Building a Rain Garden

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Center for Neighborhood Technology
Rain gardens such as this one in Illinois are designed to absorb and filter runoff rainwater.

Nineteen-year-old Sara Covelli is leading the charge at Union College in New York towards a more sustainable way of living. Covelli developed a passion for the environment as a child at summer camps and programs that fostered her mission to care for the environment. She designed her own major in Environmental Policy at Union College by being awarded a Seward Fellowship and became involved in the faculty, staff, and student-led U-Sustain Committee that focuses on implementing eco-conscious habits at the college.

After her freshman year of college, she spent the summer working at the environmental resource department of Nassau County, New York. Working on the county’s campaign to install rain gardens on Long Island lit a spark in Covelli, who was especially inspired by the beauty and accessibility of rain gardens and the impact they could have.

Rain gardens are composed of a thoughtful mix of drought resistant plants and plants that can thrive in excess water, planted in areas that tend to collect excess water after rain.

The gardens can absorb and filter the runoff rainwater before it reaches nearby watersheds or bodies of water. In a report by Hometalk, Covelli explained the sustainability of such gardens, saying, “If designed correctly, a rain garden will never need maintenance.”

Covelli returned to campus on a mission and was awarded twice the funds of a Presidential Green Grant by the U-Sustain Committee to install a rain garden in the new senior college dorms. Covelli was also recently awarded $100,000 from the Green Fee Grant so that she can include and plan for solar panels to cover the entire roof of the new senior dorms. Such awards are generally only given in the amount of $24,000. The unusually large grant underscores the promise of Covelli’s innovative project.

Her example not only inspires others to consider a rain garden at their homes or in their communities, but to also explore other ways to live a more sustainable life and share these ideas with the world.