Capturing Rainwater, Curbing Soil Creep

It can’t be any fun to sit at your kitchen table and watch the soil on the hillside above your backyard slowly slide down and envelope your house and garage. Not only is it not fun, it can be stressful knowing the foundation of your house and garage are surely rotting from wet soil and the constant pressure of soil creeping downslope. 

Chris Martinez knows that feeling all too well. Her home sits half way down a hill in Everett and water was a big problem. It came towards her property from two different directions - from their neighbor’s property on one side, and from an alley at the top of their sloped backyard. She and her husband, Douglas McCullough, wanted to find ways they could capture the rain from their roofs, reduce the size of their lawn, and curb the progression of soggy soil toward their buildings.

It All Began with Rain Barrels

Because Chris receives the Nexus newsletter, she was aware of our rain barrel program. She called the Conservation District asking for a planner to visit. She needed some ‘site-specific’ ideas for their lot, as well as help planning drainage improvements. In the meantime, Chris purchased two rain barrels from the City of Everett’s rain barrel program and began educating herself on capturing rainwater. 

Chris Martinez stands beside a new retaining wall and the garden area created with soil from excavation around her buildings.

Chris Martinez stands beside a new retaining wall and the garden area created with soil from excavation around her buildings.

She learned that because her garage roof is made of composite materials, the water collected could contain potentially harmful impurities if it is used on certain vegetables and root crops. So, the water collected from their garage roof would only be used on fruit trees. Chris and Doug chose a metal roof to replace their old house roof so they could use rainwater collected there to water their vegetable garden.

Tackling Rain Runoff and Soil Creep

Chris learned about one of our water containment classes offered in Stanwood and went to hear District Engineer Derek Hann talk about using rain barrels and cisterns. She met Derek after class to discuss her storm water issues and began looking into other improvements as well. Chris found experts Zsofia Pasztor, from Innovative Landscape Technologies, and Matt Freed, from NW Hardscapes, and hired them to clear soil away from buildings, re-grade their backyard, install French drains and a dry well, and shore up and rebuild the walls on two corners of the garage and house. Now, you can walk through Chris and Doug’s backyard on a rainy day and keep your shoes dry!

Re-grading their backyard allowed the couple to do away with their lawn, and replace it with a new, mostly flat garden area. Soil excavated from around the buildings was re-used to fill in behind new retaining walls and create the new garden. 

What Rain Barrels, Berms and Cisterns Can Do

Fifteen rain barrels line the side of the Martinez-McCullough home in Everett. 

Chris was eager to collect even more rainwater and use it to irrigate new and existing vegetable beds, so they called the District’s rain barrel guru, Bobby Butler, to bring more rain barrels – not just one or two, but 20! Fifteen of them now line one side of their house, sitting on a new gravel path next to a berm planted with low-growing native plants. The berm helps filter and direct surface water away from the Martinez-McCullough home to a new dry well in the front yard. 

Behind their garage are the other five District rain barrels, along with the two from the City. Chris wants to hook up two more rain barrels on the corner by the kitchen to water a side yard. Then she plans on putting an above-ground cistern on a flat area up by the alley at the back of her property. A pump will move collected water from the rain barrels uphill to the cistern, where it will be stored until it’s needed in summer. Gravity will feed the water on-demand when plants need it most, and when water is most scarce. 

Taking Advantage of Incentives 

Chris was able to take advantage of a cost-share program run by the Snohomish Conservation District. It helps pay for improvements that protect water quality and prevent storm water from running directly into storm drains, which empty into our streams and eventually, Puget Sound. Water that is slowed down and filtered through soil doesn’t harm fish, shellfish or the health of Puget Sound itself like unfiltered (polluted) water does. The cost-share program helped Chris pay for the labor and half the rain barrels she purchased.  

Chris is proud of her new water containment system and said, “It’s the right thing to do, and in the long run, will pay for itself”. Working with the Conservation District’s urban team “. . . just took some following up on my part, they’re all terrific”, she added. We at the District sincerely enjoy helping people solve their drainage issues, create food gardens from lawns, and save and reuse their water. We’ve changed with the times over our 75-year history, but our focus remains on local residents, farmers, foresters, and landowners who are challenged by natural resource issues and want to ‘do the right thing’. 

For more on the safety of collected rainwater from various roof types, check out this article from the Sightline Institute:  

By Lois Ruskell, Public Relations Coordinator