Friday, September 26, 2008 | ERIC MORTENSON | The Oregonian Staff
It's going to rain, so you might as well put it to work, or even use it as art.
Consider Saturday's second annual "Welcome the Rain" festival at Sunnyside Environmental School in Southeast Portland. Among the festival highlights: A workshop titled "Rainwater Harvesting 101" and a rain-sculpture contest. We kid you not.
You also can learn how to disconnect downspouts, build an eco-roof, construct a rain garden or bio-swale, and gain an understanding of the "street to stream" connection. The idea, according to the East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, is to "celebrate the joys (and solve a few headaches) of our abundant rainfall."
Which may sound crazy. But the idea, says Candace Stoughton of the conservation district, is that rain is "more than an annoyance that we grit our teeth through."
And it's more than something to simply get rid of. The concept of routing rainwater into pipes has been soundly rejected in favor of older ideas: Collect it in cisterns for irrigation in summer, or let it settle in swales and filter naturally to the aquifer, recharging precious groundwater. Along the way it can fill decorative pails, splash through sculptures or freshen potted plants.
Home rain gardens are increasingly popular. Most people may be more familiar with their commercial cousins, bio-swales, which are often used in parking lots or busy street interchanges.
"The whole purpose of rain gardens or bio-swales is to not allow the rainwater to rush into the street, pick up pollutants and go into the river," says Kristien Forness, the Portland landscape designer who will lead a workshop at the "Welcome the Rain" event.
Rain gardens don't require a building or stormwater permit, Forness says. You just route a 4-inch nonperforated pipe from your downspout to a swale, a depression that you dig or form. Fill it with plants she recommends, and "you create a little garden feature as a means of keeping the rainwater from going down to the street."
She's not talking about overgrown, wild-looking swales that are set at the back of the property, out of sight. "We bring them forward and make them a beautiful garden feature," Forness said.
Stoughton, of the conservation district, said such projects reflect a changing ethos.
"We weren't thinking about stormwater when we built our cities," she said. In Portland's case, we routed it into the sewer system. Heavy rains overwhelm the system and send untreated sewage into the Willamette River.
The conservation district's idea is to give homeowners the information to become "miniature stormwater engineers, every one of us," Stoughton said.
And compared to other cities, Portland's rain is perfectly mannered for such home projects.
"Theirs comes down in buckets," she said, "ours comes down in mists."