Monthly Archives: January 2011

Precautions for School Children

An argument the residents have made since September 2010 is the non-draining Raingardens are a danger to children.

In an article published on in October 2010 (“Drainage Issues in Roadside Raingardens”), Chris Woelfel from SPU states, “The water depth in some of the unfinished rain gardens was deeper than 6-inches. Since 28th Ave NW is a main path for school children, we wanted to be cautious and not allow deeper water, even on a temporary basis, so we pumped them out.” (See full article here:

To us, this is an acknowledgement the City agrees Raingardens with water deeper than six inches are dangerous.

A neighbor took this picture yesterday of one of three school children playing in the Raingardens–this one with water deeper than six inches. The City couldn’t expect school children not to play in them, could they?


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Black asphalt plugs have now replaced the sandbags–the purpose is to keep more water from rushing into the Raingardens. A few neighbors emailed this morning about left-behind sandbags, unnecessary signs, and trash in the ponds and on the street.

From one neighbor:

“We are still seeing sandbags in our ditches, even though the plugs have been installed. Also, the No Parking sign, which is for one day (January 11), is still sitting in front of [neighbor’s] house. The other day [wife] came home and saw a city truck blocking her from getting in our driveway. She waited a long time. What did the city do. It moved the sign 10 yards further up and left it in front of [neighbor’s] house.

“[Wife] tried calling the city phone number….You now can no longer talk to a person, but have to send an email. So [wife] tries to send the email and gets rejected with error messages because she has not gone through an elaborate registration process, which she could not complete….In the meantime we are left with having to look at what they don’t clean up.”

You can see the new black asphalt plugs in the pictures below.

Another neighbor summed it up, “Reason for further discontent with this project.

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Will Mayor Mike McGinn Attend Our Community Meeting?

We forwarded the community meeting invitation to Mayor Mike McGinn. As one neighbor explained, “He ran on a platform of being close to the people of Seattle and environmentally responsible.” This Roadside Raingardens Pilot may seem like a small matter on the city docket, but it is a building block: In City Planning, we expect growth and function will be partnered with community comfort, safety, and beautification–and where that effort may seem tricky, this distinguishes a livable city from Leningrad. What the residents see in this Raingarden pilot is the City focused on function, but somewhere lost its creative edge and common sense.

I have looked at Raingardens in other parts of the country and Europe–still with the same functionality of cleaning up the environment, but also part of  long-term strategies that strive to retain the beauty of their community. These Raingardens have attractive landscaping, no glaring “caution” signs, and if there is any standing water, they are in large, open areas (such as parking lots, parks, or along beaches), not in neighborhoods.


I have also travelled to Agra, India. There was pooling water on sides of roads. Malaria pills were required. The government, instead of cleaning up the standing water, posted glaring “caution” signs (seen below), placing the responsibility back on the individual citizens not to get bitten by a mosquito, and in our case in Ballard, also to “keep children and animals from playing in the swales.”

Which will our city emulate? It’s not too late to fix these Raingardens, beautify them, make them safe, and then expand the project. It’s up to Mayor McGinn and Councilmember Mike O’Brien.


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Invitation to Community Meeting

An invitation from SPU:

“Dear Ballard Raingarden Neighbor:

“We feel it’s time to give you a status report on the Ballard Roadside Raingardens Pilot Project and to discuss with you what we have learned so far, what challenges and successes we’re seeing and how this pilot project is expected to progress from here.

“We invite all interested Ballard residents to a community meeting starting at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 2nd in the Fellowship Hall of Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church, located at 2400 NW 85th Street. There is a large parking lot on the west side of the church.

“We look forward to working with you on this very important project!”


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Mosquitos Cometh – With All Their Own Issues

With Spring three months away, and mosquitos ready to start developing eggs, we are enormously concerned about the lack of urgency from SPU in getting these Raingarden problems fixed. There should be no standing water in our neighborhood.

A comment left on our blog:

I’ve worked in public health and am very concerned about the lack of drainage in these raingardens for several reasons, many already mentioned. Whether these are not working due to lack of foresight of the physical inability of the gardens to drain or for other reasons, the facts speak for themselves and the gardens should be removed as a matter of public safety….It does not appear that there has been a time when at least one of these gardens (or cells) did not have a significant amount of water in them. We are aware of the high risk of West Nile Virus from mosquitos and Public Health – Seattle/King County has been very active in educating the public about removing standing water around their houses, in flower pots, rain barrels, etc. Perhaps they should evaluate these raingardens for the risk factor of mosquitos breeding in all the standing water….I hope that the City realizes that it’s not too late to reevaluate the performance of these raingardens and sees that it has a responsibility to help this neighborhood maintain safety for its citizens.

And more comments regarding mosquitos from our Facebook page:

Wow. How ugly. Do you not get mosquitos in Seattle?” – S.F.

