Floodplain discussion takes backseat to rain gardens

VIENNA – The scheduled discussion on the floodplain ordinance and the Biggert-Waters floodplain insurance act in Vienna took a surprising turn Wednesday evening, as those in attendance were more interested in discussing the stormwater maintenance measure known as the rain garden than in discussing floodplain issues.

In a discussion that was led primarily by the five people in attendance, Rob Rush, building code official for the city of Vienna, and Craig Metz, director of public works in Vienna, spent 45 minutes answering the questions of Vienna and Parkersburg residents who were interested in creating their own rain gardens.

Metz said the large flower beds surrounding the Vienna City Building and across the street at the parking lot for the fire and police stations are rain gardens with below-ground reservoirs that capture the first inch of rainwater in a storm, and keep the plants within watered without human interaction.

Metz explained that a rain garden is a big flower bed, often with sand and gravel underneath, designed to capture the first inch of rainwater in a storm and the pollutants that this water usually carries, he said.

Kim Coram, Parkersburg City Council member; Linda Fiore with the Wood County Master Gardener’s program and John Wiseman with the Master Naturalist’s program spoke of plans to create an 18-foot-wide, 100-foot-long rain garden near the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church on Charles Street.

The trio also spoke of plans to install a bike path from the Parkersburg floodwall northward through Vienna, behind the mall, and beyond.

A vacant lot will be used as a rain garden near the Good Shepherd Church if everything goes according to plan, Coram said. The group plans to capture the rainwater from the nearby Good Shepherd Church’s roof, although they had not decided on rain barrels or an underground system on Wednesday evening, she said.

The differences between an underground storage system and a rain barrel system were discussed during the meeting.

The underground storage system requires an underground structure to be constructed, along with a pump and overflow system, Metz said. This style of system can be an expensive initial investment, he said.

The rain barrel system was described as cost efficient when compared to the underground system, Metz said.

The difference between using the space to grow wildflowers and using it to grow vegetables was asked by Fiore.

A vegetable garden will offer at least some use for the rainwater, Metz said. However, that use is limited to only the times when the vegetables are in the soil, he said.

For a rain garden to be functional year-round, it needs plants that will live throughout the seasons, including those which are drought-resistant for times when water is not so plentiful, Rush said.

Plans for the bike trail would require stormwater runoff regulations to be followed, Metz said.

Wiseman and Coram suggested a packed-dirt, natural style trail, which would not create a drainage issue because it would absorb the rainwater like the natural ground would.

Vienna resident Lawrence Wilson said that Metz and Rush did a good job with their presentation on Wednesday evening. He commended their efforts.

It is important to get people in Vienna to understand the need for rain gardens and how stormwater management plays into the floodplain maps of the city, Rush said.

Metz said Vienna residents sometimes refuse the concept of a rain garden for strange reasons.

“It makes no sense to me,” Metz said. “I will see people who simply refuse to have a rain garden and want to get rid of all of that water and send it straight into the street. But then, they contact the city to have a special tap installed to irrigate their lawn. They are just throwing the water away and then paying to have different water shipped back to do the exact same thing,” he said.

What people in Vienna need to understand is that stormwater management through rain gardens will lower the floodplain maps in the coming years, Rush said.

“When people use rain gardens, they divert this water from going into the streets,” Rush said. “If it isn’t in the streets, it can’t flow into the creeks. If it doesn’t reach the creeks, it can’t become a flood. If everyone in Vienna pitched in and installed a rain garden, the floodplain would actually be lowered in only about 10 years’ time,” he said.

Residents throughout the area are encouraged to install rain gardens at their homes and businesses to reduce everyone’s flood risks in the future, Rush said.