Rain man

CARAG — Steve and Connie Green’s frontyard garden at 34th Street & Hennepin Avenue has been part of the annual neighborhood garden tour for several years.

But lately it’s the system used to water the garden that’s drawing community attention.

Using a network of gutters, pipes, pumps and a 1,000-gallon tank, Steve has developed a rainwater reclamation setup that saves up to 12,000 gallons each year. He and several neighbors reuse the water throughout the spring and summer on adjoining gardens.

“In every sense of the word, it’s a green idea,” Steve said.

Steve, 65, and Connie, 56, both grew up on farms and have been environmentally conscious, especially about water use, throughout their lives. But it was Steve’s work as a contractor for the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation (GMHC) — a job he still has — that really got him started on the path to rain conservation.

About eight years ago, the GMHC had a contract with the Greater Minneapolis Day Care Association to solve indoor air quality problems in basements. The problems, Steve said, started at the roof. Poor drainage meant water flowing into building foundations and into basements, so the GMHC set up systems to guide water elsewhere.

Steve applied such a system to his own home as well, simply routing water away from his home. Soon afterward, in 2005, Minneapolis established the stormwater utility fee, holding taxpayers accountable for the rainwater that falls on their property then drains into the city’s storm sewers.

So, with the green light from his wife and neighbors, Steve got to work installing the partially buried tank to contain rainwater from his roof and the roofs of two immediate neighbors.

“These roofs, we work really hard at making them impervious,” Steve said. “So when you talk about rainwater and so on, all of that has to be defined as excessive water because there’s plenty of rain that falls on the rest of the plants here. So this becomes an imbalance — what to do with that water. And I think this is the perfect solution.”

From the rooftops, rainwater passes through a series of gutters and underground pipes, eventually flowing into a 10-gallon sump basket before it is pumped into the big tank. It only takes three-fifths of an inch of rain to fill the tank, Steve said.

“The plan is to get another tank because this cannot keep up with a big rain,” he said.

The pump feeding the tank shuts off automatically when it’s full and excess rain runs into a nearby 5-foot French drain, filled with rocks. Steve said the drain, designed to guide rainwater into the ground, is also overwhelmed during some rains.

The city offers tax credits for homeowners who use stormwater management techniques on their property, but Steve said he’s never applied for the credits and figures he wouldn’t save a whole lot of money. He said he doesn’t know or care much about his water bill savings either.

Saving that kind of green has never been the point, Steve said. He’s looking at the bigger picture.

“People who are going to do building plans, primarily for commercial, are going to have to be responsible for coming up with a plan for taking care of the water that falls on their property and actually taking care of that on the property rather than running it off to the city,” he said. “I know that’s coming, that’s the direction we’re going.”

Lois Eberhart, administrator of the Minneapolis Public Works Department’s Division of Surface Water and Sewers, said the city and many other agencies are making a big push for better stormwater management and the movement
is growing.

“There’s so much realization now about the pollution that the stormwater carries and also about the extra capacity that’s needed by all those pipes and the destruction of the water bodies that the stormwater runs into,” Eberhart said. “So a lot of governmental agencies are supporting any kind of means at all to keep water where it falls and let it soak into the ground right there.”

Eberhart said water management practices such as rain gardens and rain barrels are becoming increasingly popular in Minneapolis.

The Calhoun Area Residents Action Group (CARAG), the organization for which the neighborhood is named, recently invited Steve to a meeting to discuss his rain reclamation system.

Kay Nygaard-Graham, president of the neighborhood group’s board, said she would like to see more improved stormwater management practices in the neighborhood. She said she’s dabbled with her own rain reclamation system for years.

“My feeling is that water is gold, and I’ve had that theory for many years,” she said. “Since before the city started billing us
(for stormwater).”

Joanne Monson, who lives next door to Steve and Connie Green, said she’s always been on board with the idea of storing and reusing rainwater and has pushed Steve to expand the system, which incorporates part of her roof. She said she’d have no problem putting the water to use.

“It seems like a lot of water, but really, if you’re watering the garden, you go through it pretty quickly,” she said.

But Monson said installing and maintaining such an extensive system might not be easy for those without the know-how.

“People have to be really motivated and committed to do it,” she said.

Steve said anyone could do it, and he’d be glad to help.

He’s planning to install another 1,000-gallon tank on his property this summer. It won’t be installed in time for the garden tour in late June, but his setup has never really been part of the event.

It’s just part of being Green.

For more information on stormwater management, check out the city of Minneapolis’ website — www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/stormwater/.
There is information about the city’s storm drain and sanitary sewer system and several tips on ways to improve the quality of the city’s lakes, streams and rivers.

The site also has tips on building rain gardens, which help filter stormwater runoff, and information on how to apply for the stormwater credit.

Reach Jake Weyer at 612-436-4367 or [email protected]