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).

Aesthetic Value

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.


12 responses to “Issues

  1. Brett

    Despite their benign, “eco-friendly” name, those rain gardens are ridiculous neighborhood eyesores! Your blog does a great job of highlighting the issues and hazards created by the rain gardens, and while I do not live on your block, I sympathize with your plight, and dread the inevitable day these “swales” come to my area. In addition to your corner rain garden being under water, let’s hope your mortgage isn’t as well, due to the $70,000 property devaluation the city created for you!

  2. DJ

    I strongly encourage every resident in this area to immediately file a property tax appeal based on the realtor’s evaluation of the devalution of your properties. This message gets through to otherwise stubborn city officials.

    In the end, sadly, you will likely need to band together and collectively retain counsel to demand attention to these often critical issues like child safety. Clearly the city did not study the perking of the soil (or the engineer worked for the city) and as noted, overlooked other impacts. Did they do an environmental impact study? Seems this would have been a requirement. Check this out too–you should have been engaged in the process.

    I don’t see mention of the use of Oregon companies to do the pumping out. I recently discovered that Oregon companies also are profiting from the Washington Wash-Wise Rebate program–all the applications are processed in Portland.

    Last I strongly suggest that you identify a good spokesperson and get the media (local news) out there to cover the situation. If all else fails, Dory Monsen would make mincemeat out of the officials who set this up.
    Good Luck

  3. Change is difficult and often, first efforts go awry. Let’s give this some time and consideration and see if the natural filtration of water can be achieved. First responses are usually about “how badly I’ve been affected.” In time, I think, these gardens will develop into something of a asset for the community.

    • We all welcomed and supported the change, and we all agree Raingardens can be used to improve our environment. However, the functionality and appearance of these Raingardens are uncommon and obviously unacceptable, whether or not it’s in our own front yard. I welcome you to swing by our block and offer any specific suggestions on how you think these could be improved for the future.

  4. Wow, this is the only negative thing I have heard about this project, but our block does not have these. Everyone wants them.

    I had a very bad feeling about this project, especially when I saw how unbearable they were over the Summer! We only talked to one person about it and for some unbelievable reason she seemed to be OK with them.

    You have my support as I don’t want these on my block!

  5. Sharon Costello

    It might be a helpful starting point if we could start using accurate terms to describe these “holes.” I have told the city many times that I do not think they are raingardens. They are too deep and do not drain like the raingardens that have been held up as examples. Today I looked up the definition of a raingarden in Wikkipedia. This is what I found,

    “Part of a garden that nearly always has standing water is a water garden, wetland, or pond, and not a rain garden. Using the proper terminology ensures that the proper methods are used to achieve the desired results.”

    I have been taking data on the “holes” in front of my house. Based on the above definition, two of the four would be correctly called “watergradens”, “wetlands”, or “ponds”. It just seems outrageous that the city expects us to accept their inaccurate definition of these “holes.” Could that be because no city official in their right mind would allow a permit for a homeowner to build a “watergarden”, a “wetland”, or a “pond” in a parking strip next to a public sidewalk? Could that be because such items would be considered dangerious or unsightly be any reasonable person? I think the answer is yes.

  6. Mike Frushour

    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.
    For this concept to work on such a huge scale as to really make a difference, and get citizen support, the city needs to get this right with each installation, from the get-go.
    My limited knowledge (and I believe some common sense) tells me that if a garden is not draining, you dig deeper into the clay, remove it, and replace it with water retentive soil.
    This does not address the concerns about the bump-outs and signage. The city has promised to change the signage within the next month or so…we’ll see how that plays out. But bumpouts and the water they allow into the swale directly affect the drainage. Therefore, the main issue in my mind is to re-do the soils so that the swales are draining properly.
    What is really annoying, is that to do this it means that we will be living in a construction zone for at least another summer, and then another year for the plants to take hold and mature. In my mind, the city has an obligation to expedite the repairs in our neighborhood BEFORE moving on to other areas of the city. Unless results become apparent here, I’m pretty sure that the raingarden concept will blow up in the city’s face, and all citizens of Seattle will be facing an even bigger infrastructure rebuild involving our storm/sewers, which I’m sure nobody wants.

  7. Joe

    To pump or not to pump. Well we left the house early this afternoon and saw city pump trucks blocking off our street. Wonderful! Finally some concrete action. The drivers glared at us at we drove by, but we were still hopeful. Upon returning what do we see. Water still standing in the ditches. What does the city pay their workers to do? Come out look, do nothing, and then leave.

  8. Mary

    I will be sending this blog out to my office. I think many Realtors will want to warn their clients about this bait and switch being used by the city. The pictures in the plan had no bump outs, no signs and were beautifully landscaped. These are eyesores and safety hazards. Such a wasted opportunity for the city to destroy this neighborhood instead of embracing this opportunity and making an example of how beautiful these rain gardens can potentially be.

  9. Mary

    Hello again, I thought this article about trying to sell a home next to a messy neighbor, and how it can impact your market price by as much as 20% could be a helpful resource. This article goes to the heart of the matter, no matter how great your house is, people care about living next to a nuisance. They don’t just walk in with the blinders on. The rain gardens are perceived by everyone who lives in the neighborhood now as an unattractive nuisance. How do you think future buyers will feel? You can bet that the majority will feel the same way.

  10. Howard

    We had major basement flooding for the first time in 30 years this winter (after major rain). We are right down the street from one of these multi-block drains, makes me wonder if these changed the flow of water in the streams near them that run under Ballard. They are not only ugly, they are a hazard to kids and pets.

  11. It?s actually a nice and helpful piece of info. I?m glad that you just shared this useful info with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

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