The city of Kalispell and the Flathead Conservation District are working together to protect local waterways from nonpoint source pollution through the Flathead Rain Garden Initiative.
A rain garden is a landscaped depression that collects, filters and then absorbs stormwater runoff. The gardens are specifically designed to capture the stormwater and filter it before it enters the groundwater.
As the population grows, native soils and forests are replaced with homes, roads and other hard surfaces.
When it rains or snows, more water flows from those hard surfaces than native areas. That untreated water can then carry oil, fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants downstream.
“We are removing those pollutants before they enter our storm drains and go untreated into our local rivers and streams,” said Hailey Graf, resource conservationist with the Flathead Conservation District.
Plants, animals and the land all rely on clean water for survival.
“A lot of people don’t realize that temperature and access settlement and things like that can be pollutants that damage our waterways, reduce our fisheries and kill off aquatic insects,” said Graf.
The gardens are designed with three zones in mind.
On the outside, the gardens contain fairly drought tolerant plants. Plants that require water a portion of the time can be found in the middle layer, and water-loving plants should be planted in the center of the garden.
“When you are selecting plants for your rain garden, you’re really going to want to focus on native plants, because those plants are adapted to our ecosystem,” said Graf.
This season the Flathead Conservation District is working with about 20 different landowners to construct rain gardens on their property.
“There is a ton of uniqueness in these gardens. They have a ton of potential in different spaces, and that is one of the many great things about them,” said Emilie Henry, Big Sky Watershed corps member.
The gardens are more than just beautiful, the Flathead Conservation District says they have several benefits in addition to filtering water.
Rain gardens can also enhance the landscaping and appearance of yards, provide habitat for birds and insects and reduce flooding and erosion in streams.
Technical and financial assistance may be available to those interested in protecting local waterways.
For additional information or to learn how to build your own rain garden at home, visit the website.