Friday Harbor has a new feature at the northeast corner of Spring and First Streets. What looks now like just a layer of cobblestones with scattered clumps of grass and trees, is actually an amazing accomplishment and the beginning of a new experiment. It’s not just a garden, it’s a “rain garden” with a job to do!
Over the years it had become evident that the rainwater runoff from Friday Harbor was picking up pollution from the streets and carrying it into the harbor. With our mission to protect and restore the marine waters, habitats and species of the Salish Sea to achieve ecosystem health and sustainable resource use, the Marine Resources Committee (MRC) wanted to work toward a solution that would work for both the Town and for our harbor.
Cleaning up stormwater before it reaches the marine environment can be a big job, and in some places it is done withan extensive series of settling ponds and filters which are expensive and take up precious real estate. We wanted to find something simpler here. After a lot of local discussion, we decided to see if a small demonstration rain garden could be built and be part of a way to make runoff water a little cleaner. They work by taking runoff and filtering it through soils and uptake by the garden’s plants. Rain gardens have many advantages including that, in time, they can be quite attractive and are a much less expensive alternative to large high-tech stormwater filtering systems.
Once the idea started to take root, it became even more of a community project and productive partnership. The MRC, working with a grant from the Department of Ecology helped to fund and manage the project, the County helped with engineering and contracting advice, the Town supported the project in too many ways to list. Beyond these four groups, Boundary Waters Inc., 2020 Engineering, Mike Carlson Enterprises, Island Gardens Company, LOEA Design, Atlantis Construction, Banyon Tree, the Friday Harbor Marine Health Observatory, Crystal Seas Kayaking and more all contributed toward the project.
What's Next for the Rain Garden?
Now that the initial construction is done, there is still more to do and understand. Right now the rain garden looks sparse. Like any garden, it will take time and care for the plants to grow and fill in and become more attractive. The garden will need tending and will continue to take a partnership, with the Master Gardeners added to the partner list. Safety concerns are being addressed with a new handrail or safety barrier. And an interpretive sign will be added soon, so residents and visitors will have a better understanding of this new thing.
Over time, the rain garden will be monitored to accurately understand the water treatment that it does provide and whether, on a larger scale, this could be a viable way to provide cleaner freshwater to our harbor. We may need to add more and different plants for improved aesthetics. This is just the beginning of this experiment. Perhaps someday we’ll have cleaner water and more shade and plants around town!
Learn how to build a rain garden with the Western Washington Rain Garden Handbook