Brooklyn Botanic Garden's rain garden

The Shelby White and Leon Levy Water Garden

Until recently I had no idea there were gardens called "rain gardens". It seemed kind of redundant; aren't all gardens rain gardens? But actually, a true rain garden is technically "a planted depression or a hole that allows rainwater runoff from impervious urban areas, like roofs, driveways, walkways, parking lots, and compacted lawn areas, the opportunity to be absorbed." If built right, rain gardens cut down on the amount of pollution reaching creeks and streams by up to 30%. They detain water and therefore slow runoff, which is really important in cities, especially ones like New York City, where the combined sewage overflow is a huge problem as the city's waterways become overwhelmed int he most minor storms, dumping raw sewage into the rivers and streams.

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In order to address NYC's major combined sewage overflow  problem, the  Brooklyn Botanic Garden has built a new prototype for water retention and recirculation on a larger scale (13 acres) called called the Shelby White and Leon Levy Water Garden. This new garden  has been designed by the renowned landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., the firm that designed the Brooklyn Bridge Park. 

Look at how clear the water is--you can actually see the bottom, which means it is working. 

The garden aims to reuse rainwater as a part of a filtration and recirculation system, saving 21 million gallons of freshwater annually. Careful manipulations to the existing infrastructure nearly doubled the catchment area that contributes rainwater to the water garden system. Additionally,a tech-savvy system which uses satellite technology coupled with on-site sensors, operates a series of valves to control the outflow of stormwater to Brooklyn's overburdened combined sewer system. It's basically an underground catchment system that lowers and raises according to major storms it tracks. The discharge during storm events is projected to be reduced by 5.5 million gallons annually. They also created a stunning and ecologically diverse landscape through the planting of over 20,000 new perennials, grasses, trees and shrubs. Look at how clear the city water is...it works!

The water's edge is planted with an awesome mix of native plants that can tolerate both wet and dry conditions, and don't require fertilizers. They also establish strong, deep roots which help to absorb water and prevent erosion, and are great habitat for pollinators like birds and butterflies.

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And this is my friend who was also the hydrologist who worked on the project with Michael Van Vaulkenburgh and Associates, Eric Rothstein. I made him pose for this photo as you maybe can tell. He is incredibly talented, and this is such an innovative project. His company, edesign dynamics, a water resources planning and design firm, does amazing  work--both here in the US and abroad. I like to brag about him--he is so humble. 

Read more: Shelby White and Leon Levy Water Garden opens at Brooklyn Botanic Garden | Inhabitat New York City

Plant list for Rain garden plants from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. 

Native Plants for NYC Rain Gardens