Gardens Handling Storm Water

April 4, 2003
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ADA TOWNSHIP — DP Fox Ventures has added a new engineering twist to its latest residential project, a turn the firm feels will control runoff from storm water in a healthier ecological manner.

West Village, a 126-acre development DP Fox has planned for Ada Township, will use a series of rain gardens to manage the runoff instead of using the normal method of catching the excess water in basins and then force-feeding it into a retention ditch.

The idea for the rain gardens came out of meetings the developers had last year with township planners. Their goal was to find a way to spare wetlands from the usual overflow they sustain when rain falls after a property’s trees are cut, roads are paved and lots are developed.

For the wetlands near West Village, Ada Township and DP Fox first decided that a non-structural storm water management system would be a good response to the problem. After that decision was made, the rain gardens became the answer both were searching for even though it’s a fairly new and rarely used option.

“The alternative is to let soils and native plants absorb and filter water naturally through the ground so that it enters wetlands at a more natural pace,” said David Schermer, general manager of Mountain Ridge Development LLC, a construction division of DP Fox located in Ada.

“What happens when you pipe water is you concentrate it — you get it moving fast and you blast it into these wetland areas and it destroys habitat. It uses too much force; it’s too quick and too sudden a change,” he added.

Under the West Village design, the half-dozen wetlands there will serve as the retention ponds for the rain-gardens system.

Using that system means rainwater found on a lot won’t leave that property any faster than Mother Nature would sweep it away, and the wetlands won’t get a sudden rush of storm water every time it rains or a lot of snow melts.

“The wetlands are the ones taking the brunt of the water that hits all the impervious surfaces, which are the roads, rooftops, driveways, sidewalks, everything,” said Schermer.

He explained that the system will direct rainwater to a rain garden within the development. The garden, in turn, will allow the water to disperse more evenly and naturally through the soil. Each lot will have a garden in back of a home. The lots will be graded in such a manner that the storm water will be directed to the gardens. The grading will create bio-swales, and the swales are what actually direct the water to the gardens.

“You have to grade in a way that things will stay in those swales, and then from those swales, go to the rain garden. Roads have to be graded in a way that these shed water off the pavement and into the swales that can handle rainwater,” said Schermer.

“Rain garden” isn’t just an engineering term, as the gardens will actually be gardens filled with flowers and plants that are native to the area.

Schermer said perennials would do just fine, but the exact types of vegetation haven’t been selected yet.

“There are certain species that we would like to see put there that absorb more water than others, and can handle more water than others. But, for the most part, it’s a perennial garden at the back of a site with a stone bed in the bottom and areas in it where there are different plantings,” he said.

Exxel Engineering Inc. of Grand Rapids and the Conservation Design Forum of Chicago are helping Mountain Ridge design, build and install the gardens. Dan and Pamella DeVos own DP Fox, a diversified firm involved in transportation, entertainment and housing.

The plan is for West Village to have 149 homes on 126 acres at Ada Drive and Spaulding Avenue in the Forest Hills Public School District. The homes will range in size from 1,400 square feet to 3,000 square feet. Some will be single story, while most will have two levels.

Mountain Ridge should have two model homes built and open in West Village in time for the annual fall Parade of Homes in September, and a few of the rain gardens could be in by then, too.

“Nature was set up before we started paving everything and putting hard, impervious surfaces all over the place,” Schermer said.

“It was set up to handle pretty much any rain event through absorption, and what you didn’t get were creeks washing out; you didn’t get wetlands washing out,” he added.

“It all basically went down through soils and it was handled that way in a much more balanced method than it is now.”

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