(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Some people let the rainy days get them down, but North Fort Youth Center is finding a way to make the best of them.

A rain garden was installed outside the center last week, and it's already putting a positive spin on the Pacific Northwest drizzle. The plants prevent flooding, filter storm water runoff and teach kids to be stewards of the environment.

"It's a working garden. It earns its keep for sure," Marilyn Jacobs, co-owner of Rain Dog Designs, said.

Jacobs and her fellow owner, David Hymel, installed the garden on Lewis North. It was funded by a grant from the Russell Family Foundation to the Tahoma Audubon Society's Osprey Club, which teaches kids at the center to protect and appreciate the environment.

Aside from being colorful, rain gardens have plenty of practical uses. Native plants in a depression of compost amended soil can help direct water away from homes and crawlspaces. But they're also helping to address larger problems.

"The big issue is what's happening in Puget Sound. Puget Sound is in trouble," Hymel said.

Surface runoff is one the largest sources of toxic chemicals in Puget Sound, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology. A recent study estimates that 710,000 to 800,000 pounds of petroleum contaminants, 250,000 to 300,000 pounds of zinc, and 61,000 to 140,000 pounds of copper reaches the sound each year from runoff.

This in turn impacts environmental and human health. People and animals can become sick after ingesting polluted water, or eating diseased fish or shellfish that might live in it.

With a rain garden in place, though, contaminants get filtered through the soil before the water makes it into rivers, streams and lakes.

"That's a safer place to be instead of into a storm drain, where it goes right into American Lake," David Hymel said.

This approach to water filtration isn't unusual on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. In fact, low-impact filtration methods are required for all new buildings on base. Jennifer Smith, JBLM's Directorate of Public Works storm water coordinator, estimates that 95 to 98 percent of the buildings on base have some sort of on site filtration, including rain gardens.

"Here at JBLM we're really appreciative of the gift (from the Russell Family Foundation)," Smith said. "It fits exactly with that we're trying to do."

What is different about this garden is that it will also be used to educate. Fourth and fifth graders from the Osprey Club will help maintain the garden and use it as a learning lab. It will also come with an educational sign so parents and community members can see what the garden does and how it works.

The hope is that some of those that help with the garden will take its lessons to heart.

"When you can establish good habits in kids, they're more likely to have them as adults," Tahoma Audubon Society Director of Education Sue Wattier said.

In the end, organizers are hoping the idea that we're all obligated to take care of the world around us will stick.

"It's all connected together," North Fort Youth Center Program Specialist Elizabeth Ortiz said. "Now they will see the responsibility that's forthcoming."

Marisa Petrich: marisa.petrich@nwguardian.com

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