EOS Eco-Energy Rain Gardens in Sackville, NB

With funding obtained from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s EcoAction Community Funding Program, EOS Eco-Energy created the Sackville Rain Garden Program and planted rain gardens between 2018 and 2021 to reduce flooding in downtown Sackville New Brunswick. Rain gardens can achieve a variety of adaptation solutions from flood mitigation, to reducing the Urban Heat Island effect, and water filtration.

The project priorities are to:

  1. Build climate resilience through living natural infrastructure, such as rain gardens (main priority)
  2. Contribute to the diversion and reduction of substances that negatively affect water quality
  3. Contribute to reducing climate-related hazards and disaster risks, specifically fresh water flooding
  4. Contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of Canada’s fresh water since rain gardens help recharge groundwater sources

 

The project objectives are:

  1. Improve water quality of the Sackville Waterfowl park, storm water runoff and ground water in general where rain gardens are planted.
  2. Increase local resiliency to climate change induced flooding and droughts using natural infrastructure (rain gardens, low impact developments).
  3. Reduce climate change induced fresh water flood risks.
  4. Improve and restore land to more natural features (rain gardens are planted with native plants, act like a wild meadow, and double as pollinator and butterfly gardens)
  5. Increase capacity of local Canadians (including indigenous, youth, small businesses and the general public) to adapt to climate change using simple techniques.

 

In addition to designing and building rain gardens, the program sought to showcase low-impact development (LID) by undertaking a large-scale community-based “depaving”, and additional work examining water quality across the Tantramar River Watershed, and community-based workshops for Canadians on climate change actions, adaptation, and ways to reduce their climate-related stress and anxiety.


Understanding and Assessing Impacts

This project forms part of additional work by EOS Eco-Energy to address climate change impacts on environmental and human well-being. Downtown Sackville and much of the larger Tantramar Region have been historically affected by over-land freshwater flooding. Flood mapping recently released by the Government of New Brunswick expects flooding to become more frequent and more severe towards the end of the century.

The Town of Sackville in 2016 released a Corporate Climate Change Adaptation Plan to better understand how climate change was projected to affect their community. The plan presents an adaptation vision for the Town of Sackville, and details climate change impacts affecting the municipality including changing precipitation patterns, sea level rise, intensifying storms and storm surges, and rising temperatures. A series of flood scenarios are also included. The plan summarizes previous public engagement sessions, including risk and vulnerability assessments.

Sackville has experienced major flooding when 100mm of precipitation falls over a 24-hour period. Climate modelling suggests that precipitation events will become less frequent, but the intensity of the storms is expected to increase.

Impenetrable surfaces and impervious materials used in construction such as concrete and asphalt inhibit the absorption and increase stormwater runoff and put pressure on storm drains. Stormwater runoff can cause erosion, contribute to water pollution, localized flooding and even decrease groundwater levels. Stormwater runoff from some of these areas can also negatively impact water quality of the Waterfowl Park due to pollutants and sediment accumulation.

Identifying Actions

Rain gardens have been identified as a solution to overland flooding in targeted areas of the greater Sackville region already prone to flooding. Rain gardens are also effective in filtering pollution and sediment thereby reducing polluted run-off from reaching fresh and coastal waters as well as the mitigation of coastal erosion

A rain garden is a shallow depression (6-8 inches) that is planted with deep-rooted native plants and grasses. Rain gardens allow rainwater runoff from impervious area like roofs, driveways, parking lots, and compacted lawn areas the opportunity to be taken up by water-tolerant plants and absorbed into the ground naturally instead of entering storms drains. Rain gardens mimic the natural absorption and pollutant removal abilities of a forest or meadow. Rain gardens can absorb 30-40% more rain than a standard lawn, and capture and hold rainwater for a short time, releasing it slowly into the soil.

Posters, social media posts, press releases, info booths, and newsletters promoted the program to residents in flood prone areas of downtown Sackville to encourage participation. Homeowners were then consulted regarding garden location, design, size, and plants that would make up the rain garden. In addition to rain garden outreach, EOS Eco-Energy organized and hosted workshops on climate change, eco-anxiety, and adaptation issues in the community.

Guidelines provided by EOS Eco-Energy for homeowners looking to design and implement rain gardens outlined standard size and location, design, soil type, native plants to ensure that the gardens were naturally adapted to local climate, and maintenance instructions.

Implementation

Over the course of the three year project, 31 rain gardens were successfully designed and built in Sackville: 10 in the first year, 10 in the second, and 11 in the third. The first year of the program relied on promotion at the local level through the use of fliers, social media posts, press releases, information booths, and the EOS Eco-Energy newsletter and website. The initial uptake of the program in year 1 was extremely successful, filling registration up through to year 3 of the program.

Program facilitators met with homeowners of each property to assess rain garden location and size, designs, and any plants that they might want in their gardens, as well as to cover the maintenance and upkeep of gardens and the monitoring process. Relationships with local businesses were cultivated to ensure access to native plant species for gardens, while compost and mulch was provided free of charge by the Town of Sackville. The local utilities company was contacted prior to the excavation of rain gardens to locate any utility lines that may be on the property of local participants.

Through years 1 and 2 of the project, sites for the larger ‘depaving’ project were assessed for price and suitability. This included working with the Town of Sackville on both location and design. The onset of Covid-19 impacted the ‘depaving’ of one of the sites selected in year 2 of the project. A secondary site was located in the Village of Dorchester, ‘depaved’, and converted to a rain garden where over 300 native and non-native plants were planted. The 125.42 sq metre rain garden is being monitored and maintained by volunteers of the Village of Dorchester.

Further, EOS Eco-Energy organized and hosted a series of workshops on climate change, eco-anxiety, and adaption issues in the community. Despite the challenges presented by Covid-19 in regards to in-person gatherings and workshops, the education program over the 3-year period of the program, was able to reach over 3000 people, surpassing the initial project goal.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Monitoring over the course of the project included several key steps:

  1. Visiting the gardens throughout the summer and fall.
  2. Taking photos at about 3 months.
  3. Speaking to homeowners to see how their gardens did through large rain events and drought periods.
  4. Monitoring community rain garden sites during rain events, taking photos.
  5. Monitoring of volunteer and homeowner behaviour changes

Follow up surveys and visits were done in spring with homeowners who participated in previous years to see how their gardens were doing since planting. EOS Eco-Energy staff also checked to see if homeowners had taken any additional steps to reduce flood risk, conserve water, or use rain as a resource.

Monitoring efforts tracked:

  • Area of habitat restored
  • Native plants planted
  • Percentage of plants that survived first winter
  • People reached via project activities (education and promotion)
  • Jobs created
  • Volunteers
  • People who modified behaviour

Next Steps

EOS Eco-Energy highly recommends the planting of rain gardens locally and across Canada. They are easy to dig and plant and have multiple benefits for freshwater management and help to build community resilience to climate change. The native, water-loving plants have deep roots and help increase the permeability of the soil. Additional sites in Sackville, NB for more rain gardens were noted throughout year 3 of the project. These sites became known to EOS Eco-Energy either by noticing more areas that flood during rainstorms, or from more homeowners requesting a rain garden later in the year. Sackville locations include sites along Pickard Place, King St, Salem St and the lower side of Estabrooks St. There is a lot of potential to continue planting more rain gardens in the future in Sackville, NB.

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