouri.
And in 2005, the Sustainable Cities Institute launched a project to encourage the installation of 10,000 rain gardens in greater Kansas City.
Controlling run-off can be as complex as a rain garden or as simple as installing a barrel to catch storm water seeping off a lawn.
“A single 50-gallon rain barrel may not seem like much,” said Broz. “But when you have barrels at 100 homes it can make a difference.”
Alliance officials hope the rain gardens appearing in yards across St. Louis County will spark the next phase of environmental awareness.
“We want it to become as common as recycling,” said Frank.