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New program teaching homeowners to 'Catch the Rain'

09/05/2017 02:06PM ● Published by Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

Lawn by lawn, neighborhood by suburban neighborhood, there is a pattern of landscaping happening in southern Chester County.
It's the search for the perfect lawn, and while hordes of homeowners spends thousands of dollars every year to ensure that every blade of grass in perfect harmony with every other blade of grass, the quest to duplicate the playing surface of Citizens Bank Park is, in fact, turning the water that keeps it pristine into polluted runoff. Stormwater isn't just washing off of lawns; it's also falling from roofs, driveways, roads, parking lots and patios, and it's become the largest source of pollution to the White Clay Creek Watershed.
Now, lawn by lawn, two conservation groups are helping to reverse that trend.
The White Clay Wild and Scenic River Program, in partnership with the Brandywine Conservancy, has developed the White Clay Creek Catch the Rain Rebate Program for homeowners who live in the 104 square miles of the White Clay Creek Watershed -- which includes homes in the eastern part of Franklin Township, London Grove Township, the western portion of New Garden Township, Avondale and West Grove, and portions of London Britain and West Marlborough townships; and Hockessin, Pike Creek and Newark in Delaware.
Through workshops and individual consultations, the program is teaching homeowners to become advocates for Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) practices, which help capture, detain and infiltrate rain through the use of rain barrels, rain gardens, conservation landscape plantings and canopy tree plantings. 
"Catch the Rain is a grassroots, small-is-beautiful program to retrofit existing suburban yards to help, rather than degrade, water quality in the White Clay," said former Brandywine Conservancy coordinator Beth Burnham. "Incrementally replacing 40 percent of lawns and impervious surfaces in suburbia will radically improve the White Clay Creek region for the people who live in the watershed."
Launched last fall with two well-attended workshops, the Catch the Rain Program has already reached 23 applicants throughout the watershed, who have received personal site visits and written reports, which include concepts for possible projects. It's a great first step, said White Clay Creek Management Plan Coordinator Shane Morgan.
"It's an opportunity to connect one-on-one with residents, and educate them about issues that they may not have previously been aware of," she said. "We walk around the property and talk about things that they see. They're the ones who live there and they have a better understanding of where the water is moving across the property and where it's coming from.
"Some people don't know how stormwater is generated, and this program gets them to begin thinking about their own footprint and how they can make a difference. Cumulatively, if more people did these projects, our environment would be in much better shape."
The Catch the Rain program is based on two successful programs: the RainScapes program in Montgomery County, Md., and the Rain Check Program, run by the Philadelphia Water Department. Funding for the pilot program has been provided by grants from the Dockstader Foundation, the White Clay Watershed Association Wild and Scenic River Program and the Brandywine Conservancy.
The goal of the program, Morgan said, is to move from "interest to implementation," a process that can help 'green' a neighborhood and have a long-term cumulative effect on the local environment. Transforming a lawn into GSI system can be beautiful, but it also requires a degree of work.
"I talk to people about a realistic expectation of what a naturalistic landscape is," Morgan said.  "It can be beautiful and you can keep leaves and weeds out, but it also requires maintenance. It's understanding that you will have to live with a certain amount of naturalized plants, and you're going to spend some time weeding."
The Catch the Rain program provides not only educational training and technical support to install voluntary stormwater practices, but financial assistance. Homeowners can receive a rebate up to $2,500, which can be used however they wish -- whether it be for materials if they are doing the projects on their own, or for the services of a designer or contractor.
Part of the program's intention is to create a infectious buzz in the neighborhoods where the program is implemented.
"We have targeted certain neighborhoods, where if people see their neighbors doing GSI practices, the idea would catch on if they liked what they saw," Morgan said.
Right now, the Catch the Rain Program is working with some local municipalities that are located in the White Clay Creek Watershed, providing them with direction on how they can institute best management practices about stormwater alleviation in their districts. Long term, Morgan would like to see the Catch the Rain program incorporated into the environmental plans of  surrounding townships and municipalities.
"If we have people who are already interested, and if we are able to cluster them in areas where there are problems, then that may end up benefiting whole municipalities, as well," she said.

To learn more about the Catch the Rain Rebate Program, visit www.whiteclay.org or www.catchtherain.org, or to arrange a consultation contact Shane Morgan at mpc@whiteclay.org, using the subject heading "Catch the Rain" and including your name, address and contact information in the body of the email. The program is open to residents who live in the White Clay watershed only.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email rgaw@chestercounty.com.



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