I had heard of rain gardens. I had an inkling that they helped the environment. I didn’t know any specifics. When my local food co-op store had a rain garden proposal for a community-wide contest, I became involved as a volunteer. Now, thanks to the work of many hands, we can see a rain garden in action.
The grocery store wanted to solve three problems: 1) rebuild the adjoining municipal parking lot to eliminate huge, standing water puddles near its entrance, 2) capture rain water in a garden to clean pollutants before flowing directly into the Mississippi River, and 3) incorporate more plants in the plethora of downtown impervious surfaces.
The store didn’t win the initial community contest, but city leaders said they liked the proposal and, if the store could, “find the money,” it might be a doable project. I found the money. A state pollution control agency grant called for clean water partnership proposals. The store manager linked the RFP to city leaders, and they agreed to submit an application. I had done so much research about rain gardens, watershed districts and government programs while looking for a matching grant opportunity that the port authority (owner of the parking lot) hired me to write the proposal.
What I found most interesting about rain gardens, is that they were silent and hidden—they are a depression in the ground—yet proven to be powerful tools to filter pollutants from storm water. Scarcely anyone has seen a rain garden without searching because they recess into the earth.
Somehow, I had to take this hidden environmental tool and write about it as a visible, collaborative, community project. I had to network and pull together several supportive entities. This project became a collaboration of information and action between several stakeholders: the port authority owned the parking lot in question and agreed it didn’t drain correctly; the city had storm water pollution reduction mandates to meet, yet had little successful experience with green infrastructure; the county planning staff offered expertise about the watershed district and landscape design; the store offered the in-kind component of planting the garden and maintaining it; and eight organizations wrote letters of support.
The rain garden grant was awarded. Now the parking lot water runs to a central garden, which slows the flow and filters it before it enters drain pipes to the Mississippi River. The port authority has a brand new lot at a 50% match of the cost. The city gained experience in implementing green infrastructure. The store gets a safe, dry entrance and a large garden to plant. All the stakeholders have a central, visible garden to serve as an educational tool. And our state invested public money in a project with mandated environmental benefits.
Through a collaborative process, our community gained a parking lot with green infrastructure this fall. The new garden is tucked in for the upcoming winter and ready for an intensive spring planting. Let it rain and snow! We’re ready to capture the run-off.
What opportunities have you had to see your grant writing work as grant funding in action? We’d love to hear/see! Share your stories via our social media accounts or in the comments section on the website.
Have you missed some of the other posts in our “Grant Funding in Action” series? See what other great stories our team has shared here.