by Eric Mortenson, The Oregonian | Friday September 26, 2008, 2:01 PM
Here in Rainland, we like our rain. We are increasingly storing it, putting it to work and even using it as art. Want to join? Check out Saturday's second annual "Welcome the Rain" festival at Sunnyside Environmental School in Southeast Portland.
So we're having coffee with this young guy, by which we mean 30-ish, one of those "young creatives" who flock to Portland. It's one of those brilliant mid-September days: 80 degrees, blue sky above and the promise of a refreshingly cool evening ahead. Doesn't get any better.
The guy is moving up here from Southern California, which he discloses with the proper "I know you hate us, sorry dude" tone. It is his baggage, true, but most of us natives just shrug anymore. Can't blame them for coming, can we?
He presses on. Been here maybe six times and every time it's been like this. Too much awkward emphasis on the last word. He gestures to the sun, the sky, the warmth. The Dry. He smiles. Determined not to say something weak about, you know, The Rain.
We smile back, and consider a response. Reject the usual bromides: Well, that's what keeps us green, you know. Or, oh, it's not so bad.
Reject the technical, too: You realize, sniff, that Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Birmingham and Boston all get more rain than Portland? Same for Atlanta, Miami, New York and even Portland, Maine.
None of which matters. The rain is the rain. It's coming.
It starts about Halloween, we tell the young guy. Thin smile. Then until about June.
Should have told him he could build a rain garden.
Because here in Rainland, we roll with it. Squish with it, whatever. We kind of like our rain. Fact of business, we are increasingly storing it, putting it to work and even using it as art.
To wit: 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," we kid you not, and a rain sculpture contest. 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 to someone who just moved here and wonders when it will ever stop. But the idea, says Candace Stoughton of the conservation district staff, is to help people realize 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 that take it to the river has been soundly rejected in favor of older ideas: Collect it in cisterns for irrigation use 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. Both do the same job.
"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 Portland landscape designer Kristien Forness, who will lead a workshop at the "Welcome the Rain" event on Saturday.
Rain gardens don't require a building or stormwater permit, Forness says. You just route a 4-inch non-perforated 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. "This is more refined."
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. We just shunted it away. In Portland's case, we routed it into the sewer system. Bad idea. 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."
You hear that, 30-ish, young creative, California guy? Mists. Starting about Halloween. Ending about, well, the Fourth of July.
Here's a schedule for "Welcome the Rain." It runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Sunnyside Environmental School, 3421 S.E. Salmon St.
10:15 a.m.: Eco-roofs 101; Permeable Pavers; Kids: Build your own Eco-roof; Rain Gardens 101.
11 a.m.: Rainwater Harvesting 101; Urban Tree Care; Rockin' Rain Gardens; Downspout Disconnection.
Noon: Tabor to the River, Brooklyn Creek Basin Program; Rain Gardens 101; Kids: Build Your Own Eco-roof; Home-made Eco-roofs; Street to Stream.
1 p.m.: All-season Cycling; Water to the Weather; Urban Tree Care; Downspout Disconnection.
1:30 p.m.: Grey Water and Eco-roof Walking Tour.
2 p.m.: Downspout Disconnection; Kids: Build Your Own Eco-roof; Puddle Pedaling: Family Bike Commuting; Weeds.
2:30: Swale Bike Ride.
3 p.m.: Naturescaping; Rain Gardens 101.
More information: www.welcometherain.org