Landscapers Learn How to Use their Green Thumbs to SOAK Up the Rain and Protect NH Water Bodies

Original story by Sarah Schaier, Production Editor, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension; Adapted by Kirsten Howard, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Coastal Program

In November 2015, landscape professionals gathered at the Hugh Gregg Coastal Conservation Center in Greenland, New Hampshire, which overlooks the expansive Great Bay estuary, to learn how to “soak up the rain” for water quality. Soak Up the Rain NH (SOAK), a voluntary program managed by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), organized the landscaper workshop as part of a training program to help solve the water quality problem caused by stormwater runoff. SOAK is offering an upcoming training March 30 and 31, 2017 in the Lakes Region.

The view of Great Bay from Greenland, NH. Photo credit: Kirsten Howard

The view of Great Bay from Greenland, NH. Photo credit: Kirsten Howard

Stormwater runoff, the water from rain or melting snow that doesn’t get absorbed into the ground and instead picks up pollutants and sediments in its path, contributes to over 90 percent of water pollution problems in New Hampshire, from water quality issues to flooding. The stormwater problem is exacerbated by development that has been increasing impervious cover in the state, such as pavement for parking lots and driveways which prohibit rainwater from soaking into the ground. It is further exacerbated because more precipitation has been falling in intense bursts in the Northeast, resulting in a 50 percent increase in total annual precipitation from extreme rain events between 1901 and 2012, according the New Hampshire Coastal Risk and Hazards Commission. But green spaces, in addition to adding important value to a community for recreation and wellbeing, can also be strategically designed to facilitate rainwater infiltration into the ground before it reaches important water bodies like Great Bay.

By working with local partner groups, individual property owners, and professionals, SOAK provides training, coordination, and assistance to install rain gardens, rain barrels, and other stormwater practices that will capture that pesky polluted water and infiltrate it into the ground. The SOAK program has helped divert 552,488 gallons of stormwater from New Hampshire’s surface waters, easily surpassing a goal is to get to 350,000 gallons by the end of 2016. But perhaps more important than the in-the-ground projects is the outreach, education, and training that SOAK has provided to people since its inception in 2012.

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Attendees listen as a group presents its ecological design solutions at the Hugh Gregg Coastal Conservation Center, part of NOAA’s Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Photo credit: UNH Cooperative Extension

During the intensive two-day training program called “Landscaping for Water Quality” state and university experts explained how landscaping decisions impact water quality, with a focus on the Great Bay estuary, and presented techniques for storm water management, erosion control, and ecological landscape design. Along with program topics like “Stormwater Management Practices and Principles,” Integrating Multiple Functions in Landscape Design,” and “Low Impact Lawn Care,” participants toured a waterfront property and worked together in groups to develop and share stormwater management solutions.

“This workshop was fun, engaging, informative and life-changing for myself and my business,” said Dale McConkey of McConkey and Associates, a small business based in Freedom, New Hampshire.

By limiting stormwater pollution using these “green” techniques, communities like Greenland save money on “grey” traditional stormwater infrastructure like storm drain systems. What’s more, clean water bodies keep people healthy and keep important local recreational and tourism industries sustainable.

As SOAK looks to the future of the program and the stormwater problem in New Hampshire, it’s clear that there is more work to be done, particularly in the face of climate change. While average annual precipitation has already increased, The National Climate Assessment predicts that average rainfall will continue to increase and will fall more frequently in extreme storm events in the Northeast. These effects will continue to intensify the existing stormwater pollution and stormwater-related flooding problems throughout the region.

SOAK helps install a rain garden in Greenland NH. Photo credit: Soak up the Rain NH

SOAK helps install a rain garden in Greenland NH. Photo credit: Soak up the Rain NH

As the green infrastructure movement grows with the need, so will the job opportunities for those local landscapers who know how to soak up the rain. Landowners looking to hire landscapers who understand the principles and best practices for protecting water quality can find a listing in UNH Cooperative Extension’s Directory of Landscape Professionals. The SOAK workshop was part of a training series provided by UNH Cooperative Extension, NH Sea Grant, and NHDES. SOAK NH is planning to hold an additional training March 30 and 31, 2017 in the Lakes Region. Visit their website or Facebook page for more information coming soon.

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