Build rain gardens in this climate-emergency era

December 11, 2019

By Pam Lim

Rain City, Raincouver or Wet Coast – take your pick. There’s no shortage of nicknames describing Vancouver’s notoriously wet weather. But Joanna Ashworth, director of Professional Programs and Partnerships in the Faculty of Environment (FENV), turns rain into gains with green technology.

The North Shore Rain Garden Project, a FENV partnership with municipalities and community groups, launched its first green technology demonstration in October. The team designed, built and installed two rain gardens, one located in West Vancouver’s Douglas Park and the second at North Vancouver’s Capilano Mall.

“We are in the climate emergency era,” says Ashworth who leads the project. “We know there will be more extreme weather events, more flooding and big flashes of storm water clogging up our water ways. Instead of replacing municipal storm water infrastructure, invest in natural and powerful solutions like rain gardens.”

Rain gardens play an important role in creating climate resilient communities. They offer a relatively easy and efficient solution to mitigating flooding and storm water contaminants in fresh water systems. Rain gardens function by capturing, slowing down and filtering storm water runoff from water-resistant surfaces like rooftops and concrete. If left unchecked, harmful substances like road salt, oils and heavy metals run into rivers, streams and creeks, damaging aquatic habitats.

“Many municipalities employ rain gardens as part of their green infrastructure development,” says Ashworth. “However, municipalities often miss the opportunity to involve their communities in the design, location selection, and construction of the rain gardens.”

Noticing the gap, Ashworth prioritized civic engagement and collaboration. Prior to the installation, she engaged citizens in conversations about green infrastructure. She created hands-on experiences, like art-making activities and public demonstrations, for community members to learn about and participate in environmental stewardship. Ashworth also worked closely with the City of North Vancouver, District of West Vancouver, and local business associations.

“Community engagement and green infrastructure are powerful partners for building climate resiliency,” says Ashworth. “Nature will do the work for us, if we just let it.”