Neighborhood rain gardens protect environment, give military veterans jobs

A city-wide project is helping to protect Lynnwood’s surface water while providing employment opportunities for military veterans.

Through a partnership with the Snohomish Conservation District, the City of Lynnwood completed its third year of installing rain gardens in residential neighborhoods. Since 2016, the city has been working to implement low-impact development projects and host hands-on workshops focusing on stormwater management, said the city’s Stormwater Technician Cameron Coronado.

“Stormwater pollution is the number-one source of pollution in the Puget Sound area,” Coronado said. “Stormwater collects oils, pet waste, heavy metals and other harmful stuff that pollutes surface waters.”

The process includes guiding rainwater from gutters and downspouts into a trench that feeds into the freshly-dug-out rain garden. The gardens are filled with a bioretention soil that infiltrates water and helps break down pollutants. Homeowners then work with WSU Master Gardeners to choose which plants they want to include in their garden.

When choosing plants for a rain garden, Coronado said native plants increase pollinators and are easier to maintain. Plants that can tolerate wet conditions while still being able to handle drought in the summer are a good choice, he added.

“It helps urban environments function more like natural systems,” Coronado said.

This year, the city project installed six rain gardens in a north Lynnwood neighborhood. Work on the gardens began in July and each garden takes roughly a week to construct. The project was completed in September.

To build the gardens, the city has partnered with the Veterans Conservation Corp (VCC) — a program that helps struggling veterans by providing them with employment opportunities and other resources. The crew works with landowners on stormwater resource concerns in urban and residential areas of Snohomish County and Camano Island, and occasionally in other parts of the Puget Sound region.

The VCC program serves as temporary employment to help struggling veterans bridge the gap between unemployment and finding a more permanent job. In the past, program participants were limited to two, four-month terms, which took place between March and October. However, after hearing some participants had difficulty finding work during the off season, the program started to allow participants to work five to six terms, said Community Conservation Coordinator Taylor Pesce.

“For me and others in the program, that was always a difficult thing, finding something between jobs,” he said.

Pesce, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, joined the VCC after graduating from Everett Community College in 2016. He started working as a crew member and was hired as a full-time supervisor.

Additionally, Pesce said the conservation corps has enough projects to keep people on for longer periods. In addition to installing rain gardens, the VCC builds rain barrels and does habitat restoration projects, including planting native species and removing invasive non-native species. Three years ago, the crew built 16 rain gardens for the WSU Puyallup Low Impact Development (LID) Research Program to study.

Funding for neighborhood rain gardens is provided by the city’s Public Works Department. The average rain garden costs $3,000, which is cheaper than hiring a contractor, Coronado said. The only expense for homeowners/renters is the cost of the plants, which is around $200, he added.

The project includes installing rain gardens in clusters around the city, so neighborhoods chosen for the project depend on the number of residents interested. 

Next year, Coronado said he is hoping to branch out into some of south Lynnwood’s low-income neighborhoods, and also include a church or community center. With help from multilingual outreach programs, he plans to inform non-English-speaking residents about the project.

“Studies have shown low-income people are going to be the most greatly affected by climate change,” he said. “So, tapping into that community is going to be my goal next year.”

When the projects are complete, signs are added to educate other residents about how rain gardens benefit the community, the effects of polluted stormwater and how to reduce pollution.

“We want to control stormwater, raise awareness and educate the community about low-impact developments with storm water,” Coronado said. “And about what small changes we can do on our properties to have a bigger impact overall.”

For more information about Lynnwood’s rain garden project, or if you are interested in signing up for a rain garden, contact Cameron Coronado at ccoronado@lynnwoodwa.gov.

–Story and photos by Cody Sexton