Project: Rain Gardens
Jurisdiction: Indianapolis
Agency: Office of Sustainability
Date Beginning: Spring 2009

With a combined sewer system for stormwater and wastewater, Indianapolis often experiences flooding from overflowing sewer lines after heavy rains. But, a new Site Separation Pilot Project, currently in the works, aims to keep stormwater out of the sewer lines, preventing flooding, improving water quality and saving money.

The first phase of the project includes developing rain gardens, which are designated areas along a major creek bed in the city planted with wildflowers and other native plants that absorb excess water. The rain gardens will reduce stormwater runoff, which increases flooding, carries pollutants from streets and parking lots into streams and lakes, and leads to costly improvements in stormwater treatment structures. "Research has shown that if you have a concentration of native plants that are designed to absorb a lot of water in one area, instead of flooding, the stormwater will be absorbed into those plants," says Karen Haley, administrator of Indianapolis' Office of Sustainability. "This way, we can handle stormwater on site without building retention ponds."

After measuring the results of the city's first site separation project, to be constructed this spring, Haley's team plans to build numerous rain gardens around the city to improve local water quality and save money on sewer projects. "As the city builds new sewer tunnels, the smaller we can get those pipes, the less expensive it will be," she says.

Read the main story, "Goal Diggers," to learn more about how public works leaders cultivate sustainable communities.