Expert Alert

How to build a better rain garden this spring

Professor Andy Erickson
Portrait of Andy Erickson. Credit: University of Minnesota and Getty Images

Summer in Minnesota means big storms and stormwater runoff. Stormwater is rainwater that flows off roofs, driveways and other hard surfaces and can carry chemicals and pollutants such as phosphorus through our storm sewer systems and into our beloved lakes and rivers. That phosphorus causes the algae blooms that make our water look green and murky, and that produce toxins that can harm fish and other wildlife. 

One critical tool can prevent phosphorus from getting into our fresh water: rain gardens. A rain garden is a carefully designed and planted low area that captures or receives stormwater, removing pollutants and preventing erosion. Andy Erickson with the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory is an expert in stormwater filtration and has some new best practices for building rain gardens that can more effectively capture and filter stormwater to remove pollutants before they end up in our lakes and rivers. 

You can learn more by watching this YouTube video

Andy Erickson, Ph.D., PE
“Every summer we see algae-filled lakes and rivers across the state. We wanted to test existing rain garden best practices and explore new ways we could mix components to encourage biofiltration and prevent stormwater runoff. Our research found that the best solutions are actually a departure from what we previously considered best practice. The best rain gardens are designed with a multi-layered system, with a top layer made of sand and compost allowing plant growth, and a lower layer made of sand and iron to treat and filter phosphate.” 

Andy Erickson, Ph.D., PE, is a Research Manager at St. Anthony Falls Laboratory and the University of Minnesota and registered professional engineer in Minnesota. Erickson's research pursues an understanding of water quality in urban and agricultural watersheds, assessment and maintenance of stormwater treatment practices and developing new stormwater treatment technologies such as the Iron-Enhanced Sand Filter. 

Andy Erickson, Ph.D., PE 
St. Anthony Falls Laboratory Research Manager
Contact: [email protected] 

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