The Olentangy River receives high volumes of stormwater at high velocity due to the impervious surfaces, such as parking lots and roofs that do not allow the water to soak into the ground. In addition to the “too much too fast” problem, the water entering the Olentangy River is polluted after travelling over roads and parking lots picking up whatever is in its the path. The lack of infiltration or ability to soak in the ground also causes streets to flood, basement backups and excessive erosion of streamside property.

The solution is to restore the infiltration and the storage capacity with “green infrastructure”. Green infrastructure are structures such as rain gardens, infiltration trenches and rain tanks that allow rain water to soak into the ground, evaporate back into the atmosphere and/or remain stored to be reused later. FLOW created the “Soaking It In” program to engage the local public and city officials concerning the solution to the interrelated problems of a sediment laden Olentangy River, flooded streets, sewer backups and the loss of streamside property.

The Columbus Mennonite Church (CMC) agreed to participate in the program to address sump pump issues and to demonstrate environmental stewardship. After receiving funding from Honda of America Foundation, FLOW and Urban Wild worked with CMC members to create a comprehensive rainwater management solution. With the help of volunteers, a rain garden, an infiltration trench and a rain tank were installed in the fall 2010.

Combined these different structures will harvest or infiltrate approximately100,000 gallons of rain water per year from the 6800 square feet of the church roof. By keeping the water on site, the Olentangy River will not receive as much sediment and other pollutants. The rain garden and other structures are helping to restore the storage capacity that has been lost as a result of tributaries being culverted and wetlands filled along the Olentangy River. We hope that this demonstration project will encourage local officials and the general public to consider installing green infrastructure in public spaces and backyards.

The “Soaking It In” program has been a success in large part because different partnering entities came together to make it work. Columbus Mennonite Church members Al Bauman, Phil Hart, Marlene Suter and Ruth Massey helped plan the project and provided logistical help that enabled the project to run smoothly. Amy Dutt, owner of Urban Wild, planned and coordinated the green infrastructure site design and implementation, as well as donated some of her time to see this project to completion. Other businesses who helped FLOW with discounted services were the Rain Brothers and Scioto Gardens. Volunteers from the local community helped by planting the rain garden and installing the infiltration trench. Ellie Nowels from Centipede Graphics created a beautiful sign that captures the entire project. Of course, this project would not have been possible without funding from the Honda America Foundation. In 2011, FLOW looks forward to completing the project by installing one or two more rain gardens.