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Originally published Monday, June 13, 2011 at 3:55 PM

Guest columnist

Saving Puget Sound a rain garden at a time

Guest columnists Curt Moulton and David Burger say the citizens and local governments can help save Puget Sound with the 12,000 Rain Garden Campaign.

Special to The Times

12,000 Rain Garden Campaign

FOR INFORMATION about the 12,000 Rain Garden Campaign, including handbooks, maps and free workshops, go to www.12000raingardens.org
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Decisive action is needed to save Puget Sound from continuous pollution flowing from rainwater runoff. The conundrum is how do we ensure that action is immediate, affordable and truly green? Fortunately, a bold plan is at hand that can easily be embraced by Puget Sound communities. We are calling on citizens, homeowners and local governments across the Puget Sound region to join in a groundbreaking effort to be the first place in the nation to build 12,000 rain gardens in the next five years.

In an innovative partnership, Puget Sound-based Stewardship Partners and Washington State University Extension have launched the "12,000 Rain Gardens in Puget Sound" campaign to bring thousands of rain gardens to our neighborhoods by 2016. The result will be cleaner water heading to the Sound, flood control and beautiful gardens throughout the region.

What is a rain garden? It's an attractive landscape feature in your yard that captures and filters polluted runoff from your rooftop and other hard surfaces, preventing flooding and increasing home value while creating habitat for birds and butterflies. To help everyone participate, Stewardship Partners and WSU offer free workshops and excellent online information.

The campaign benefits from the experienced scientists and educators at WSU who are internationally recognized experts on the best and latest research, ensuring these 12,000 rain gardens are state of the art. With citizens throughout the region, we are building a community-driven model to dramatically improve our environment that will serve as a national model. Rain gardens deliver an important additional benefit to taxpayers, homeowners and businesses — they are a proven cost-effective way to address water pollution and flooding.

Picture this: Correctly installed, a rain garden looks like a leafy cluster of plants and clean soil. Rain garden sizes are flexible depending on the location. The whole idea is to use the right landscaping to do the job nature has done for millennia — reducing our dependence on expensive pipe and drain systems to carry away storm water. In addition, you don't need a green thumb or have to invest long hours to maintain an attractive rain garden.

The 12,000 Rain Gardens Campaign has already leveraged community organization and support in unprecedented ways. The Rain Garden Cluster Program, piloted in Puyallup and Eatonville, is mobilizing and connecting homeowners by installing adjacent rain gardens. With help from Boeing Charitable Trust and others, these rain gardens come at little or no cost to homeowners. The 12,000 Rain Garden campaign is engaging additional public and private partners ranging from Seattle Public Utilities to the Nisqually Tribe helping them install the best-designed systems for homeowners, churches, schools and businesses.

Imagine the impact: 12,000 rain gardens will soak up about 160 million gallons of polluted runoff each year. That's good news for our ever-growing and ever-changing region of landscapes, driveways, lawns and gardens. We will feel a soft revolution in the way we treat polluted runoff — the water that forever defines us as a livable place between mountains and sea.

Washington State University's contributions to our state are without peer, integrating working farms, rivers, towns and cities with our precious open lands. Stewardship Partners is a leader in its role in offering to the people of the Sound direct ways that they can help through the most effective and cleanest ways to use our resources. "12,000 Rain Gardens in Puget Sound" is an audacious initiative we all can and should embrace.

Together, we can promise you a rain garden.

Curt Moulton is director of Washington State University Snohomish County Extension and David Burger is executive director of the non-profit Stewardship Partners.

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