OSWAMP Rain Gardens


During the spring of 2011, the student organization OSWAMP collaborated with the Oberlin student body, College administrations, and the Green EDGE Fund to develop a $20,000 proposal to design and implement rain gardens around campus.  The gardens were installed during the annual day of service and act as a natural means to mitigate erosion and storm water runoff.

Background Premise:

Before project implementation, contaminated storm water run-off and sedimentation from the college and city flowed directly into Plum Creek, part of the West Branch of the Black River watershed.. Reducing storm water and agricultural run-off is essential to the livelihood of Oberlin’s ecology because storm water runoff that is not managed properly carries pollutants into streams. Excess rainwater that is not soaked into the ground is rerouted to streams via storm water drains. This has two problems: 1) the water running off of pavement and other parts of the built environment can contain contaminants (e.g. oil, fertilizer) which are dangerous to aquatic life; 2) stream water can overflow the banks, causing erosion.

We pursued this project because it helps create a more sustainable storm water management system for the Oberlin campus. Rain gardens contain deep-rooted native plants and grass sedges designed to stop or reduce water flow from drain sewage systems. These systems that integrate natural means of filtration and reduction of water run-off can reduce the effects of urbanization on streams like the Plum Creek. Reducing storm water and agriculture run-off is essential to the livelihood of Oberlin’s ecology because storm run-off that is not managed properly carries pollutants into streams. We hope that Oberlin’s leadership on this important issue will encourage similar actions at the city and state level.

Cost-Benefit Estimation:

            As listed above, there are numerous benefits to adding rain gardens to our campus. They reduce erosion of sediments and debris, reduce flooding, and add aesthetic beauty to the areas where they were installed. In addition to these tangible benefits, rain gardens also improve Oberlin’s overall sustainability as well as set a precedent for using the natural world to mitigate man-caused problems. Because this project was a sustainability grant, we are not expecting any financial benefits. That being said, costs of rainwater damage before installation and after can be compared and quantified to produce monetary benefits in several years after enough data is produced.

Additional Benefits:

            In addition to the ecological benefits produced by rain gardens, the student body was able to plant the garden during our Day of Service.  This adds a very important educational component to the project, which one could argue is more important than the other benefits provided.