Excessive runoff and erosion at Queen of Peace

Two problems--stressing the watershed

Queen of Peace Church and school have the largest parking lot in the Sunset Village and Westmorland Neighborhoods.  There are no structures to infiltrate the rain--like rain gardens or porous pavement.  So when it rains--the roofs, the asphalt, and the eroding soil, together create a torrent of runoff.

There was so much runoff that neighbors downstream complained.  The city responded by adding storm sewer inlets at the corner of Caromar Dr. and Keating Ter.

This excessive runoff, now underground, still creates problems for the city with flooding along University Avenue.  Flooding is one of the reasons behind the massive construction project now taking place there.

There are more problems than just flooding.  Rapid runoff means the groundwater isn't recharged, so springs around Lake Wingra have been drying up.  Deprived of clean water from springs, Lake Wingra becomes more polluted as a greater proportion of its water comes from dirty stormwater. 

As the water table drops, it becomes more costly for the city to pump drinking water.

Curiously, Queen of Peace is in the ground watershed of Lake Wingra, but in the surface watershed of Lake Mendota.  So Queen of Peace sends its floods and its sediment via Willow Creek to University Bay.

At the mouth of Willow Creek, a "delta" of sediment has been forming for many years.

The Eroding Playground

Kids are hard on their toys, and playgrounds are no exception.  It's common to have eroding areas at most schools.  But Queen of Peace is unusual, because the eroding playground washes right onto the parking area, and from there--right to University Bay, quick as a wink.

Soil from the eroding playground washes to the parking lot, then to the Lake.

Midvale Elementary also has some eroding areas, but at Midvale most of the sediment is stopped when the water flows across grass.

Queen of Peace has other eroding areas--along the edge of the parking lot, and along walkways (right).  Just like pavement, bare soil is not good at infiltrating rain water.

I can't help but feel sad, when I see the huge area for parking--so people won't have to walk a few blocks--and then I see the small, eroded areas left for children to play.


The total runoff from roofs, parking, walkways, and playground is so massive that--for Queen of Peace to be a good neighbor--planning and work needs to begin.  With a problem developed over many years, starting when people didn't know about the importance of healthy watersheds, Queen of Peace may want to proceed in steps.

A rain garden is simply a depression scooped where water tends to flow.  It helps water sink into the ground, replenishing the water table and taking the strain off gutters and storm sewers.  But it's more than a depression.  Thirsty plants soak up some of the water, while their deep roots act as a conduit deep into the soil. 

For the roofs, tackle one downspout at a time.  If there is one with a big output, the rain garden doesn't have to absorb all of the water from a big storm.  Remember, many storms are small--for them, a relatively small garden may be able to handle everything.  Right now, most of the runoff goes into S. Owen Drive anyway.  So rain gardens can be designed to overflow, in big storms, into the parking lot, or into the street.

There are unused places on the campus suitable for rain gardens.  For example, along Holly Ave, for roof runoff, or at the SW corner of the parking area, behind the backstop.

Walkways can have a strip of rain garden along the low side.
To immediately contain the sediment from the play area, silt socks are the way to go.  They are visible around the edge of the Sequoia Commons construction site.

Different kinds of rain gardens

The key thing in planning, is to go out in a storm, and watch where the water goes--where it flows, and where it pools.

The amount of runoff flowing into the garden determines how much "design" it takes.  Gardens taking substantial runoff may require careful design, both for the plants and the walls that retain the water.  The garden along the east edge of Sequoia Commons is an example.  After a rain, it may contain several feet of water for a few days.

Rain garden at Sequoia Commons--high capacity, with water-loving plants.

But other gardens can be very simple.  All that's needed is removing some soil, enriching the soil in the depression, then planting native woodland or prairie plants, depending the amount of shade.   These gardens can be a fun project for families.

Bob Kowal at 537 Gately Ter. has a wonderful woodland rain garden on his terrace. More. 

Rain gardens on Adams St. are beautifully designed to take street runoff.  More.

Rain gardens--an opportunity for children

Children need a rich and varied environment.  Surrounded as it is by pavement, the play area at Queen of Peace isn't as attractive as it could be.

The University of Wisconsin Arboretum has developed programs for K-12 that involve children in building and studying rain gardens.

There are many people in the neighborhood that can assist Queen of Peace in designing and building rain gardens, along with locating inexpensive plants.  More info.

A commitment?

Could the parish make a commitment to add one substantial rain garden a year, for the next ten years?  Plus many smaller ones that could be a project for groups of families?

The benefits would be many

  • The Church becomes a more responsible civic neighbor.  Helps Madison reach its mandated goal of reducing sediment to the lakes by 40% by 2013.

  • An enriched environment for children

  • More educational opportunities for children

  • Members of the congregation increase their environmental awareness

  • A more beautiful campus

  • A healthier watershed
See a slide show of erosion and runoff problems at Queen of Peace here. When viewing the show, be sure to activate "show info" in the upper right, to see the photo captions.  Move your cursor off-screen to eliminate the thumbnails.  You can also control the speed of the show.  The arrows (lower right) make the show full-screen.

Below: large rain garden fora  parking lot at corner of Struck St. & Watts Rd.

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