Persistent Northwest rain no longer a curse for Whidbey Islanders?

Ryan Neighbors and Matt Oberg of Island County Public Works perform the site prep and excavation for a rain garden Tuesday, creating the shape and outer berm for the alternative stormwater management undertaking in Coupeville. - Paul Boring/Whidbey News-Times
Ryan Neighbors and Matt Oberg of Island County Public Works perform the site prep and excavation for a rain garden Tuesday, creating the shape and outer berm for the alternative stormwater management undertaking in Coupeville.
— image credit: Paul Boring/Whidbey News-Times

Gardens can clean stormwater

Rain gardens have sacrificed relative anonymity for the limelight as more people discover the benefits of the alternative stormwater management strategy.

Mimicking a native forest, rain gardens collect, absorb and filter runoff from roofs, driveways, patios, and other areas where water cannot be absorbed.

A free rain garden demonstration and workshop presented by the Whidbey Island Conservation District will be held Tuesday, June 3, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Coupeville Rec Hall to reveal their effectiveness and the surprising ease with which they can be constructed.

Rain gardens are not relegated to a single shape or size. They take the form of a shallow depression with compost amended soils, mulch, and native or other plants adapted to the Pacific Northwest’s damp winters.

“The new Harbor Station is a great example of the use of rain gardens locally; there are many rain gardens of different shapes and sizes weaved throughout the complex to capture and treat the stormwater runoff from the roofs and parking areas,” said Stacy Smith, Whidbey Island Conservation District natural resource planner.

Rain garden guru Curtis Hinman, a Pierce County WSU Extension faculty member and author of the “LID Technical Guidance Manual for Puget Sound” and the “Rain Garden Handbook for Western Washington Homeowners,” will edify attendees on theory and application.

Hinman is researching, designing and monitoring various low impact development strategies applicable in western Washington, as well as serving on advisory committees that develop regional stormwater management policy and identify funding and research needs.

“Curtis has been a pioneer and an early visionary for low impact development in the Puget Sound region,” said Karen Bishop, Whidbey Island Conservation District district manager.

Should participants wish to get extra credit prior to Tuesday’s half-day workshop, they can observe the rain garden outside of Walgreen’s at the corner of Highway 20 and Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor.

“Two field trips will be taken from the Coupeville Rec Hall to the construction site on Island County property at the annex building to see a rain garden being built,” said Jill Wood, Island County Health Department water resource planner. “The workshops are free and always have great food,” she said.

Tom Slocum, who directs the engineering services program for San Juan, Skagit, Whidbey Island and Whatcom conservation districts, will lead the first field trip.

Smith, a learned, local expert, will lead the second field trip. Like Hinman and Slocum, she is highly-educated and specialized, with experience in stormwater management and erosion, and sediment control.

So, who should attend the workshop? Wood said everyone from builders, to planners, to engineers, to interested citizens and “do-it-yourselfers” will benefit. Developers, landscape designers, representatives from local jurisdictions, property owners and resource professionals would also do well to spend the first part of Tuesday in Coupeville.

For workshop-a-holics, the conservation district will present a pervious concrete demonstration and workshop the following Tuesday, June 10, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Langley United Methodist Church. Pervious concrete is one of several permeable paving options in the Low Impact Development, or LID, tool box.

Walk-ins are welcome for both workshops, but an RSVP is preferred. For more information about the workshops or how to receive continuing education units or clock hours, contact Stacy Smith at 360-678-4708 or by email at

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