Public Information Officer
Boone County, MO
COLUMBIA, July 11, 2011 — Sunrise Estates has a stormwater problem — a pretty significant stormwater problem, and one that has plagued the neighborhood since it was built.
“This problem has been going on since the early ’60s when this subdivision was started,” said Bob Tripp, president of the Sunrise Estates Homeowners Association. He said that, when the subdivision began, there was no planning to deal with excessive stormwater. “Nobody worried about that. When they started excavating for a new home, nothing was done to protect from the run off, or anything else. There were no plans set forth as far as drainage was concerned.”
Sunrise Estates resident Mel Casteel agreed that stormwater is a problem in the area. “It’s bad and it’s always been bad. Water will stand in people’s yards.” Casteel said that there have been efforts during the more than 15 years he has lived in the neighborhood to deal with the issue, but questioned their effectiveness. “What the county has done the last few years that I’ve seen — whether it’s good or bad — they’ve put bigger culverts in. Well, that makes more water flow, and flow faster. And that was a good thing to do, but they didn’t do anything to take care of the increased water flow.”
It was the neighborhood’s water issues, plus that fact that it is located on its own miniature watershed, that attracted Georganne Bowman to Sunrise Estates. Bowman is the Stormwater Coordinator with Boone County, and she found that Sunrise Estates, located in Boone County just east of Columbia, would be an ideal environment in which to conduct an experiment testing different methods of ameliorating problems created by excessive stormwater run off.
“We are using this because it’s a closed watershed — a little one, but we can use this information to extrapolate to larger watersheds,” Bowman said. “Granted, this is much, much smaller than the Hinkson, but we can use this for areas like Flat Branch, or maybe Meredith Branch. So, we can figure out that, to actually see a decrease in stream flow during a significant event, we need to put in this many rain gardens, or this many square feet of treatment features. We’ll use this as a tool to model other watersheds.”
To start off the project, Bowman has installed an electronic climate station in the neighborhood. The equipment, a Hobo U30 Station manufactured by Onset Computer Corporation, measures several environmental phenomena, including the intensity, duration and amount of rainfall, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, temperature and the amount of solar radiation falling on the area. The data gathered by the station are then transmitted to a website, where they will be viewable to the public. Also being installed is a weir to measure the amount of water than drains from the watershed.
The purpose of the climate station, Bowman said, is to measure how effective different methods designed to slow the run off of stormwater are, primarily rain gardens.
“Do rain gardens work? That’s one of the big questions we’ve had locally,” Bowman said. One problem with using rain gardens to deal with water run off is that they can slow the water flow too much, creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes. “We’re trying to figure out ways to modify those so they drain slowly, so you’re extending that peak of the flow to the stream. You’re not getting it all flushing through right after the rainfall event.”
Bowman said that the project will be installing three different types of rain gardens, and will monitor them to determine what kinds of plants work best in the local climate and soils, as well as which plants are more likely to be maintained properly by the residents who install them.
One goal of the project is to focus on developing best practices for using rain gardens and other techniques to control stormwater, rather than simply installing the gardens. “All over the country, rain gardens are a big endeavor — Kansas City has this 10,000 Rain Gardens project — the problem being that when you do a shotgun approach, you’re not getting a lot of bang for your buck. So, my hope is to really concentrate that in this small area and try to put in as many as we possibly can and see where that tipping point is. ‘When we put in five, do we see any difference? No. What about when we put in 17 — oh, there’s a little bit of difference in the stream flow.’ With the climate station and the weir, we should be able to mark that change.”
In addition to rain gardens, the project will also install other treatment features such as rain barrels, and also perform some stream rehabilitation and stabilization projects. The project will also be planting 60 to 75 trees. “We’ll be doing a wide variety. We’ll probably try to target more wetlands species — swamp white oak, cypress, that kind of thing — so we can plant those in areas that are known to have water problems right now, try to get those trees to transpire and move some of that water out of that watershed.”
The three-year project in Sunrise Estates is being funded by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, passed through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The grant requires 40 percent matching funds, which are being provided primary in the form of services and personnel time provided by the project participants.
A lot of people had to come together in order to make this project happen, according to Bowman. In addition to Boone County and the Sunrise Estates Homeowners Association, participants include the City of Columbia, the Missouri River Community Network, AmeriCorps, Job Point, the Missouri Society of Professional Engineers, the Missouri Association of Professional Soil Scientists, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the University of Missouri and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Both Casteel and Tripp expressed enthusiasm for having the project starting in Sunrise Estates and hope that it would alleviate some of the area’s water problems. “Hopefully, this will address those issues,” Casteel said. “That’s why they’re looking at putting it here in this neighborhood, and certainly why we want it here in this neighborhood, because we do have water problems.”
Tripp said that the homeowners association hoped the project would assist in its efforts to improve conditions in the neighborhood. “These rain gardens appear to be something that’s going to be very pretty, once we get some of them put in, and the configuration of them, I believe, is going to help the flow situation,” Tripp said. “We’ll find out if it’s a day late and a dollar short.”