Here’s what to watch out for:
North Ballard is mostly Vashon Glacial Till (clay or hardpan), and therefore water does not “perc” (or infiltrate) through this layer once it is saturated. Therefore, for Raingardens to be an impactful solution, if this is a solution at all, SPU has two choices:
1. Accept very slow drainage, which could result in “ponds” up to 12 inches in depth.
For Phase I, SPU’s design criteria for a properly-functioning Raingarden was drainage within 72 hours after the rain has stopped, which is a significant detail in the Seattle area. Using the 2010 rainfall data as a sample, this design executes as only five “dry Raingarden” days in January through April of that year. A properly-functioning Raingarden would hold standing water for the majority of time during winter months, similar to an open cistern. The goal would be to hold the water back from flooding the sewers until the rain event has passed.
2. Install “under-drains” underneath the Raingardens – an experimental technology that produces disputed data and puts the worth of this type of Raingarden into doubt.
Under-drains were installed on 28th Avenue in Summer 2011. Per SPU, they have not done specific investigations to determine the current usefulness of these Raingardens.
Health & Safety
Deep, muddy ponds in parking strips are extremely dangerous, particularly to children, elderly and disabled residents. According to Washington State Drowning Prevention Network, a child can drown in two inches of water, and drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children in Washington State. Worse yet, during cold snaps, the water freezes, and with the snow drifts, children are attracted to the pits with ice that could easily break, and the child may not be able to get enough stable grounding to get out. Moreover, the bottom of the ponds is planted with grass, which could ensnarl an arm or leg, and the soil is meant to be “spongy,” which may cause a child’s foot to easily get stuck.
Standing water is also a breeding ground for mosquitoes and an attraction for rats (rats come to drink the water).
No City or Urban Planners presented themselves during Phase I or attended any meetings to address safety, feasibility, architectural design, aesthetics, and future sustainability for the design.
The aesthetic value of a historic Seattle neighborhood was and could be compromised as a result of this project, and SPU did not provide a future strategy for how they will retain Seattle’s beauty using creativity and good judgment in projects such as these.
During Phase I, real estate agents advised us our house values dropped by 15% or more as a result of the installation of these ponds. Their unsightliness made for a difficult sale when comparable homes were available on nearby blocks without ponds, excessive signage, and general risk.
The required signage for Raingardens is industrial and redundant, giving the appearance of a permanent construction zone. Each curb bulb must have two large reflective object markers with yellow and black stripes and two “No Parking” signs.
Parking and Curbside Access
Parking availability for residents was cut significantly and stable egress virtually eliminated. Passengers getting out of cars were forced to tiptoe on the curb or step into the edge of the pond. Because these ponds are unexpected in a planting strip of an urban neighborhood, they are potentially dangerous for any pedestrian or passenger, particularly at night.