I haven’t seen this concern in the more recent comments or blog posts: Come spring/summer, standing water will be a prime breeding ground for disease carrying mosquitos, etc. Does anyone know if the gestation for mosquito larvae is less than the 3 day ‘standing water’ design guideline?” – F.D.

I lived in St. Louis and can attest that mosquitos do not need 3 days to incubate. Craziness! In fact, the advice always was to remove all pools of standing water, lest diseases be spread from those pesky insects.” – S.F.

The City believes, since the Raingarden is designed to drain after three rain-less days, there will be enough movement in the water to abate mosquito development. However, this model requires a majority of dry days in Seattle. Also, according to the City’s own data, only half of the Raingardens are “draining well,” meaning the other half are not draining well, which leaves enough standing water for mosquitos to complete their lifecycle.

We have reached out to the King County Department of Health for more information on and assistance with mosquito control and specifically West Nile Virus.

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Are the Raingardens Draining (As Intended) or Aren’t They?

SPU is now pumping out the Raingardens that are not draining. (How much does this cost?)

The big question though is how many Raingardens the City claim are functioning versus how many the residents claim are functioning.

SPU claims:
“1/2 of the cells are draining well — dry or less than 1-inch of water
1/8 of the cells are draining a bit – 2- 4 inches of water
1/4 of the cells had 4 – 6 inches of water
1/8 of the cells had more than 6 inches of water; one of those had 11 inches of water”

The daily reality as told by a resident:
“Since 11-7-10 I have recorded whether or not there is visible standing water in the six cells in front and to the side of my home. That is–data is recorded for 55 consecutive days with readings taken every evening at about 5:00 PM. Of those days 4 readings were inconclusive because the holes were obscured by snow. Of the remaining days (51)–this is what I recorded (moving north to south and around the corner heading east):

Cell #1–43 days (84%) of days there was standing water visible.

Cell #2–35 days (68%) of days there was standing water visible.

Cell #3–1 day (2%)–I guess the sandbags worked to keep the standing water out. I do not know what would have occurred had the sandbag not been there.

Cell #4–19 days (37%) of days there was standing water visible.

Cell #5 –2 days (4%) of days

Cell #6 –1 day (2%)


1. I do not know how well cells 3, 5, and 6 perk water because there hasn’t been water draining into holes, perhaps because of sandbags and perhaps because the water flow diverts downhill across the street where there is consistent standing water every single day.

2. Cells 1 and 2 drain but too slowly–certainly not within the 72 hour limit. The city may say that’s because it keeps raining. But I say, “This is Seattle, of course it keeps raining this time of year.” But it’s not acceptable to me to having standing water in front of my home up to 85% of the time–even with sandbags in!

3. Cells 3 and 4 may work better but it remains inconclusive because sandbags still prevent most of the intended diversion of water from the street into the holes.

4. I need to continue to track this data and we need some more expert analysis of it. So far the city has not convinced me that they are reliable in their predictions of the performance of this project which does not bode well for the accuracy of their interpretations of future data–just my opinion though.”

From another affected resident:
“The city is not telling the truth, I see most of these rain gardens on a daily basis…maybe 1/8 of them are draining properly.”

And more conclusions provided by residents:

“We told the city about the hardpan – that the soil just does not drain, we know, we live here – have dug down 9 feet to the bottom of our house footing, it is like concrete. The city replied, ‘Oh no, you are wrong, the ground perks quite well, we tested it.’ Our water meter hole fills up with water after a rain – it takes 3–4 days to drain, it is only 12” deep….It is a good idea if done in the correct soil conditions. This was not the correct area. Do not dump any more money in this project. Fill in the ditches and give us back our once attractive street.”

“The truth is Ballard has a high water table, which is another reason these rain gardens continue to hold water. There are many under ground springs. Even if they are changed, they will cause basements to flood as you push more groundwater closer to the foundations of homes.”

“Having observed the test drills at the beginning of the project in our neighborhood (to determine the nature of the soil and its capacity to drain), I know that not all sites which now have a raingarden were tested. I believe that the city was negligent in not fully testing all sites under consideration, and this poor planning and execution resulted in raingardens doomed to fail. The nature of the soil and depth of the clay obviously differs from site to site. Some residents have observed this difference while working in their own property. So, some of the raingardens are draining, even with our heavy rains, which is fine…the concept is not without merit. However, it is becoming apparent that others will never drain.”

The question is what the City will do about non-draining Raingardens and ponds that are 11-inches deep when Spring arrives (three months from now) and mosquitos start breeding. One of the residents’ goals asks the City to remove the bump-out (and signage) if the Raingarden isn’t working. We’re waiting on the plan–and watch as they keep pumping–and wonder how much of that budget will be left to pay for removing the bump-out in the end.

(Picture is a Vactor pump truck.)

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We’re Now On Facebook!

Check out our new Facebook page here:

Make sure you “Like” the page and share with more community members to help us build support!

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