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E-M:/ Grand Rapids Rain Garden "Dig-in" on Earth Day

Enviro-Mich message from "thornapple river" <thornapple@hotmail.com>

April 21, 2003

Contact:  Patricia Pennell, 616.451-3051
For Immediate Release		patricia@raingardens.org

Rain Garden “Dig-In” Planned for Earth Day
West Michigan Environmental Action Council

GRAND RAPIDS — A rain garden “dig-in” event is planned for Earth Day, April 
22, 2003, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. by Rain Gardens of West Michigan, West 
Michigan Environmental Action Council’s newest water quality program. The 
new rain garden will help raise awareness about the problems of stormwater 
pollution in Plaster Creek, a tributary of the Grand River.  Students at New 
Branches Charter School, assisted by Grand Rapids Community College 
Service-Learning Center student volunteers, will turn over the earth in 
front of their school at 256 Alger for their new rain garden. New Branches 
is WMEAC’s oldest school Adopt-A-Stream group.

Rain gardens are designed to help alleviate the devastating effects of storm 
water runoff on our environment. With help from a $68,913 Grand Rapids 
Community Foundation grant, and challenge grants from Steelcase Foundation 
and Frey Foundation, West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) is 
promoting the innovative gardens throughout West Michigan.

Designed with a dip at the center to collect rain and snow melt, rain 
gardens are landscaped with low-maintenance, native plants that hold and 
filter storm water.

“When you design a garden as a ‘rain garden,’ you improve local water 
quality while creating a natural attraction for birds and butterflies,” said 
Thomas Leonard, West Michigan Environmental Action Council executive 
director. “Rain gardens can help make our cities more attractive while 
protecting ecological health.”

In Michigan, storm water is one of the leading causes of impaired stream 
quality, with as much as 70 percent of all surface water pollution carried 
there by storm water runoff. Before land was developed, built upon, and 
paved, rain and snow melt seeped slowly into the earth’s natural filtering 
layers. Now, when storm water washes across hard surfaces, it picks up 
pollutants—from pesticides, fertilizers, gas and oil residue—before going 
into storm drains. Once in the storm sewer system, the water usually goes 
directly into streams, rivers and lakes. In Grand Rapids, storm water 
eventually ends up degrading our precious natural resources by causing 
combined sewer overflows, erosion, destroying habitat, raising surface water 
temperatures, and simply polluting the water.

One local example is Plaster Creek, the stream that is the focus of the New 
Branches School rain garden. In that polluted tributary, E. coli counts 
spike dramatically following a rainfall—to levels considered exceedingly 
dangerous for any bodily contact—and exceeding safe levels by orders of 

“The current storm water system treats rain and snow melt as waste products 
to be disposed of,” said Patricia Pennell, program director. “Rain gardens 
do the opposite. By keeping storm water close to where it falls, rain 
gardens help reduce flooding and filter out pollutants.”

West Michigan Environmental Action Council is a 35-year-old grassroots 
environmental advocacy organization that is celebrating its 35th anniversary 
on Earth Day, April 22. WMEAC was instrumental in the passage of the 
Michigan Environmental Protection Act and the Inland Lakes and Streams Act, 
and the founding of the Michigan Environmental Council, a Lansing-based 
advocacy group for statewide issues.

Thomas Leonard, WMEAC executive director, 616-451-3051.

Patricia Pennell, Rain Gardens of West Michigan Program Director, 

Grand Rapids Community College Service-Learning Center
Martha Cox, Director, 616-234-4168
Shari Schippers, Assistant Director, 616-234-4180, 234-4162

New Branches Charter School
Hildi Paulson, 616-243-6221


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