When people walk or drive past Rae Ann Prasnicki’s former front yard in Victoria (she’s recently moved), she hopes they double back to take a second look. The garden has a new feature that will deliver an important punch. “I hope people stop and ask questions about rain gardens,” Prasnicki says. “The biggest measure of success is not how it looks, but how many other gardens grow from it.”
Prasnicki built her rain garden with help from a class partner as a capstone project for the Freshwater Society and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District’s Master Water Stewards program. “This is not a gardening thing,” Prasnicki says. “This is about learning about the issue of water quality.”
Prasnicki saw a note about the new program in her city newsletter, and she signed up to participate in 50 training hours, including courses and projects, with the ultimate goal of educating others about water quality. “It’s hard for the city or state to do that, but when I’m at a BBQ and someone asks about my rain garden, I can talk about it,” Prasnicki says. “Those are the one-on-one conversations that water stewards want to have. Make those small connections.”
In a state that is known for beautiful, clear lakes, people routinely take water for granted. Trace the water in the lakes back to rivers and streams and then to runoff from yards that are sprayed with fertilizers or insecticides, and there’s a reason to pause. What’s coming into the water from your yard? “The most important piece that people perceive is that when rain falls, it ends up going into the gutters and streets,” Prasnicki says. “A lot of people know it goes to the river, but what people don’t understand is that it takes all sorts of stuff with it.”
The runoff takes pet waste, grass or leaf clippings, and any other residue right to our lakes and rivers.
That simple point is something local watershed districts and the Freshwater Society want you to consider. “Every drop of water that falls from the sky is regulated by the Clean Water Act and cities are responsible for reducing the amount of water that flows off streets,” says Peggy Knapp, director of the Freshwater Society. “There’s just too much work to do to leave it to our city staff. That’s our water. Every single one of us that has a responsibility to care for the water that comes off of our property.”
The Master Water Steward program is designed to create more citizen advocates for good water conservation. Modeled after the popular Master Gardener program, Master Water Stewards first become educated in how to preserve and improve water quality and then create pollution prevention projects to educate community members on how to reduce pollutants from urban runoff and allow more water to soak into the ground. “It’s important for people to know about the water that falls through the sky and runs over the ground because it has an effect on all of our water,” says Knapp. “It’s important to know how water works in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Work is being done to expand the program to more and more watershed districts.
Prasnicki’s conversation starter about water will be her rain garden and how easily people can install one of their own. “People get confused that it is actually capturing rain and creating a pond, but a rain garden is not a holding system,” Prasnicki says. “Often you can’t tell a rain garden from any other garden.”
To create a rain garden in your yard, start with the groundwork. “Create a bowl to let rain infiltrate into your garden,” Prasnicki says. “When rain comes down, in 24 hours your garden should capture and let the water infiltrate right back into the earth.”
If you have clay that holds the water longer, you might need to mix sand or compost in to let the water drain more easily. “It’s not super complex,” Prasnicki says. “Once you think you have it, stick a water hose in there and the bowl either captures it or it fills up and runs over. If it runs over, it’s not working.”
Once your bowl is created, add mulch and native plants. “We encourage native plants because they have deep roots. Deep-rooted plants help draw the water down,” Prasnicki says. “It’s just like making a garden, but the prep work is a little different.”
Prasnicki’s garden is accompanied by a few flyers detailing how to make a rain garden. As a Master Water Steward, she’ll also volunteer 50 hours the first year and 25 each following year educating people about water quality. Her point of pride won’t be her actual rain garden, but instead how many gardens grow from it. “I hope rather than plants, there’s interest in other rain gardens,” Prasnicki says. “That’s the goal; to get more people interested in doing something about water.”
Water Conservation Tips
Simple ways to do your part on your property.
- Keep all grass clippings and leaves away from storm drains.
- Pick up pet waste.
- Find ways to let water soak into your ground, and not run off.
- Plant native plants like Echinacea, Black-eyed Susan, and Blazing Star to soak up water.
- Reduce chemical use. Find natural alternatives for insecticides and fertilizer.
Source: Freshwater Society